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Finding your visual art nirvana is easier than you think

Come as you are

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Winston Churchill once said, "Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse."

Luckily for us, the Pikes Peak region has just the right amount of both, and don't let any bitter young hipster tell you otherwise. Whatever Colorado Springs and its environs lack in volume, they more than make up for in variety. You can find your pastel landscapes, your watercolor Native Americans, your graffiti-esque townscapes, your monumental sculpture, your narrative figurative paintings, and even your fairytale-gone-wrong work, and then some.

A good way to hit a bunch of these places at once is to go out on the region's several artwalks scattered throughout the month. There, you'll see brand-new work, meet artists, and enjoy refreshments with the occasional live music.

First Fridays: Downtown, Old Colorado City, Pueblo (galleries vary, go online for specifics)

Third Fridays: Woodland Park, Manitou Springs (March through November)

Third Thursdays: Monument (May through September)

But where is one to begin any old day of the week? On the ensuing pages, we've broken down some of the area's offerings into categories that suit some popular tastes. Remember, each gallery is something of a mixed bag, displaying more variation than these labels imply. But this is a good way to get you started.

And once you get on your feet, know this: There are many more galleries than we have listed here, and those you can find online at csindy.com.

Traditional

Why improve on nature? You like to see art capture the mood and atmosphere of the human form or of a landscape, especially one as beautiful as Colorado's.

Begin by taking in the Broadmoor Galleries (1 Lake Ave., broadmoorgalleries.com) at their namesake hotel south of town. What had been known as the Hayden Hays Gallery recently expanded into two locations where the artist list speaks for itself: Joseph Bonomo, Joellyn Duesberry, Joseph Lorusso, Alexandr Onishenko, Herman Raymond, Kirby Sattler, Barbara Sparks, Nathan Solano and Benjamin Wu. These artists hail from all over the world, and though each has a signature style, the Broadmoor Galleries are where the fruits of their labor come to play.

Up north, Secret Window Fine Art Gallery (47 Third St., Monument, secretwindowgallery.com) peddles similar styles, with gorgeous renditions of horses and wildlife by Ezra Tucker, among others. Also find religious works done in buon fresco, an ancient and laborious technique.

Western

There's something so lovely about the iconic horse and rider, or the Native American flute player. You live in the West (or want to), and your tastes reflect as much.

There's absolutely no shortage of this around here, and you won't go wrong in the numerous galleries that dot Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs. Mountain Living Studio (741 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, mountainlivingstudio.com) is a good spot, as it hosts tons of artists over its two levels who work in all kinds of media. Phil Lear, one of the top artists in both towns, shows here and elsewhere, but only at MLS can you find a large array of his Western works, simple and beautiful.

Range Gallery (2428 W. Colorado Ave., longshotphotography.com), meanwhile, is all photography by Texas transplant Kathleen McFadden. She's as Western as they come, and her shots capture all corners, from the wide-open spaces of the eastern Colorado plains, to the windy, abandoned outposts of somewhere-along-the-dusty-highway, to the knotty oak groves of west Texas. Look for the big horse above her door, and make yourself at home.

Contemporary

You like surprises. You like art that challenges you. Non-representational? Cool. Nudes? Yes, please. Birds smoking cigarettes? Bring it on.

They may at first seem too cool for school, but the joint Modbo and S.P.Q.R. galleries (17B and 17C E. Bijou St., themodbo.com) are as welcoming as they are hip. Led by husband-and-wife team Brett and Lauren Andrus, the downtown-alley galleries are the first place you should go for that something different. Paintings by Lear and Lorelei Beckstrom always deliver on the strange and thrilling, but the galleries also host photography, sculpture (Sean O'Meallie is a local must-see) and anything in between. First Fridays here are also a blast: Expect spirits and live music late into the night.

South of downtown lies the little G44 Gallery, tucked into a strip mall (1785 S. Eighth St., Suite A, g44gallery.com). Run by Gundega Spons, the two-year-old G44 is small but mighty. Spons shows a little bit of it all — abstracts from Karen Khoury, dark moody representationals from Michael Dowling — and really, you can't ever guess what's going in next.

And way south, the Steel City is a great spot for local art, at both the Kadoya Gallery (119 Central Plaza, kadoyagallery.com) and the Shoe Factory (300½ N. Main St., theshoefactory.org). The former is a flatiron building with two floors of gallery space; the latter, an enclave with studios, a gallery and lots of ongoing programming sprinkled throughout Pueblo, from the Steelworks Museum to a new basement space in the historic Federal Building.

Functional

Why hang something on the wall, when you can hold it in your hand? Bowls, mugs, canisters ...

Personally, I never understood functional art until I looked at my plates, cups and bowls, and wondered just where all this tacky garbage came from. A made-by-hand piece of earthenware from the studio of a local isn't just beautiful, it's meaningful, and that's the spirit of places like Commonwheel Artists Co-Op (102 Cañon Ave., commonwheel.com) and Green Horse Gallery (729 Manitou Ave., greenhorsegallery.com) in Manitou Springs. Ken and Tina Riesterer at Green Horse are renowned for their nude ceramics, and pretty much anything that comes out of the 40-year-old Commonwheel comes with that Manitou touch of hippie, happy and well-made.

