Changing Scenes

LoDo's been a work in progress for a long time. Torn-up streets and sidewalks have been a neighborhood standard for the past decade--as have those many hooded parking meters around the ubiquitous construction zones.

But nothing's been worse than the situation that has confronted patrons of the CSK Gallery, which, along with the other businesses on the 1600 block of Wazee Street, has been virtually inaccessible because of sidewalk widening and other construction projects. "It's been going on since June," says gallery co-director Kent Shira with a sigh that's audible above the din of power tools. For the last couple of months, a ten-foot chain-link fence has even blocked access to the front door, forcing visitors to enter from the alley. Luckily, things have nearly gotten back to normal for the current show Mark Dickson: Luminous Landscapes; at least the front door is open again.

The exhibit marks the fourth time CSK has featured Dickson in a solo presentation. As with those past shows, the new display includes paintings, mixed-media works and monotypes. Also as before, the monotypes have been pulled downstairs in the graphics atelier that is a part of CSK.

Born in Boulder in 1946, Dickson is a well-known figure on Denver's art scene. He received his BA at Metropolitan State College in 1969 and four years later earned his MFA at the University of Denver. In the 25 years since, he has exhibited widely in Denver, Aspen and Vail, as well as in such far-flung locales as Chicago and Seattle.

The signature piece in the new CSK show is the large oil-on-linen painting "Mesa Country," a highly abstracted view of a pair of mesas above which float three conventionalized clouds. Dickson divides his picture into three stacked bands that serve as shorthand symbols for the landscape. A large bottom band painted in varying shades of green with smears of yellow stands in for the prairie of the foreground. The middle band, which sketches out the mesas, is all blazing red, searing yellow and icy purple. Across the top is the gauzy blue band of the sky, complete with the eerie clouds to which the viewer's eyes are invariably drawn.

Dickson simplifies the scenery even more in another oil on linen called "Sand Hills." In this case, he divides the picture with a single horizontal line suggesting--what else?--the horizon. And as in "Mesa Country," Dickson uses toned-up colors. Lots of strong reddish hues show up both in the sky and in the rugged hills of the title.

In addition to landscapes, the show includes Dickson's geometric abstractions, which are, to say the least, distinctly different. These mostly untitled pieces, which appear in a soft palette of blue, yellow and cream, incorporate hard-edged forms that have been smeared and smudged. Surely less commercial than his landscapes, the abstractions nonetheless quietly steal the Luminous Landscapes show.

Just a block up from CSK on Wazee Street is another solo outing from a Denver artist known for combining representational and abstract imagery. The self-titled show Patti Cramer is currently featured in the front and back spaces at the 1/1 Gallery. As is usual for the highly sought-after Cramer, the show's been a great financial success, with many of the paintings and still more of the monotypes already sold. Some have even been removed prematurely from the show by their happy new owners. "She has an unbelievable following," says 1/1 director Bill Havu. "She can barely keep up with the demand for her paintings."

Cramer has built a formidable reputation with work in a quartet of traditional genres: the portrait, the sporting picture, the narrative figural group and, lately, the landscape. But her technical approach and her palette separate her paintings and prints from their ancestral sources. They are not neo-traditional but clearly contemporary.

The biggest and most important paintings at 1/1 are the narrative figural groups inspired by the Italian Renaissance. Cramer takes scenes from contemporary life and lines up her characters across the picture just as the Florentine old masters did in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. (It's not surprising, given this feature of her work, to find that she has studied in Florence, is a frequent visitor to the city and is, in fact, on a working vacation there right now.)

Cramer fills the frame of these figural paintings with people interacting socially--on the street, at the beach or at a party. In "Much Ado About Something," a large acrylic on canvas, she captures the hustle and bustle of a crowded city sidewalk. Although there are more than a dozen people depicted, two women, one briskly walking a pair of white terriers, overshadow the rest. Cramer's idiosyncratic style features a flattening of the figures that's somewhat abstract, with the faces conventionalized and most often seen in profile. The abstract quality is enhanced by the bold colors she prefers, especially her generous use of red.

Cramer's creamy landscapes are painted more expressively than her figural works. In "Land Sakes," an acrylic on canvas, a scene of rolling hills unfolds in billows of white, purple, yellow and green. Cramer has avoided all detail, allowing the effects of her brushwork alone to fill in the pictorial blanks. Scribbles of green paint suggest trees, a gestural line a meandering creek.

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