Double-shot double take: Greg Marquez and his Western-inspired watercolors

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You can find art all over town -- not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

Colorado native and outdoorsman Greg Marquez of Artquez can't get enough of the Wild West, which inspires watercolors showcasing his penchant for that period, as well as alleyways, clouds and the glorious sport of baseball.

See also: Cara Harjes paints children's art that parents adore

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"I've been doing it all my life," says Marquez, when prodded about his progression into art. He briefly had gallery representation back in the '80s and even won a few awards, but between a day job as a professional gardener specializing in xeriscaping and rock garden-design (though he does the whole gamut), kids and... life, Marquez "kind of got distracted. Still," he says, "I've always painted and drawn." And he recently re-entered the Denver art scene, showing at coffeehouses.

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"I just put my gardening business to bed for the winter, and selling art helps me to get through to spring," he says. The exorbitant amount of time Marquez spends outdoors has clearly influenced his art, which is characterized by dramatic and vibrant Western landscapes born of simple sketches brought to fruition with minimal materials.

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Growing up in Denver, Marquez sometimes took the surrounding scenery for granted. Then, while he was studying at Western State University, a teacher told Marquez to "go out and paint in the world" -- and he took that to heart, traveling and artistically recording his vision of the West.

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What Marquez sees, though, isn't exactly what the Colorado tourist or transplant first notices. "Everybody in Colorado looks at the mountains and that big dramatic skyline -- and that's great," Marquez says. "But I love that line where the sky and earth meet, and all those open spaces too."

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The South Park area he sees is very different from the television series of the same name. It's an "unbelievably beautiful area," he says, that has inspired some of Marquez's most stunning scenes, and he particularly loves the "big open grassland" that can be spied from atop Kenosha Pass. "There aren't a lot of buildings, just a few ranches. It is truly beautiful," he says.

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Marquez doesn't always drive 65 miles to paint, though. You might have seen him working in Washington Park or Civic Center Park -- two of his go-to local spots.

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The artist favors watercolors, which he's been doing since childhood, because they're "very organic and simple -- like drawing," he says. Mostly self-taught, Marquez has admired great water colorists over the years. "I've never done oil paints," he adds. "And I only got into acrylics recently because I had the opportunity to do a mural that I couldn't do with watercolor."

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Marquez was commissioned to do two murals for Venoco Inc., a California-based oil company operating out of Republic Plaza. "I'm probably not the biggest fan of that business," admits Marquez, "but they are there and what's really interesting is that the metal rigs almost provide an ecosystem of their own." With that realization, the artists focused his efforts on nature surrounding the rigs. One mural illustrates activity above water, and the other showcases what's beneath.

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Aside from nature, Marquez is also inspired by baseball, which "becomes perfect when played by little boys having fun on a summer afternoon." Marquez's baseball series portrays his own son, who played catcher as a child. (Don't worry: Marquez has also witnessed perfection when little girls enjoy the sport.)

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Marquez's watercolors are currently on display at Kaladi Brothers Coffee through the end of the month in a show curated by Caleb Wassell. You'll find a bin of small, matted, original watercolors available for $50 each. "That's a killer price," says the artist, noting that coffeehouses provide a unique opportunity for people to collect local art that's affordable.
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In October he showed his acrylics at Café Europa; before that his work lined the walls of Logan's Espresso Café in Boulder and Capital Tea. But the Kaladi's exhibition is the first one where Marquez has shown his distinct and offbeat alleyways.

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"I grew up in southwest Denver, where we didn't have alleys," recalls Marquez, who remembers being "obsessed with them" as a child. Later, it dawned on Marquez that he knew his neighbors "more through alleys than the streets." He was always meeting folks while working with the garage door open, making friends when hauling stuff to the dumpster. The infatuation with such an unnoticed portion of town ultimately inspired the alley series.

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Marquez is represented by Denver-based consulting firm NINE dot ARTS, and has recently been talking with a few galleries. But while he's psyched about conversations he's had with local galleries, he truly loves appearing in coffee shops, which are "a little more democratic" in their art, as evinced by the eclectic choices in style and medium.

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Coffee shops, too, are more "accessible and organic," he says. "Everyone goes into a coffeehouse, but not everybody goes into galleries." He analogizes his coffeehouse sales to "the carrot in front of [his] nose that keeps moving [him] forward," explaining that the cash inflow gives him motivation to do more.

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When he isn't doing landscape work, gardening and painting, Marquez teaches painting and drawing, volunteering in the Denver Public Schools. For more of his work, check out Artquez on Facebook or visit Marquez's website, where you can e-mail him directly.

Follow Jamie Siebrase on Twitter.



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