Daniel Sprick, one of Colorado’s most accomplished artists, recently returned from New York City, where he was preparing for a new exhibition – his first since 2016. Opening at the Gerald Peters Gallery on February 11, the Sprick exhibition âInteriorsâ will exhibit his ethereal, lifelike paintings from his 16th-floor apartment near City Park, most created during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Sprick is arguably the best figurative painter in Colorado, or perhaps the Rocky Mountain region. In Sprick’s hands, interiors are both everyday and from another world. The degree of verisimilitude of his paintings approaches the fine art photography of spaces saturated with lush natural light. Sprick’s paintings are, in a nutshell, magnificent.
âGreat beauty can be found, can be expressed,â Sprick said. âI think there is a lot more consensus on beauty than a lot of people would like to think. It is opposed to saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Beauty is Sprick’s pole star. And he finds beauty in realism.
âBeauty is something that we never talk about in contemporary art, not to my knowledge. If it is beautiful, it is because it values ââthe wealth and prestige of the owner, but not on the basis of art, âhe said.
âIn our time, in architecture from the beginning of the 20th century until today, beauty was seen as a weakness. Beauty was scorned in architecture, and I think the other arts followed suit, âSprick said. âBut nothing could be more important and good than beauty. Nature, another human: sometimes it stops your heart from seeing incredible beauty. Very rarely works of art do this.
The beauty and verisimilitude of a Sprick portrait can take your breath away. Ditto with a still life or a landscape by Sprick.
âA painting is made up of light and dark spots on canvas, but these combinations of light and dark can unlock the pleasure centers of the human mind, what we call beauty, and can become transcendent,â Sprick said.
John Madden – one of the titans of the Denver subway development, longtime patron of the arts and co-founder of the Museum of Outdoor Art (MOA) – began collecting fine art in the 1960s. Madden, now aged aged 92, learned aesthetics at the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, Neb.
âI worked there for 20 years, from carpenter to tour guide,â Madden said. âIt was there that I met Rembrandt and Titian.
The Madden Collection – approximately 100 pieces of which were donated to the University of Denver – includes works by Robert Rauschenberg, Grandma Moses, Thomas Moran, Thomas Hart Benton, Wilson Hurly, Chen Chi, and many other notable artists. Madden also collected eight paintings by Daniel Sprick. MOA owns three other Spricks, including one of the painter’s huge still lifes. MOA has also produced a documentary film, âDaniel Sprick: Pursuit of Truth and Beauty,â which can be viewed on moaonline.org.
Madden described one of his paintings of Sprick: âIt’s a river at night. Phenomenal! It’s a romantic, very, very realistic image with incredible light handling, âMadden said. âI think Daniel Sprick is a goalie and will be someone to remember. His art reflects this.
Timothy Standring, curator emeritus of the Denver Art Museum, viewed Sprick’s paintings as poetic performance art, in a way.
âBecause Sprick works in the vernacular of realism, viewers seek verisimilitude, as if his paintings are a mirror of reality – a reality that you and I might encounter,â Standring said. âAnd yet, the more we dwell on his paintings, the more we realize that they are anything but a part of our world, and are rather poetic interpretations of his own making. As such, we come across Sprick’s paintings as experiences in which we become deeply involved in the creation of his works. By responding to his breathtaking performances, we experience the poetry of his works.
Sprick takes his job seriously. He is nothing if not serious, and painting is his vocation, his spiritual quest, his raison d’Ãªtre.
When asked if he was considering painting in a style less demanding than his intensely figurative realism, Sprick simply replied, âNo. “
But then, after a prolonged silence, he added: âAbstract painting involves no skill. When people say, “My child could do this,” they could. It’s true. It’s not a challenge to make a product or paint splash. Don’t believe it when connoisseurs cast a veil of obscurity and point fingers at criteria where there are none. It’s a game without rules. No substance. Nothing here. The emperor’s clothes, he said.
âI have no capacity for self-delusion. I never had the slightest design to pretend, no matter what accolades or how successful it might be. I think I’d rather drink the poison, âSprick said. âThat’s why I have no artist statement, no theory. Here is my artist statement: what you see is what you get. “
The authenticity of verisimilitude in Sprick’s lifelike paintings impresses everyone in his orbit. Scott Fraser, based in Longmont, another renowned painter working in realism and surrealism, is Sprick’s peer.
âI’ve known Dan for 40 years. We have each other’s paintings. He’s on my list of favorite artists. We’re close friends, âFraser said. âIt’s remarkable what he did technically. There is a consistent quality in his work which he has maintained. He experimented with subjects, and I appreciate him. It is very wide. I’m just a still life painter, but Dan paints still lifes and landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes. He paints the figure, âFraser said. “He has a certain set of skills that are improving and he applies them to everything.”
Sprick, who is currently working on an almost life-size nude, credits not only her talent, but her dedication as well.
âI always try to master it, because it cannot be mastered. My technical skills are improving more and more, in part because I don’t do anything else. I eat, sleep, and cycle – I cycle to work most of the time – but I hardly do anything other than artwork. It is entirely my choice to live, breathe and progress to greater beauty, âsaid Sprick.
His lifestyle obviously works for him. At 68, Sprick appears almost like a boy: thin, a face without wrinkles, a head full of brown hair. Yet he knows he is not a Peter Pan of the painting.
âI will continue as long as I can. I’m getting old and I’m going to run out of time. Time is running out for me and everyone else, so I’m working hard while I still can because I know the ability is going to go away.
Meanwhile, he is fulfilled and follows his inner compass: âThere is still territory to be discovered,â Sprick said. “I’m sailing for a continent I’m not even sure exists.”
Colleen Smith is a longtime Denver-based art writer.