The Pueblo West View

Perhaps Justin Reddick's hard-edged images someday will be what Bruce Springsteen's lyrics are to the American working class.

It would be a welcome development, but it's not what Reddick's after with his abstracts and modernist depictions of lost dreams, as well as the humor and hope that sustains the lucky ones - or propels them to make a change.

Reddick, 27, isn't focused on fame or fortune when painting a butcher begging God for freedom from the monotony of his job. Or when choosing the right colors for self-portraits that are imbued with the same competing philosophies and raw emotion that drew him to put brush to canvas three years ago.

A Safeway produce manager with 10 years experience and a lifetime in the retail world, Reddick had not even a trace of training or experience when he started painting.

But he had plenty to say and found that powerful content can overrides any lack of "professional" technique or the marketing smarts to "sell" his work.

After numerous one-man shows and hanging his work with other artists in a few larger shows around Southern Colorado, Reddick's latest show, "The Blue Collar Chronicles," is on display through July in the Fine Art Gallery at Colorado State University-Pueblo's Capps Capozzolo Academic Center for the Arts.

It's another step in what he hopes will become a career someday. He's working on a bachelor of fine arts degree at CSU-P and plans to get a master's in art therapy when that's finished.

For now, though, he's content with life as it is - expecting his first child, working hard at a decent job and nurturing dreams of the future in his tiny basement "studio."

After six years with Safeway in Fort Collins, Reddick and his wife, whom he met at Safeway, moved to Pueblo West three years ago. He did a stint at the store off Purcell Boulevard, then moved to Pueblo's South Side store. His wife works for the district office.

It's a job - a career, even - and one that's been good to Reddick's family. Between both parents and other relatives, they have a combined 200 years experience in retail work.

But it's not what many of them would have chosen had life not gotten in the way, or dictated a change in course or staying the course.

Reddick, 27, said his dad put aside other plans and stayed with the national grocer after an auto accident about 20 years ago left his mom disabled.

Reddick said he knows many colleagues who are frustrated or feel trapped, and plenty like himself, who have other plans for the future.

All of them, he said, "have other lives outside of work. It isn't who we are. It's just what we do."

But he encounters customers every day who "give me that look" that questions why someone of his obvious intelligence and quiet ambition is managing a grocery store product department.

The frustration of those moments once tended to curdle Reddick's outlook and feed a natural tendency toward self-deprecation and regret.

"I wanted to tell them, 'I have just as much waiting at home for me as you do' but I never said that."

He does now, though. Those feelings and frustrations are grist for his work as an artist. In sharing them, he gives voice to thousands of workers everywhere.

His father's voice is among them, and his poetry - a newfound passion found late in life - have become part of some of Reddick's newest pieces.

Some of them touch on politics, and all of them on human nature.

"Judging people by what they do for a living is such a silly way of seeing things. I think it's sad," Reddick said.

When people ask him what he does, he says, "I tell them I enjoy walks in the evening. I like good music. What do you do?

"My life is my family and my art and so much more than what I do eight hours a day at my job and that's true for most everyone."

Although his stark abstractionist style might be better received in more urbane locales, Reddick said it wouldn't be worth trading the peace he feels here.

"I can paint here. There aren't so many distractions. This just feels right," he said.


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