Season's Greetings

As with her previous Robischon presentations, Connell is represented by small, exquisitely detailed oil paintings on wood panels. These works continue to express her interest in translating art history to a contemporary context: Though they're crafted using traditional materials and old-fashioned methods, they're thoroughly up to date. And despite their diminutive size, they pack a big visual punch.

Connell's abiding interest in traditional techniques leans heavily toward Italian art, including the use of gesso, glazes and gold leaf. She has traveled to Europe to learn firsthand from the examples of the masters; in fact, the paintings in the latest Robischon show were painted last year while she was in Rome. Stylistically, though, they're pure American postmodernism; check out, for instance, the many geometric patterns.

In "Seme," Connell has divided the picture's background in half, painting the left side a light creamy white dotted with stars and lining the right side with horizontal rows of parabolic curves. "Seme" (the French word for "heraldry") is anchored by an arrangement of light-colored spheres whose three-dimensionality contrasts with the utter flatness of the background.

This same tension is also seen in the superbly executed "San Marco," whose flat background has been overlaid with a foreground that creates the illusion of spatial depth. Connell has written that this painting's unifying grid of black, white and red squares was inspired by the marble mosaic floor in the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. And inspired it is: Though Connell has jammed a huge amount of visual information into a tiny format, "San Marco" retains a crisp simplicity.

Connell works with grids and spheres to much different effect in the painting "No." Here the illusion of depth leads from the picture plane back to a visual stop of diagonal squares. In the mid-ground is a billiard ball propped on a stand. The inclusion of a realistically painted "No" label gives this painting a pop-art quality lacking in most of the others.

Viewers expect to see sophisticated shows like Anne Connell in the elegant front room at Robischon. Not so predictable is to find something like NeoNow, a new show that's every bit as good, in the back room of the Edge gallery. Edge's back room is sublet to artists on a show-by-show basis, and though it might not be the last place in town one would expect to find a high-quality art show (that would be the basement at Core), it comes close.

NeoNow gives viewers their first glimpse of the city's newest art star, Jason Hoelscher. This is Hoelscher's premier Denver exhibit outside of student shows, but other offers are coming fast and furious. Expect him to pop up again soon at Denver's Rule Gallery and in a group show at New York's famous O.K. Harris Gallery.

The 28-year-old Hoelscher has not yet graduated from the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, where he's a protege of Clark Richert, Denver's great master of painterly geometry. Richert's influence is easy to see in the straight lines and hard edges that Hoelscher employs, but that's not to say Hoelscher is a Richert imitator. Instead, his paintings have a freshness that clearly distinguishes them not just from Richert's work, but from anyone else's.

The Hoelscher show consists of eight paintings, each one a gem. The works would seem to be minimalist in style, with rigidly vertical and horizontal lines and a limited palette of two or three colors. But by titling the exhibit NeoNow, Hoelscher reveals his subversiveness. The term itself is a subtle oxymoron, since "neo" indicates a revival, while the word "now" suggests immediacy. "I'm not doing minimalist paintings--those were done the decade before I was born," says Hoelscher. "I'm doing paintings of minimalist paintings." In other words, in pieces like "Periphery 14.0," Hoelscher, like Connell, is exploring postmodernism.

Denver's entire art scene could fit into the wide-open spaces that separate a flagship gallery like Robischon and a dingy rental space like the back room at Edge. But as Anne Connell and NeoNow reveal, the local art world has achieved its own form of democracy, a system under which both shows have, appropriately enough, been placed on the same playing field. That may be the best news of all this art season.

Anne Connell, through March 7 at the Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 298-7788.

NeoNow, through February 8 at Edge, 3658 Navajo Street, 477-7173.

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