You may not know Mike Whiting, but you’re probably acquainted with his work. His most recognizable blocky, Pac-Man-esque sculptures are his RiNo “Rhino” or “Pinky” and “Mr. Green,” who once stood nearby off Broadway.
“Pinky” and “Mr. Green” now join 11 other works at the Denver Botanic Gardens in a summer-long exhibition called “Pixelated: Sculpture by Mike Whiting” which, for some, has been a long time coming.
Though Whiting is not based in Denver, his career as an artist matured here with interest from local dealers and gallery owners. The fact that his work has become iconic here is testament to community support over the years.
Ivar Zeile, a longtime mover and shaker in the city’s art scene, was one of his early representatives. He traces his relationship with Whiting back to 2002; Zeile began talking with the Botanic Gardens’ curatorial staff nearly a decade ago about putting his 8-bit work on display. The show, now finally a reality, follows a long stint of work by acclaimed artist Alexander Calder.
“This really is such a rare, specific moment,” Zeile said during a recent tour of the exhibition. For an artist of Whiting’s age to be honored with a solo show at such a public venue, he said, “It’s the coolest thing ever.”
Contemporary artists are rarely given such a display, he said. “You only get the credit when you’re dead.”
It’s even more exciting for an artist like Whiting to be recognized, since his work, Zeile said, was allowed to “evolve” here over many years.
Whiting’s hulking metal pieces often conjure images of the natural world through their 8-bit forms. Sometimes, those ideas are transmitted though a static of graffiti and defacement.
While “Rhino,” which is still on Broadway, is very much covered with this kind of thing, some of the sculptures that have been cleaned up for “Pixelated” maintain hints of rougher pasts.
Despite some sanding down, Whiting said, “It’s kind of nice that a little bit of that stuff is left behind.”
Impressions left from his sculptures’ former surroundings is a fact of life for an artist with work displayed in public. Whiting said there’s an exercise in releasing a piece when he’s finished with it.
“Once I’ve given it away it’s kind of not mine any more,” he said. “I do kind of have to let go…there’s something kind of great about that.”
Most of all, despite dings left by passers by in another life, Whiting and Zeile both say they’re thrilled to see so much of this body of work in once place.
“It’s great to see them all come back together,” Whiting said.