Interview & Text by Travis Egedy
Mark Sink is kind of a big deal. I have known him for years, and outside of being a good friend, he has always been a supporter and champion of the underground art community. As a young emerging artist in a city that sometimes chooses not to care about such things, Mark has always been there getting people to pay attention. He is actually one of the reasons that the term “Denver art community” is even something to be written about. He is directly responsible for Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and is basically behind or involved somehow in most of our cities coolest and more progressive art happenings, most notably the “Month of Photography,” taking place throughout Denver this month and into April.
During the Month of Photography (or MOP), over one hundred galleries, concert venues, warehouses and museum spaces will be filled with photographs from hundreds of artists both from Denver and all over the world. The idea is to create dialogue between the city and the art scene and to celebrate the medium he loves, all the while allowing scores of relatively unknown photographers a chance to have their work recognized and seen. This can only be positive, and Mark speaks of his wish that MOP will be able to transform Denver’s urban landscape into a canvas that can be beautified.
I spoke with Mark in his kitchen over some tea about MOP and the beautification of Denver.
TE: To me, you are someone who is a very important fixture in the Denver art community, even a legend of sorts, but for the readers who maybe don’t know, can you tell me a little bit about who you are and what you do here in Denver?
MS: I am a photographer, curator, art activist. I get myself involved with many art related projects, like getting the Museum of Contemporary Art going. I co-founded it.
You started that in the 90’s right?
Yeah, the early 90’s. Some of the very first board meetings took place in my back yard. Our very first “action item” was to make a bumper sticker that said “wanted: a Contemporary Art Museum.” After that people really stepped up to bat and started supporting us … the main one was Sue Cannon. She paid the paychecks, so our pistons started firing. I was director for a year, and it was a great year. It turned into a photography museum basically; I showed three big nature photography shows.
How did you get started in photography and what is your main interest in it?
Photography started at Metro. I was in printmaking and painting...
This was way back?
(laughs) This was WAY back, this was in the 70’s baby. Bellbottoms. Boy if we could have some of our clothes now that we wore then... anyways, I had always loved photography, but what was the big breakthrough was to go to a class that said you could make ART with your camera. That idea hadn’t really dawned on me. Photography as fine art was not being taught in the schools at that time. Fine art photography as a medium to make artwork did not exist. I had a wonderful teacher that said the camera didn’t matter, so I found a little plastic Diana camera from my childhood that had a roll of film in it that I ended up developing. It was pictures of my mother that I had taken from knee height as a tiny little kid. It blew my mind. To see the optics of this tiny plastic toy camera, that was my golden door. Most of my career was that Diana camera. After school I moved to New York, and I was lucky enough my work started to get recognized. I was doing commercial work. I shot bands and basically anything that moved. In the early 80’s of course, a big bubble change was meeting Andy Warhol; that busted this sad little art student kid right out of the universe.
So let’s talk about the Month of Photography. March in Denver is known as the Month of Photography, or MOP, and that is your brainchild, you started it. What is it exactly?
MOP is stirring up all of the art galleries and art institutions to celebrate photography for a month or more. I am a big believer in power in numbers. It’s just very interesting when you send these tops spinning; they create their own media. The next thing you know you have a whole bag of people spinning, and the talk is around the town. It gains its own momentum.
We started off thinking it would be about 50 galleries, and then the galleries grew up to 80 galleries, then we celebrated when there was 100 galleries.
I didn’t even know there were 100 galleries in town!
Well it’s all down the front-range. There [are] 20 venues in Boulder, a handful in Fort Collins. There is something like 120 events going on.
What are some of the exhibitions you are most excited about?
Well of course the one we are doing at Redline, but the big banger, top job one is our “Big Picture” show. It is catching on worldwide. We have work coming from Shanghai, Paris, several from Russia, all over. We are going to post it all over Denver, and we are sending work from Denver out to all these places.
What do you mean post it all over Denver?
We are wheat-pasting in approved sites, and it is going to be in the Illiterate gallery and in the Theory and Practice gallery. We are printing two of each piece so that it might be in a gallery and on the side of a building at the same time. We have the side of Crema coffee, the Hi Dive, all different places.
Is this the first year it has been really international like this?
Yes. We proposed the show at Illiterate and I said, let’s do big Xeroxes. Let’s get people from other countries! We did an international calling …We have people flying in from all over the place.
It’s exciting, but there are issues of course. It brings up the issue that Denver is basically street art free. It’s because of this mob boss style graffiti task force program, who keep presenting harsher and harsher bills for mandatory jail times and felonies. Grand larceny! not just larceny, but grand larceny, like robbing a bank with a gun, and that is messed up. Any other city in the world has beautiful street art programs. Everyone is kind of nervous.
Do you think that all the wheat pasting you will be doing has the potential to hopefully change Denver’s opinion on street art? I mean, think about how beautiful it will be to be seeing these huge photographs on the sides of buildings!
I know, it’s a freaking dumpster, why not have an image on it?
Well that’s my point. This is my first time as seeing through the eyes of a tagger. It’s addicting, finding those grey zones. Those closed buildings, the boarded up buildings, abandoned places. I don’t really consider this “street art;” that is a whole canon. The canon of street art is radicalism that is in your face, almost as a “fuck you” kind of thing. I am more interested in beautification. I am more romantic about it; it is an art beautification project.
So this is a big part of the Month of Photography—this aspect of it being beyond the gallery walls?
Well the idea is to bring people and the world closer together through photography, and the street project really hits that on the head. So much is going on throughout the month. The Denver Art Museum will be having a great show, Museo de las Americas will have one of the best shows in the city—it’s just killer. It is of female Mexican photographers. It is a must see show. The pieces are priceless and took a lot to get out of museum collections and stuff to even be here. There are two Warhol shows going on.
It seems MOP gives a chance to a lot of photographers to be seen who otherwise wouldn’t be. Photography shows seem rare in Denver, and I know a lot of photographers have a hard time showing their work. Was this one of the reasons you started MOP? To allow these artists to be seen?
Oh, totally. It is an incredible opportunity for photographers to be able to submit their work to the best galleries in Denver. One of the big parts of MOP is the portfolio review. Painters and sculptors don’t have this opportunity to sit down for a half an hour to show your work to directors of museums, curators, and art dealers, not only just for advice but you get a chance to break into that world. You can be discovered. You can enter to do that on our website. In Houston, this same portfolio review costs $1,200; in Denver we are doing it for $30 bucks—it’s amazing.
It is a celebration of photography, and it brings dialogue on photography, and like this street art dialogue. It is a good thing. We are getting press inquiries from magazines all over the world asking us “What is up with Denver?” everyone is really interested in it. It is an important thing for the city.
For any and all information about MOP visit: http://monthofphotography.blogspot.com/