Fresh Heirs

And judging from the nine paintings exhibited in Rule's intimate back gallery, there's no denying Price's talent. He tries to pull off what he calls "the marriage of structure and sensuality," an effort that starts with the traditional geometric shape of his canvases--rectangles and squares--and is carried through by his inspired use of color.

This duality of approach creates a kind of tight expressionism, as oxymoronic as that may sound. And the combination works to good effect in "Cathedral," an acrylic on canvas in which Price has placed a sickly yellow-green rectangle over a brown square. The boundary between the two colors and the shape of the canvas itself create rigid horizontals and verticals, but the color fields are streaked and striated. It's an inviting pairing: hard edges around soft in-fill. And it's only one of the pairings that are central to Price's approach; among the others is a device that Price says relates male imagery to female imagery, in which straight, masculine lines are set against delicately feminine color fields. "I am gay, but I do not consider myself a 'gay artist,' and my work is not politically about being gay," says Price. "However, being gay, which I see as a combination of male and female, is part of the personal content of my work."

Gender issues also play a part in the work of the third and by far best-known artist in the Rule show, Sean Hughes. "I am personally influenced by being gay, but my work is not political," says Hughes. "It is about manliness, which is neither straight nor gay, just simply manly." In each of his paintings that line Rule's north wall, Hughes lays down an abstract-expressionist ground and then adds crudely painted drawings of ordinary objects. So what's so manly about that? Well, in art lore, at least, the first generation of abstract expressionists were known as bar-brawling macho morons. And as for the ordinary objects in the paintings, they include guns, flags and underwear.

The 27-year-old Hughes was born in Fruita, studied printmaking at Mesa State College in Grand Junction and received his BFA from the University of Colorado at Denver in 1996. His current day job is at the Denver Art Museum, where he serves as an assistant in the collections department. "Being exposed to so much art in my job at the museum--everything from Chinese ceramics to old masters to contemporary art, and even the design items that pass through the collections department--has really influenced my paintings," Hughes says. He points to Philip Guston's paintings and prints of the 1970s as a particularly significant influence, and their subliminal role is easy to detect in the paintings at Rule. In the superb acrylic and enamel on canvas "Untitled," Hughes first places a gorgeous and smeary abstract-expressionist ground in gray, white and various shades of ocher. On top he adds an awkward, sideways line drawing of a red gun--very much in the manner of Guston.

The thoughtful and accomplished paintings by Snouffer, Price and Hughes may not herald a renewed contemporary scene in the nick of time for the 21st century. But it couldn't hurt to hope so.

The Third Degree: 3 Investigations in Abstraction, through August 31 at Rule Modern and Contemporary Gallery, 111 Broadway, 777-9473.

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