Abby Kreuser does a lot of things. She has at least three jobs, plus is a full-time mom to a toddler son, Caius.
She has been in the coffee business for more than half her life, and continues as a roaster producing coffee for a local shop. With her expertise in photography, Abby also is an email concierge for a company that sells photography gear.
And then there’s what she might be most known for, her art curation and ownership of Kreuser Gallery in Colorado Springs. Abby, 38, also is a recognized artist, most recently having won the Pikes Peak Arts Council Excellence in Visual Arts Award.
I first encountered Abby’s photography last year through her Lucere exhibit. When she sat down with Humanitou, we talked about the give-and-take and purpose of that project.
We also talk about artist insecurities, multipotentiality and why Abby runs her gallery differently than 90 percent of gallerists. And she shares about an experience that shapes her approach to life, motherhood and just plain being a good person.
Humanitou: Tell me about Lucere.
Abby: It was a documentary of our local creatives. I had given myself a show date (in my gallery) for August 2015. I didn’t really want to show my floral work again.
I wanted to do something different, and didn’t know what to do. I always wanted to do documentary work. I’d sort of pushed that to the side and started doing fine art.
I was talking to my partner, Armand (Alexeev), about it. He said, “You should do documentary. Do something that you love.” I love this arts community. What’s a way I could document that?
I looked at it as giving thanks back to all the people, because without all of you guys, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. It’s a reciprocative thing. If it were not for all of you, I wouldn’t have a gallery.
Humanitou: What was it like for you to have this one-on-one time to connect with so many artists in a way you hadn’t really gotten to before?
Abby: It was such a humbling experience. I’m pretty introverted and I’m kind of shy. When I would meet with people, I would get to learn so much more about them than just their art, how they came into art.
One woman, it was her way of healing herself from cancer. Another stopped drinking, and playing music became their drug of choice. It was amazing that we were able to sit down and connect.
It was so easy to start talking about not just art, but life. That was huge to me.
I’ve found so often with the gallery I meet all these amazing people but it’s all like, “OK, I need your work by this date and I need this by this date.” They drop off their work. I hang the show. We have a great First Friday and, yeah, we have some chit-chat, but we don’t get to sit down and do this.
It’s all business and I don’t get to know people on a deeper level. There’s so much more to us than our piece of artwork that’s on the wall or what we’re playing with a guitar.
Portrait of Laura BenAmots by Abby Kreuser, as part of her Lucere project.
Humanitou: You studied fine art photography. What makes art fine?
Abby: Fine art really is whatever you perceive it as, whatever us, as individuals, perceive it as. For many years, people told me photography wasn’t art. It used to frustrate the heck out of me.
Why is it not art, because you aren’t picking up a paint brush? You are picking up something and you’re creating something. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that.
Humanitou: That photography isn’t art? I’ve questioned it myself on some level. Maybe as impostor syndrome, just because photography feels easier to me than learning to paint.
When I was selected as a finalist for the PPAC Awards, I thought, it isn’t fair to the two painters that I’m in the same category as a photographer. I was thinking that, if I were to win, that’s what everyone would be thinking about me.
Abby: That’s so funny. I thought the same thing. When I received the email, I looked at Armand and said, “I think that they made a mistake.” I see myself more as a curator than I do as an artist.
I see how much talent we have in this city and I have never put myself in the realm of the Chris Alvarezes or, you know, the people that I show in my gallery.
I called Kate Perdoni, who used to be the president of PPAC, who is a really good friend of mine. She said, “I can see why you are feeling weird about it being as an artist versus a curator or an exhibit.”
Because that’s what I feel like I’m known for. I show once every three or four years, because I’m always showing somebody else.
But she said, “You need to just take this in and be proud of yourself, because obviously other people feel that way. You wouldn’t be voted if somebody didn’t feel that way about you and your work.”
It’s just us being insecure, really.
Humanitou: I’m curious about the gallery part of your life. It’s a tough business and yet you highlight many artists who are unknown and, therefore, less likely to bring predictable sales. That’s different than the thematic approaches other artists have told me are so common.
They say, “This is what I want.” They pick out exactly what they want. The curating starts from the time they meet with somebody, and they’ll end up going to their studios and pick out exactly what pieces they want.
And then, one out of 10 are like me. I know other galleries that operate like me. I think it’s because I’m an artist and a business person that I know what it takes to produce a body of work. I know when I see something that I like.
Just because I saw your Humanitou stuff doesn’t mean that you don’t have an eye for other things. [Note: My first solo photography show — non-Humanitou work — will be in April 2020 at Kreuser Gallery.]
