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Abigail Kreuser honors local artists with a new portrait exhibit and book

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Abigail Kreuser - BRIAN TRYON
  • Brian Tryon
  • Abigail Kreuser
Over the course of this year, our arts community has seen a great many successes. Among 2017's milestones: the report released by the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, which estimated $153.3 million in local economic activity generated by arts and culture; the Pikes Peak Library District opening the doors of Knights of Columbus Hall to displaced DIY venue Flux Capacitor; the conclusion of Colorado Springs Philharmonic's 90th anniversary season; the official certification of Manitou Springs' creative district; the first Arts Month to compensate artists and performers for putting on pop-up community events; and far too many awards and grants to recap here.

As the year draws to a close, it seems an appropriate time to celebrate these successes and, more importantly, the people who continue to work to beautify or otherwise enrich our region. That same sense of celebration is what drove Abigail Kreuser, photographer and owner of downtown's Kreuser Gallery, to honor her artistic friends.

A Colorado Springs native with a degree in fine art photography from Rochester Institute of Technology, Kreuser began taking portraits in 2003, opened her gallery in 2011, and once curated art exhibits at local bars and cafés such as Bar-K and The Perk Downtown. In addition to roasting coffee for the family business, Purple Mountain Coffee Company, Kreuser keeps herself busy with monthly shows in her own space, exhibiting her work as well as that of others in the community, often showcasing unique contemporary art.

"She gave me my first show in Colorado Springs and has supported me in many ways," says fellow photographer Brian Tryon, whose exhibit I Get by with a Little Help from My Friends opened at Kreuser's neighbor gallery TwentyOne8 earlier this month. Tryon, like Kreuser, has a passion for the artistic community here in town. He says: "What I see now is a core group of artists/creatives making a huge difference in the art scene," adding, "[Kreuser] is very active in growing the arts in our city. She keeps things fresh and exciting. ... She's influenced many [others] as well. I can't say enough about the person she is."

"Performing is a giving activity. The idea of being onstage and sharing with an audience; the immediate energy of the crowd is so fulfilling. - In the foundation world, we get told all of the time that “we can’t.” What inspires me is proving the ones who say “we can’t” wrong." — David Siegel - ABIGAIL KREUSER
  • Abigail Kreuser
  • "Performing is a giving activity. The idea of being onstage and sharing with an audience; the immediate energy of the crowd is so fulfilling.In the foundation world, we get told all of the time that “we can’t.” What inspires me is proving the ones who say “we can’t” wrong." — David Siegel

At the beginning of 2015, Kreuser scheduled herself a show in her own gallery, and immediately began to worry about how she might fill it. She knew at the time that she wanted to do something different from her signature floral photography, and she knew that she wanted to document something, though the subject eluded her at first.

"What came to me," says the 37-year-old, "is that I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if it weren't for all the creatives in this community supporting each other, and me and my gallery. I wanted to pay homage, thank [the] people I had worked with."

"There is a joy and fulfillment you get from having an idea and bringing it into fruition. - My life has evolved by having my home and studio here in my creative bubble. When you’re in a small pond, you get a lot of support." — Jodie Bliss - ABIGAIL KREUSER
  • Abigail Kreuser
  • "There is a joy and fulfillment you get from having an idea and bringing it into fruition.My life has evolved by having my home and studio here in my creative bubble. When you’re in a small pond, you get a lot of support." — Jodie Bliss

Her original idea was to spotlight the artists who had exhibited or played music in her gallery, but the project grew in scope as she began speaking to the people on her list. In August 2015, she opened her show with 48 portraits of 48 local artists and craftspeople, displayed in hanging books alongside quotes from interviews she had conducted with each.

Kreuser says the response to that show was wonderful, and that those subjects who had been self-conscious or nervous about speaking about themselves threw their whole support behind the project. So she decided to continue her work, meeting with members of the arts community and asking them two questions that she felt captured what she wanted to convey: "What inspires you to create?" and "What about this community feeds your creativity?"

Now, two years and some change later, she will open Lucere (meaning "shining" or "bright"), a new show at the Manitou Art Center, featuring black-and-white portraits of 116 individuals tied to the arts community, including visual artists, woodworkers, writers and musicians, each displayed in open notebooks on the wall. The tactile nature of the exhibit was important to her, she says, as it's something more effective and engaging than a straight portrait might be.

"All of a sudden there is a fire; a friction or purpose to community-based projects. When I first started printmaking it was because there was a message I wanted to get out about under-published voices, narratives, and hard-working women. The willingness of artists here to act as organizers is very fueling to me. The community is willing to show up to every event and there is still so much untapped talent here." — Han Sayles - ABIGAIL KREUSER
  • Abigail Kreuser
  • "All of a sudden there is a fire; a friction or purpose to community-based projects. When I first started printmaking it was because there was a message I wanted to get out about under-published voices, narratives, and hard-working women. The willingness of artists here to act as organizers is very fueling to me. The community is willing to show up to every event and there is still so much untapped talent here." — Han Sayles

The portraits, though, are certainly effective. They feel intimate, candid, seldom posed. "I wanted it to be natural," she says. "I wanted to capture [these artists] in their space, doing what they loved."

