Lonnie Hanzon’s backyard and home studio is filled to the brim with odds and ends that wind up in his artistic creations. This week, amid the pool filled with giant orbs and an informal mannequin community, one could find a rainbow altar, shimmering in all its partially constructed glory.
This is the “Shrine to Humanity,” produced, in part, from supplies in Hanzon’s found-object collection. It is to become a symbol of spirituality that he and collaborator Paolo Wellman hope will bring balance to Denver PrideFest.
Hanzon is an internationally-hired commercial artist, but you probably know him best by his local work, like “The Evolution of the Ball” outside of Coors Field or the intricate designs adorning the Wizard’s Chest.
Another of Hanzon’s pieces, a visual exploration of the “Declaration Toward a Global Ethic” by the Parliament of the World’s Religions that he made in the 90s, will also be on display in the McNichols building during PrideFest alongside pieces of the famous AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Along with Wellman, normally his studio manager, Hanzon has created installation art for Denver’s PrideFest for the last three years. Their work has become more than decoration, morphing Civic Center Park into an artful landscape that reflects the LGBTQ community’s experience of current events.
In 2015 Hanzon and his team created the “Equality Cake,” a series of giant, disco-ball-bedazzled wedding cakes that turned out to be a celebration of the Supreme Court’s equal marriage decision days after its appearance.
That year, said Hanzon, who finally “officially” married his husband, Terry, of 35 years, “It felt like a lifelong warrant had been lifted.”
The 2016 installation was a drastic tone shift and a quick turnaround after the Pulse Nightclub shootings in Orlando rocked the nation right before PrideFest began. A simple, giant message board allowed attendees to mourn through expressions of love. By the end of the weekend, there was little room for additions.
“We had to come up with something that addressed what was going on without the energy going the wrong direction,” Hanzon said, reflecting on the Orlando tribute.
In the same spirit, Wellman and Hanzon collaborated together this year to create their “Shrine to Humanity.” The collection of rainbow pedestals, they hope, will create a sanctuary inside PrideFest, a place for spiritual reflection amid tense political times.
Especially since part of PrideFest once again this year is a pre-planned rally, the artists thought it might be nice to provide a different kind of resistance space for their audience, some place a bit more placid.
But, said Hanzon, the Shrine is also a symbol. Troubled by increasing tensions in politics, Islamophobia and “concentration camps” for gay people in Chechnya, he and Wellman said they wanted to send a message to the rest of the world.
“There’s this thing going on in our country and in our world about hate in the name of God, discrimination in the name of God, war in the name of God, and the assumption that the LGBTQ community are Godless,” Hanzon said, covered in paint and through a mask for the fumes. “I don’t belong to a particular church, but it doesn’t make me Godless.”
The Shrine will feature symbols loosely associated with world religions, constructed out of both natural materials as well as his library of found objects.
For co-creator Wellman, who imagined the initial concept, the shrine is also a message of diversity within his community.
“It’s not all ‘leather daddies,'” he says, laughing. “It’s important to have that side of things shown and celebrated.”
And so, amid the expressions of celebration and anger, PrideFest will also have an introspective space, one meant to exude love.
“That’s why it’s the ‘Shine to Humanity,'” Hanzon said. “It’s for everyone — all religions, all faiths, all colors, all shapes.”