Photo provided by the artist

“Look at these images and just smile”: Aspen artists grow marijuana pop art partnership

From left: Artists Mindy Karl and Dale Hollinger. (Photo by Craig Turpin)

Few things go better with creativity than cannabis, so as legalization spreads, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that marijuana is making its way into the international contemporary art scene, too.

But on my way to the Aspen Art Museum for a holiday season soirĂ©e, I was surprised to see a quadriptych piece through the glass window of the Karl Hollinger Annex Gallery next door featuring a pot leaf, joint, pipe and bong. It’s bright. It’s bold. It’s beautiful. Now I just have to figure out a way to make it mine.

Recognizing Mindy Karl and Dale Hollinger’s collaborative work from previous exhibitions at Aspen’s 212 Gallery, “Smoke” is one of their newest pieces, which at $16,000 is one of the highest profile works of pot pop art I’ve ever seen. A departure from their signature collages of iconic American imagery embedded in resin, most of which also include a pot leaf, I had to meet the minds behind it all.

I caught up with the longtime collaborators on Sunday in the Annex Gallery, which opened last summer as their first foray into a dedicated showcase space, to talk about their perfect partnership.

The Karl Hollinger gallery in Aspen, Colorado. (Photo by Craig Turpin)

ATW: How did you two first come together?

Hollinger: Art is lonely. Even being an artist is very lonely, so we started to work on our own but together.

Karl: We were doing our own thing as artists and met here in Aspen about 20 years ago. It was sort of a love affair at first sight, really. We started out painting together and decided soon after to start creating together … literally on top of each other’s work.

ATW: What is such a collaborative creative process like?

Hollinger: Most of what we create is on 6 x 6 (inch) squares that we have all over our studio. We work across the table from each other and use magnetic walls to plan out how they will all be arranged for a specific piece.

Karl: Our work started out very layered and very textural. There could be seven layers on one little square, so that’s how the process began with us. We’ve loved the progression of it, growing together as artists, and seeing our work evolve into more social commentary and storytelling through the flags and drug pieces.

ATW: What is it about the pot leaf that we see it in so much of your work?

Hollinger: It’s throughout all of our work, pretty much. It’s like a God-given right to smoke pot.

Karl: And it always has been, for years and years and years, because it’s what our art is about. It’s about that special time, the ’60s. It’s what we know and it’s what we grew up into. We had no preconceived ideas about what marijuana was because it — and other drugs — were everywhere. And it was just a kinder, happier, nicer time in history.

ATW: How did you decide to go in a different direction for the “Smoke” piece?

Hollinger: It’s our homage to marijuana. We did it because of the culture shift we’re seeing and because of the freedom we’re feeling.

Karl: We love the symbols and the resurgence we’ve seen over the past few years. We wanted to expand on the pot leaf we’ve used so much and go deeper into it. We used a medium of auto body paint that we love working with. Our hope is for people to look at these images and just smile. That’s what it is all about for us.

ATW: How does cannabis inspire your own creativity?

Hollinger: I can’t work and smoke. I wish I could. We really need our wits about us putting all of the pieces to our puzzles together. Loud music and dancing always helps, though!

Karl: We’ve said it many times, being high at work doesn’t work for us. I think when we’re creating, we’re so good when we’re so present together.

ATW: How has it played a role in your lives?

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Hollinger: I remember when I was in high school, we used to get high all the time. We used to say “Oh my God, when we’re old we’re going to sit on the swings at sunset and get high when we’re little old ladies.” But we never really imagined marijuana being legal. I would say for me, it’s never been a yes or a no, it has always just been there.

Karl: For me, not so much. A little bit here and there over the years.

ATW: I love the lineup of surfboards — especially in our ski town. Is the Rx one also a nod to cannabis?

Hollinger: Yes, it’s about freedom we all now have. And surfing and using marijuana are both very freeing.

ATW: What’s next for Karl Hollinger?

Karl: We’ve been so focused on the gallery, and just finished the surfboards. Dale and I have been apart for a little bit, so we’re excited to get back in the studio together and figure out what we’re going to do next.

Hollinger: Spring is always a big work season for us. And I’d love to see the surfboards travel. This past year has been an amazing experience — finally doing this on our own and being responsible for our own future as artists.

Katie Shapiro’s High Country column also appears in The Aspen Times. Follow her on Twitter at @kshapiromedia.