Abstracts in Autumn

While sculpture serves mainly as an appetizer for the Rule shows, it's the main course at Robischon's Brad Miller: New Work. This dynamite exhibit in the gallery's front space features some of the latest pieces in ceramics and wood by the nationally known Aspen artist.

A vocabulary of signature organic shapes evocative of plants and primitive, one-celled creatures defines Miller's ceramic sculptures. The beautiful shapes are formed of smooth clay in various earthtones and are then fired, unglazed, and assembled into abstract sculptures. In "Caucus #4," a series of the forms have been strung together to create both the base and shaft of the stoneware sculpture. In other Miller pieces, the ceramic elements are wall-mounted. The stoneware assemblage "Caucus #2," for example, seems to have sprouted in place. It's the same oddball effect Miller gets from the installation "Floaters," a piece comprising more than eighty com-ponents of stoneware and porcelain that have been scattered across the wall and around a corner.

A world apart from the ceramic pieces are Miller's larger sculptures, which have been made of twigs joined together by screws. Like their ceramic cousins, they recall basic, primitive shapes. In "Expanders #2," which sits on the floor, the twigs have been gathered and cut mechanically into a paired egg shape. "Duo #6," also made of mechanically cut twigs, is a double gourd shape hung on the wall.

Beyond the Miller show in the two large middle rooms at Robischon is Trine Bumiller: Paintings From the River Series, the latest exhibit from a Denver artist known for the accomplished abstracts she makes by utilizing the ancient technique of oil glazing. Bumiller slowly builds up her paintings through the painstaking method of laying one transparent coat of glaze over another. She has written that this deliberate process is analogous to the forces that create a river. "Very viscous paint is applied as the painting is lying flat," Bumiller writes in notes accompanying the show. The process, she adds, allows for "accidental and unpredictable forms similar to a river's as it carves its way through the landscape."

The pieces in the Robsichon show are an obvious outgrowth of Bumiller's earlier works. In these new vertical, multi-panel paintings, she conveys rivers in a non-literal way; they aren't landscapes any more than Polanco's paintings are self-portraits. Instead, Bumiller again suggests the river mainly through her palette--cool blues, greens and grays--and the judicious use of abstract lines that can suggest the movement of water in one panel and trees on the banks in the next.

Bumiller's artistic program is particularly easy to follow in "Nest Egg," an oil-on-panel triptych. In the left panel, a network of black lines set against a white background suggests--if only vaguely--trees in a winter landscape. The center panel is a washed-out blue with darker-blue ovals scattered across it like raindrops. On the right side, white lines on a black background recall an aerial shot of the river's tributaries. Bumiller has not created a picture of the river here; rather, we get a glimpse of the images the river may suggest in her mind.

At first it may seem that these four shows featuring the widely varied works of Mazal, Polanco, Miller and Bumiller have little in common other than the choice fall calendar slots they have each been assigned. Despite the obvious differences, though, the work of all four goes far in demonstrating the continuing appeal of abstraction for many of the best contemporary artists. But hurry--just like the autumn leaves, all four shows will be gone in a matter of a few weeks.

Ricardo Mazal: The Yellow Circle and Jesus Polanco: Recent Works, through October 30 at Rule Modern and Contemporary Gallery, 111 Broadway, 777-9473.

Brad Miller: New Work and Trine Bumiller: Paintings From the River Series, through November 1 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 298-7788.

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