Friday, December 07, 2007

Denver Gillen: Realizing a Dream

"Between my sister, brother and me," writes Jenifer Gillen Cohn, "we have approximately 20 of Denver's original paintings."

"I am so amazed, every time I look at these illustrations. I just cannot believe how beautiful they are. By the way, I don't know whether I mentioned this or not but, Pop did not like hunting. So, when he was commissioned to a hunting cover, he would give nobility to the animals and depersonalize the hunters. He said it was not a conscience effort on his part, but nevertheless, hoped that his clients never discovered the truth."

"I've been working on putting on a gallery show of my father's original Outdoor Life magazine cover paintings. The gallery is the Bruce Webber Gallery in town here. The show will be opening on December 6, with a reception, and will run through December 24."

"Bruce has been in touch with Illustration House regarding my father's Outdoor Life cover paintings. He spoke with Walt Reed himself who remembers my father very fondly and is very eager to sell his work. He estimates that the initial value of the covers will be $2000 t0 $3000."

"My sister and I agreed to send, through the Webber Gallery, one fishing and one hunting cover painting to be auctioned, just to test the waters."

"I'm hazy on what [Denver] produced during the 70's... work dropped off with some of his large clients such as Outdoor Life for whom he had been doing almost half the covers a year. My parents were living in Mexico then, and I was living in Boston, so I did not have the daily updates. However, Pop was really concentrating on his own creations by then, traveling to New York to pick up commercial jobs from time to time."

"[A lot of] stuff was left in Mexico after my mother's death. We three kids had to close up the house and try to salvage as much of their personal belongings as well as the artwork and artifacts that had been accumulated over the years. We were in no position to save everything, unfortunately. My sister and brother and I stuffed as much of the artwork as we could into portfolios and suitcases. All of the remaining framed paintings were shipped to galleries that had been representing Denver when he was alive. Tons of press proofs had to be tossed out."

"Pop was very concerned about the growing tendency by magazines, even in his day, to use photography as a way of illustrating stories. My local newspaper editor, who did an article last Christmas regarding Pop's "Rudolph", asked me if Pop would have become computer literate if he were still an illustrator today. I know the answer in my gut -- NO! But, he was 60 when he died. And, he had been winding down from magazine illustration after Mimi and he moved to Mexico permanently."

"He concentrated on his painting and was producing lovely, complex works that warranted gallery shows. He was represented in many fine galleries, primarily in the Southwest, since his main subject matter was the Mexican lifestyle. He was doing commissioned portraits as well, with an original style that incorporated imagery of the persons life into the work. "

"I am very glad that my parents fell in love with Mexico. They were able to have a very lovely and financially secure lifestyle there. Being where the Yankee dollar went a lot further, Pop was able to handle the transition from full-time illustrator to doing gallery shows."

"His goal was to be represented at a showing in Mexico City. And fortunately, he was able to realize that dream."

*If you're in the Lake Worth, Florida area, this is your chance to see Denver Gillen's beautiful originals in person. The show at the Webber Gallery opens tomorrow (December 7th, 2007) and runs until the 24th.

My heartfelt thanks to Jenifer Gillen Cohn for sharing so many personal memories of her Pop, Denver Gillen, with us this past week.

Denver Gillen Flickr set.


  1. Beautiful work. Wonderful combination of draftsmanship, and a painterly style.
    Thanks to his family for sharing this treasure.
    Bruce Hettema

  2. Just like the previous comment: great work: nice balance between the graphic lines and the painterly finesse!

  3. I really can't add much to the comments already expressed. Reading his daughter's recollections, not only gives far more meaning to his excellent illustrations and paintings, but I was touched by her love, admiration and respect conveyed towards her "Pop". It's a shame he died relatively young. His illustrations and paintings were of the highest quality, and that kind of talent is rare... especially today.


  4. Gillen's hunting compositions are amazingly kinetic. As you look at each painting you can't help but play out the next few seconds of action in your mind's eye. And what an eye-popping palette. Gillen also works a lot of texture and line into his work without overrendering. What a touch!

  5. Anonymous1:03 AM

    I am over a year late at coming across the news of an exhibit of the work of Denver Gillen. Reading the words written by his daughter brings back my life in Taxco,Mexico, and the warm friendship of my family with his.
    I would love to reconnect sometime.
    I am fortunate to own three of his pieces, inherited from my father Sully Sullivan, of the Hacienda del Chorrillo.

  6. Dear Anonymous;

    I have forwarded your comment to Jenifer - and she remembers your family as well, and very fondly! If you'd like to reconnect with her, please send an email to me privately:

    and I will forward your contact info to Jen.

  7. We have a wonderful ink drawing with blue wash illustration dated 9/50 signed by Denver Gillen. It was given to us by an advertising executive and looks to be artwork for a printer. The illustration is so well done and looks like it would possibly have supported a book or magazine crime story. I’d be interested to know what the piece was used for.