Local printmaker Han Sayles has her head down, earrings dangling, intently carving a large stamp in her lap; Janet Johnson of Ormao Dance Company is captured mid-movement in front of her studio mirror, arms out and a look of contemplation on her face; blacksmith Jodie Bliss, visor on, is lit from below by the glow of her torch as she works on one of her whimsical creations. Each of these portraits provides a glimpse into the artist's studio or private space, or a glimpse into their private head-space, as it were. Even musician (and Bee Vradenburg Foundation Executive Director) David Siegel's portrait, playing his fiddle outside against an urban backdrop, feels somehow private.

But the portraits comprise only a portion of Lucere, enriched by Kreuser's simple interviews. While the first question, "What inspires you?" speaks to the artist's personal vision, the second question, "What about this community feeds your creativity?" widens the scope, opening the door for a multitude of responses.

"It’s a way of getting to know myself and the world around me. The practice of it keeps me a reasonable human being. Art is passion that awakens the thing that drives the curiosity. In this community there is a necessary energy that comes from artists circulating. - Art is about possibility." — Sean O’Meallie - ABIGAIL KREUSER
  • Abigail Kreuser
  • "It’s a way of getting to know myself and the world around me. The practice of it keeps me a reasonable human being. Art is passion that awakens the thing that drives the curiosity. In this community there is a necessary energy that comes from artists circulating. Art is about possibility." — Sean O’Meallie

"What's most exciting to me is that [most] of the people I met with are just as excited about what's happening in our creative community as I am," Kreuser says. "We support each other. We give constructive criticism. Everybody goes to everybody's shows. ... Most people are very positive about everyone else's successes."

Not to say there isn't some tension, of course. Kreuser interviewed some artists who aired grievances about the community, but she elected not to include anything negative in her series. Rather, she only presents affirming quotes alongside her portraits to keep the spirit of mutual appreciation alive.

Kreuser, not content with the exhibit alone, enlisted the help of printmaker Amelia Atencio to bind the portraits and interviews into a book. Ideally, should Kreuser's crusade to capture the Colorado Springs creative community continue, this will be only the first volume.

These handmade books will be available for purchase at an admittedly steep price of $125, but Kreuser, recognizing that not everyone can afford it, has also made non-limited edition books available for $60. She wanted to keep production local, hence enlisting Atencio's skills, but it was important that the book be accessible too.

"The purpose of art is to inspire emotion in other people. I choose my subject matter to what stirs; my job is to provide you with something that stirs nostalgia and creating something that causes another to feel is a success. This community is hungry for beauty. We need art and we recognize that we need the Brett [Andrus]s, the Jon [Khoury]s and the Abigail [Kreuser]s to say 'yes, you need this.'" — Jess Preble - ABIGAIL KREUSER
  • Abigail Kreuser
  • "The purpose of art is to inspire emotion in other people. I choose my subject matter to what stirs; my job is to provide you with something that stirs nostalgia and creating something that causes another to feel is a success. This community is hungry for beauty. We need art and we recognize that we need the Brett [Andrus]s, the Jon [Khoury]s and the Abigail [Kreuser]s to say 'yes, you need this.'" — Jess Preble

Part of her goal, after all, is to peel back the layers of separation between the public and the artistic community. Kreuser herself found those layers peeling away as she compiled the portraits.

"[The process] really opened up my relationship with a lot of these people ... I learned a lot about everyone in here," she says, adding that she had mostly dealt in business with her subjects, and seldom sat down over coffee to talk philosophy.

"To escape from madness. My inspiration is selfishness, a way of keeping myself more honest with myself. I have spent a lifetime trying to justify this feeling but it is the only way to stay grounded. An artist’s mind is so different, who understands that better than other artists? I admire people that have made it their livelihood. I have a deep profound gratitude for people like you, Carole Morrison, and Deb Komitor. For all of the lengths you go through and for providing a place for artists to show to a wider community." - — Marie David - ABIGAIL KREUSER
  • Abigail Kreuser
  • "To escape from madness. My inspiration is selfishness, a way of keeping myself more honest with myself. I have spent a lifetime trying to justify this feeling but it is the only way to stay grounded. An artist’s mind is so different, who understands that better than other artists? I admire people that have made it their livelihood. I have a deep profound gratitude for people like you, Carole Morrison, and Deb Komitor. For all of the lengths you go through and for providing a place for artists to show to a wider community." — Marie David

But "everyone in here" is not everyone. According to Kreuser, she didn't even hit all the artists she set out to interview. She would meet with someone and receive suggestions for whom to speak with next, continuously adding to her list.

"This is just a glimpse of what we have going on here," she says. "There [are] so many more creatives and [there is] so much more culture in this community that this project could go on for so long. I do so much with my heart ... and I want everyone to know that I am super proud of this community, whether you are in this book or not."


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