Summer Vocations

For many years, the exhibition calendar in the art world featured a preordained hierarchy of shows. In the fall, galleries, museums and other venues presented their most important events. Then, special exhibits launched the winter holiday season. The spring and summer were traditionally the times when the art world would go on automatic pilot while curators and directors focused on plans for the upcoming fall and winter seasons.

In the last couple of years--around here, anyway--this well-established pattern has begun to come apart. Not that the season isn't still launched in the fall--it is, and the holidays are still a time to see appropriately glittering shows. Lately, though, the spring has brought with it not a lull in the art world but a second wind, with exhibition spaces whipping up important shows everywhere. And this year the great shows have sailed on right through the summer.

One of the best of the current crop is the loosely organized group show Implied Nature at that LoDo flagship, the Robischon Gallery. To create this show, gallery directors Jim Robischon and Jennifer Duran chose from artists in their stable who combine abstract elements with recognizable ones. Some of the work has been reprised from earlier Robischon exhibits; other pieces are from artists new to the gallery. The show also mixes things up geographically, placing local artists cheek-by-jowl with out-of-towners.

Some of the artists come from way out of town--places like China and Germany. But it's a hometown artist long associated with Robischon who first commands our attention. Robischon's front gallery is dominated by Denverite Trine Bumiller's gigantic triptych oil painting "Heaven and Earth." The painting shows off Bumiller's expert application of lacquer glazes, a traditional technique she learned in Italy. The glazes make her paintings shine as though they are still wet.

In "Heaven and Earth," Bumiller has laid out a cross-section of the natural world. The bottom panel is dark brown, with lighter-brown lines evocative of roots. The middle panel reverses the colors, with dark brown lines on a creamy light-brown ground suggestive of twigs. The top panel is painted dark blueish-black, with white dots reminiscent of stars. Despite these easy-to-read references, however, "Heaven and Earth" functions as a thoroughly abstract painting.

Another beautiful work with forms that suggest but do not spell out recognizable objects is "Schlafverbindungen," by Udo Noger, a German artist who has made a part-time home in Parker for the last several years. The painting, which features an extremely limited palette of black, cream, and a pale, cool chartreuse, has a quieter appeal than we might expect from the former neo-expressionist. Equally compelling are Noger's four small oil, acrylic and charcoal-on-paper works, which, like "Schlafverbindungen," offer a simple yet elegant palette.

Providing a nice complement to Noger's work is the small and modest "Grace," an acrylic on paper with collage elements by northern Colorado-based modernist Mark Villarreal. "Grace," which sets smears and streaks of gray and beige against white paper, marks the first time in several years that Villarreal's work has been seen in these parts. That's a real pity, since he's one of the finest abstract artists in the region. And though this little piece shows off Villarreal's always-right-on sense for formal arrangement, it hardly satisfies our pent-up expectations after the artist's long hiatus.

Robischon throws the viewer a curve when it comes to another Colorado artist showing in the front space at Robischon. Rather than displaying a signature ceramic sculpture from internationally known Aspenite Brad Miller, the gallery presents a Miller wall relief made of wood. "Duo #2" is an assemblage of cut twigs that have been screwed together in a shape roughly comparable to an inverted pear. Miller's simple shapes, which he creates in ceramic, wood and stone, have a way of looking natural without ever making direct references to things found in nature.

The middle room at Robischon has been subdivided into several smaller spaces; in this newly reconfigured space, the viewer encounters Chinese painter Julia Nee Chu, an artist new to both the area and the gallery. In the oil on canvas "Recurrence II," Chu embraces a classic American style: 1950s abstract expressionism. The best thing about this vertical panel is the lively surface, which Chu achieved by dripping and pouring white paint over a dense ground of black and gray.

Nearby is another painting that recalls old modern art: "Heartland," an oil on canvas by New Mexico master Sam Scott. An old hand, Scott is scheduled for a thirty-year retrospective next year at Santa Fe's Museum of the Fine Arts. Unlike Chu, though, he's paying homage not to abstract expressionism but to neo-impressionism. Theoreticallly, the latter style features more recognizable subject matter. The viewer may be forgiven for not noticing, however, because in Scott's case, the distinction is very subtle. It's hard to see paintings like "Heartland" the way Scott describes them--as landscapes. Scott piles on a dense array of lines and shapes that only at times suggest plants and roads. But it hardly matters, since his apparent aim is to obscure rather than illuminate the details of his landscapes.

The same tendency is obvious in another Scott painting that shows up in the Artforms space at Robischon. "Dew," an oil on canvas, is characterized by the artist's typical combination of lines and shapes set on a light-colored field. The landscape lurking within is easier to see than the one in "Heartland"--but not too much.

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