By Claire Martin The Denver Post The Denver Post
Dede LaRue is an artist whose early works were free and famous — or notorious, depending on how you felt about flamingos spray-painted on Denver Dumpsters.
The flamingos, and the odd windswept horse or dog, began appearing on Dumpsters in the mid-1980s.
Sanitation crews generally approved; the art brightened their job. Public sentiment was divided between ardent fans, who saw it as guerrilla art, and disapproving scolds, who considered it the equivalent of gang graffiti.
LaRue was fine with that. She liked being a controversial — and anonymous — artist. Several times, she listened in on people arguing about her work.
She began getting requests for commissioned work from private and corporate clients, including Kaiser Permanente’s Skyline pediatrics department, the Louisiana State University school of veterinary medicine and the Children’s Hospital of South Carolina, which has one of her signature Volkswagen car door pieces, with a porcupine and a raccoon leaning out the window.
LaRue works a couple of days a week as a dog groomer. But she spends most of her time in her basement studio, constructing creatures from chicken wire, papier-mâché, butcher cord and other odds and ends. Her works sell for between $300 and $8,000.
She is gregarious and intent, and talks at a pace that makes NASCAR racers look like they’re idling.
The 1940s-era west Denver cottage shared by LaRue and her partner of 29 years, Rebecca Leonard, vibrates with color.
LaRue spray-painted a Rousseau-inspired rain-forest mural in their living room, with a tiger peering from the foliage at an enormous mirror mosaic bird sculpture launching itself from the wall. An ersatz bison trophy, Green Buffalo, hangs on the opposite wall, shaggy with a pelt of artificial leaves.
A few feet from Green Buffalo is Vegebeagle, one of several LaRue sculptures inspired by the 16th-century sculptor Giuseppe Arcimboldo. LaRue’s latest project, chandeliers, are here and there, colored crystals sparkling in the light. On one wall, there’s an oil painting, ” Dogs Playing In Snow,” a witty scene that winks at Grandma Moses.
Nearly every room includes some tribute to a Chinese Crested, the dog breed dear to LaRue’s heart. She co-founded Rocky Mountain Chinese Crested Rescue in 2001. She and Leonard own three of the little dogs — Jellybean, Little Whisper and Joey — and often care for a foster dog awaiting adoption. The dogs look like refugees from a canine punk band, nearly naked save for tufts of hair exploding from their ears and heads, and fur tufts on their feet and tails.