WESTWARD HO!

Hillhouse does something entirely different. Instead of depicting actual scenes from nature, Hillhouse uses trees--mostly bare ones--as a device to convey psychological states. The mural-sized, five-panel painting "Neighborhood Trees" projects a sense of emptiness and despair. Four of the panels feature a bare tree against a white background; the fifth, set among the others, reveals an evergreen against a roughly naturalistic sky of blue. This most ambitious of the Hillhouse works isn't easy to understand--but it's appealing nonetheless.

Foley takes a thoroughly original approach, putting a clever twist on the drip technique immortalized by Jackson Pollock. Instead of creating abstract expressionist paintings as Pollock did, Foley uses the method to make representational pictures. His woodland scenes and creekside views feature toned-up colors used in inspired combinations--fire-engine red against a golden chartreuse, for example.

Another show, this one at the Emmanuel Gallery, provides a contemporary take on the local landscape tradition. In the exhibit The American West: Land's Will or Man's Will?, selections from Chuck Forsman's national traveling exhibit Arrested Rivers are paired with some very recent work by Scott Greenig. Forsman and Greenig are both highly regarded Colorado artists, and they have something else in common: an environmental activism that they express through their paintings.

The title of Arrested Rivers refers to dams, but it's not clear whether the dams pictured in Forsman's beautifully detailed oil-on-masonite paintings actually exist or if they are purely the product of artistic license. In either case, Forsman's message is obvious--throughout his paintings are scars in the form of dams.

Forsman's "Wet Dream" is filled with roads, parking lots, tire tracks and quarry cuts--a literal rape of the environment. Perhaps even more biting because it's so witty is "Lizard," made up almost entirely of an incongruous dam looming in the middle of the desert. There's even a gigantic sign written across the structure's barren concrete face: "Keep Your Forests Green." In "Feather River," even our view has been limited by a dam, which prevents the scene from being a panorama.

Many of the same concerns occupy Greenig. The oil-on-panel "West vs. East" is a photo-realist rendition of a coyote caught in a leg trap. Next to the painting, the leg trap itself hangs from the gallery wall. Another piece combining a painting with a found object is "West Series #4," in which a painting of a rock formation is paired with a panel of the same size made of asphalt and crushed bottle caps.

Interestingly enough, Forsman and Greenig bring our thoughts back to the traditional landscape artists of the Metro show. The artists who accompanied the early surveyors played an essential role in encouraging the settlers who would later exploit the natural wealth of our region--and whose spiritual heirs are the unseen villains in the paintings of Forsman and Greenig.

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