But I’ve realized that, if I ever want to do this for a living, I can’t always do that. I have to show a variety of people. That’s what’s going to bring in revenue for both of us. I want to do this full-time, because I really believe in it.
Humanitou: Gallery success to you sounds like a mix of the practical and a personal passion.
Abby: I’m not a huge money-motivated person. Yes, I want to be comfortable. And I want to be able to do my part for my family.
What feeds me more than anything is what these spaces do for the community. Not just mine. I’m talking about all of it. I think our city needs arts and culture, and I see what happens on First Friday.
I see, like when I had the artist talk last month, how inspired people are when they walk out the door, how thankful they were that there was some place they could go to watch two artists do demos and talk about their work.
To me, that’s payment enough. There are people who say, “You’re so naive, Abby. You have to make money.” Yes, I do. But that does really feed my soul, seeing that kind of thing happen.
Humanitou: What has been an especially pivotal or shaping experience in your life?
Abby: Growing up, I was really close to my dad. Up until I was 16 or 17. Then, I found out he was completely somebody I didn’t think he was, and we no longer have a relationship.
For the longest time, I got into photography because of him. He carried a camera around ever since we were little kids, and he was like a mentor to me. I wanted to do the things my dad did. I looked up to him.
For a long time, I found myself giving credit to him for my photography career. It was funny, because I opened the gallery and the Independent wrote an article about me. It was about my accomplishments and how hard I worked.
He read the article and all he said (to my sister) was, “I can’t believe how she didn’t mention me and how I got her to where she is.”
Now that I’m a parent, I can’t ever imagine myself doing that. It’s not about you. I busted my ass to get to where I’m at. I did it myself. I chose to open a gallery. I didn’t have anybody help me. I did it because I wanted to do it. Yes, I was inspired by people but …
That has taught me to work harder. He did teach us a lot in that he taught us — this is kind of harsh — how we don’t want to be as a person. It’s inspired me a lot in that way to continue doing good.
What I do feeds my soul, because I feel like I’m doing something good for the community.
Humanitou: Is there anything you are afraid of in life.
Abby: Yeah. Failing at this.
When I took over this (additional) side of the gallery, I sat down with Armand and said, “I don’t want to do coffee anymore, I just want to do this. You told me one time, ‘You do so much, Abby. Imagine if you focused on one thing how successful you would be.’”
I brought it up that way, thinking, “You said once …” And when he gave me the go-ahead, it totally flip-flopped. “No, I think I should hang onto coffee until I have my school loans paid off, until we’re out of debt, until blah blah blah.”
I had all these excuses, then thought, “This is so weird. You just asked for something. Now you’re saying ‘no.’” But I don’t want to fail at it.
Now that I know Armand is in my corner, that’s great. Maybe I just needed to hear that and didn’t even realize that’s why I was asking. But, yeah, it scares me. I put so much of my heart into this and it means a lot to me. I want it to work.
Humanitou: A word comes to mind, and it’s something I wrote about recently: multipotentiality. Like it sounds, it’s the idea of having multiple potentials. But we’re socialized to think we must choose one thing to be in life. For many creative people, that’s a problem.
Abby: It’s kind of a funny thing. You’re right.
I’ve had a passion for coffee since I became a barista right before I turned 16. I’ve been doing coffee for more than 20 years. Now I’m 38 years old and have arthritis from it. I don’t want to do it for the rest of my life.
I actually did think I wanted to. I used to say, “I’m going to build a coffee shop, wine bar, gallery all mixed together.” Because I do have all those interests. Now there are some things I think I’ll let go.
I know there will always be other things. I think that’s part of my personality. I feel like I just want it all to be art-related where I’m at now.
Humanitou: Something I’ve come to about multipotentiality is it’s OK for us to feel good about it, despite how it seems to make other people uncomfortable that we won’t choose just one passion to pursue.
Abby: Right. When I was waiting on tables before, I ran into somebody whose wedding I’d photographed. There were three women at the table.
She said, “Are you still doing photography?”
I said, “I am. I don’t do weddings anymore. I do fine art and I own a gallery, and I still do the coffee.”
I walked away and I heard another woman at the booth say, “She’s obviously not very successful, if she has to work all those other jobs.”
I thought, “Wow. That’s not true.”
Some people just do a lot of things.
This Humanitou conversation is cross-posted at PeakRadar.com. PeakRadar.com is the Pikes Peak region’s cultural calendar and digital cultural center, connecting residents and tourists with our vibrant arts community. Your source for what’s happening is PeakRadar.com!