Remembering Rigsby

Also from 1983 are eight paintings from Rigsby's "Cupcake" series, one of several series in which the artist showed off his expert handling of an intentionally limited palette. The "Cupcake" paintings are essentially patterns; color relationships have been established between the cake, the icing and the background. These paintings are an outgrowth of Rigsby's well-known "Dot" paintings from the late 1970s and early 1980s, two of which are also on display.

Rigsby traveled often, and not just for pleasure. He liked to work in various places around the world, and in 1985 he went to Yugoslavia, where he created the "Tribanj Series"--colorful diptychs conceived as mirrored images of one another. Several of the diptychs are included at Pirate, and exhibit organizer Peterson says she has many more in storage. In 1987 Rigsby chose Barcelona to create his "Color Study Series," for which he replaced his earlier cupcakes and dots with a color-pattern device that resembled a partly drawn window shade.

The following year, discouraged by his increasing financial difficulties, Rigsby left Denver and moved to Houston. There he came upon a five-acre lot filled with old latex rubber. Though Rigsby had mostly worked as a painter, the discovery of rubber as an art material led to a renewed interest in sculpture, and in the years before his death he created some of the finest work of his career. These black-rubber sculptures were first shown in a 1992 exhibit at the now closed Payton-Rule Gallery, drawing rave reviews from critics and fellow artists, as well as a prestigious commission from Absolut vodka.

The Pirate show includes many of these sculptures, some in the front space, and more of them in Pirate Alley, where they are joined by the sculptural drawings that anticipated them. Rigsby's sculptures have a totemic and tribal quality that recalls African art, along with a monumentality that belies their small size. That characteris-tic is self-evident in 1992's "Sacrament," an expressed pedestal surmounted by a wide shaft that terminates in a tangle of organic forms.

The exhibit concludes in the small Pirate Treasure Chest, where Peterson displays several of the dark pattern paintings that Rigsby called landscapes. Some may see meaning in Rigsby's use of black during the last years of his life, and it does seem to have reflected a darkening mood. Peterson notes in her biographical sketch that by the time of his death in August 1993--he died in a car crash while on his way back from Houston to attend Peterson's wedding--Rigsby was "struggling, (with) no money and a burning desire to draw, to paint, to sculpt, no matter what the cost."

The newest piece in the show is a Korean bible that Rigsby had with him when he died. He had decorated the pages as a wedding gift for Peterson. She found a poignant aspect to the work: With it, she notes, her father had come full circle from the book covers he had painted as a child.

To close on a personal note, when I reviewed Rigsby's 1992 rubber-sculpture show, I called him Denver's "perennial enfant terrible." He sought me out to tell me that though he thought it was important for an art critic to use French words, he felt he was more of a "bete noire"--a person or thing strongly detested. One of my Westword predecessors apparently agreed, once awarding him a "worst of Denver" citation for his shrill support of public funding for art. I still remember his rejoinder, which was printed in a letter to the editor: "What a gentle place Denver must be when I am one of the worst."

Of course Rigsby was never one of the worst. As this show makes clear, he was always one of the best.

David Rigsby Retrospective, through December 29 at Pirate: A Contemporary Art Oasis, 3659 Navajo Street, 458-6058.

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