Words are weird. Sometimes they sound the same, but have two completely different meanings. Other times they’re even spelled the same, but are defined separately. When talking about a recent project involving photography and firearms, local artist Keith D’Angelo focuses on the irony of the word “shoot.”
“It’s really interesting the similarities between photography and firearms, down to the word ‘shoot,’” he said. “You shoot a camera and you shoot a gun, but they have completely different intentions. When you shoot a gun, especially a high-powered rifle, it’s to end life. When you shoot a picture, you want to keep that moment in time forever.”
D’Angelo, who moved from Denver to Trout Lake in June, has used art to combat gun violence since 2016, as he pieces together photography equipment to create strikingly realistic-looking “guns.”
An exhibit of his work, titled “Lost Focus: A Visual Commentary on Gun Violence,” will debut Thursday night at Slate Gray Gallery from 5-8 p.m., in conjunction with the Telluride Fire Festival. New pieces from Telluride artist Julie McNair will also be on display.
Eunika Rogers, Slate Gray Gallery director, admits she was hesitant to feature D’Angelo’s art at first, but after learning about his message she did a “180-degree turn.”
“I was looking at guns, until I actually blew up the pictures and saw what it was,” she said of D’Angelo’s initial email outlining the exhibit. “ … I was thinking to myself that I would be completely against it.”
The firearms D’Angelo replicates are primarily assault rifles, like those that are typically employed during mass shootings. Some of his bigger pieces include a Gatling gun and a machine gun mounted on the back of a World War II-era Jeep. As Rogers describes it, “the guns that he features are not hunting guns.”
The sight of such firepower almost always evokes strong emotions, D’Angelo said, which is part of his mission.
“They do look so realistic. There’s a little bit of shellshock, like, ‘What are you doing with that gun?’” he said, adding he’s had the cops called on him several times over the years.
With a master’s degree in social work from the University of Denver and 14 years of metal sculpting under his belt, D’Angelo partnered with Denver photographer Jason Siegel in 2016 for a project called “Shoot Portraits, Not People.” It was a “hairball idea,” he explained, but it was a way to combine his two passions — art and social justice. The exhibit was shown throughout the state, and after a show in Aspen, a Brazilian government official reached out to D’Angelo.
“He wanted to use some of the images as an anti-gun violence campaign on billboards in Rio de Janeiro,” he said.
In 2017, D’Angelo started donating a percentage of his art sales to mass shooting victims’ funds. It was a way to help, he said. Currently, he’s donating to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, a nonprofit that works to “secure freedom from gun violence through research, strategic engagement, and effective policy advocacy,” according to its website (csgv.org). So far he’s donated several thousand dollars to various efforts.
Since 2016, there have been 1,053 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive. A mass shooting is widely defined as an incident in which four or more people are killed as a result of firearms-related violence.
While people have passionate opinions about gun control, D’Angelo believes his works evoke more civil discussions.
“It’s like, ‘Let’s have a talk about gun violence.’ It’s a good way to put that on the table. … People respond well to it,” he said.
After the solo show in Telluride, he would like to get “more eyes” on the exhibit, hopefully in major markets like New York City or Los Angeles.
D’Angelo, who previously lived in Telluride and can trace his family’s history in the area back to the 1880s, doesn’t just specialize in faux firearms, though. He likes to say, “If you can dream it, I can build it.”
After an apprenticeship in Carbondale, D’Angelo discovered his love for metalworking.
“I just really enjoy the way you can manipulate metal,” he said, before recalling one of his mentor’s favorite sayings. “Where there’s a will there’s a way.”