Further east is the Hunter-Wolff Gallery (2510 W. Colorado Ave., hunterwolffgallery.com), where there's plenty of traditional fine art, but also a large collection of platters and vases made from things like turned burlwood. Much of the raku comes courtesy of local artist Mark Wong, whose pieces you can find here, as well as at the Manitou Art Center.

Assorted

Variety is what co-ops and studio/gallery setups are all about. You're seeking a little bit of everything, and at some places, even a chance to see the artists at work.

"There's always something happening at Cottonwood!" goes Cottonwood Center for the Arts' (427 E. Colorado Ave., cottonwoodcenterforthearts.com) tagline, and it's no overstatement. This one-time office building has been converted into dozens upon dozens of artist studios (which are usually at capacity nowadays) and multiple galleries shuttling monthly art shows. Buy work, peer in on a jeweler or potter, pick up prints and take in the community vibe that makes the downtown place so welcoming.

Ditto that for the Manitou Art Center (513-515 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, thebac.org) and Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts (304 Colorado Hwy. 105, Palmer Lake, trilakesarts.org), which both do the multiple-use campus thing, hosting studios, art shows, concerts and community gatherings.

On something of a smaller scale, Gallery 113 (113 N. Tejon St., gallery-113.com), 45 Degree (2528B W. Colorado Ave., 45degreegallery.com) and Second Floor Studios (2418 W. Colorado Ave., thesecondfloorstudios.com) are little local art enclaves not to miss.

Stuff you can't buy ...

... because Chihulys and Sargents are too expensive. Just kidding. You'll find the classics and the new and challenging at any of these locales, which cover just about everything on the spectrum, and cover it very well.

Obviously we're talking about museums, and the first hit on the list is the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (30 W. Dale St., csfineartscenter.org). The FAC is technically a performing arts complex, with a theater and an art school, but for right now, we're focusing on the visual art, which the FAC has in spades. Its Taylor Collection is one of the best sources of Southwestern art in the country. More modern pieces, like a portrait of Elsie Palmer by John Singer Sargent, and works by Arthur Dove, Georgia O'Keeffe and other early-20th-century American artists, are also lovely. Also be on the lookout for great shows curated by museum director Blake Milteer, who is a treasure in himself.

The city's colleges are also arts powerhouses. At Colorado College, the I.D.E.A. Space (825 N. Cascade Ave., theideaspace.com) and Coburn Gallery (902 N. Cascade Ave., theideaspace.com) are totally hip and brainy, sometimes crossing over into realms including science, biology or hip-hop, sometimes going super-granular on spectacular subjects. (Mose Tolliver and Henry Darger have been highlights.)

Under the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs umbrella, the Galleries of Contemporary Art are a pair of locations that consistently wow with cutting-edge works by emerging artists from around the country. GOCA 121 and 1420 (121 S. Tejon St., #100, and 1420 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., galleryuccs.org) aren't afraid to show strangeness, or to install complicated works that involve computers, mechanisms and vast floors of black sand. They also host a bevy of ancillary events like ChitChat (a dueling lecture series), artist talks over wine, concerts and lunchtime dance parties.

Pikes Peak Community College (100 W. Pikes Peak Ave., tiny.cc/ajyicx) has its strengths as well. It shows more student and faculty art — always a good barometer of where talent lives in town — but gets involved in larger issues as well, like homelessness, poverty and veterans affairs.

Down in Pueblo, the Sangre de Cristo Art Center (210 N. Santa Fe Ave., sdc-arts.org) has a fabulous collection of prints by the late Gene Kloss, as well as numerous performances in its attached theater, and hands-on stuff for the little ones at the Buell Children's Museum right next door.

D.I.Y.

Forget what others are doing — you want to get your hands dirty. At these places, you can learn the skills needed for just about any form of art-making, from your basics like drawing and painting to specific genres like textile work, pottery, jewelry and stained glass.

The Bemis School of Art (818 Pelham Place, bemisartschool.org) is the place to start if you're unsure where your interests lie nowadays. Each semester is jam-packed with every kind of art class for every age. Like piñatas? You can make one. Want to hone your digital art skills? Throw a pot? Act? Cook? Write? You can do it all.

There are great, lower-cost options around town, too. The ModboCo School of Art (1604 S. Cascade Ave., themodboco.com), run by the same folks who do Modbo and S.P.Q.R., offers affordable classes for kids and adults in drawing, painting and more. The Sheppard Art Institute (sheppardartinstitute.org), whose folks teach at the Mission Arts Center and First Presbyterian Church, is another longtime local resource for those who want to jump in. Full Spectrum Art Glass Supply and Gallery (828 E. Fillmore St., fsartglass.com) is a great spot with lots of flexibility, offering courses focused on both projects and skills — meaning you can go and just make something, or you can go and learn the skills behind creating fused glass or stained glass works.

Concrete Couch (concretecouch.org) is less a school and more a community movement. The sweet and laid-back nonprofit organizes mural-painting along trails, bench-building, and the creation of art walls speckled with fun mosaics. It also basically makes Colorado Springs a friendlier place. Watch its calendar for upcoming projects, which are often free to join.

Lastly, be on the lookout for classes from galleries, like Fare Bella Studio & Gallery (14 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs, farebellagallery.com) and of course Cottonwood, which take artists working in the field and puts them in the classroom.

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