New and Improved

But the William Havu Gallery is more than a glitzy space in its own sparkling new building. It's also a place to see first-rate art shows, as indicated by Views of Solitude. For this show, Havu has brought together three well-recognized Colorado artists, all of whom are essentially new to the gallery. Premiering the space with local talent was no accident, since the gallery's focus "will be on the best contemporary artists in the region," Havu says. "I want to take their work and market it nationally. With the Internet, I don't think it's necessary for artists to make it in New York anymore," he adds.

In the current show, Havu juggles three disparate bodies of work. Scattered across the front of the gallery are several large wooden wall reliefs by Bethany Kriegsman. Beyond are collages of paper and oil paint by Emilio Lobato. In the back are abstract paintings and monoprints by Lynn Heitler. Havu has not yet figured out how to use the new space to its best advantage, so there are some jarring unintentional contrasts, especially since Kriegsman's pieces are so different from those of the other two. But aside from occasional difficult transitions, each artist still shines.

Kriegsman has worked and exhibited in Denver for nearly fifteen years. She came to town in 1985 to join the art faculty at the University of Denver, and since then, her quirky wooden wall-hung and floor-mounted sculptures have been exhibited in a variety of commercial galleries and public institutions. Today Kriegsman is the director of DU's School of Art and Art History.

The recent Kriegsman pieces in Views are a continuation of the installations she created for Regis University's O'Sullivan Art Center last year. In these simple constructions made up of complicated components, Kriegsman takes little wooden shapes, stains or paints them and inscribes them with rudimentary drawings. The smaller shapes are joined together in patterns, which suggests both the repeated squares of traditional quilts and the jigsaw-puzzle construction of tramp art. These references to folk art are not unexpected, since Kriegsman was educated in Missouri, a regional folk-art center. She earned her BFA at the Kansas City Art Institute and her MFA at Washington University in St. Louis.

But Kriegsman has also been inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics, as seen in the gigantic multi-part wall relief "Hope," which is made of mixed media and metal leafs and includes the image of an elephant and a cormorant. Other constructions are more typically abstract. "Pyramids," an oil on wood with gold leaf, is a diamond-shaped wall panel with a checkerboard stripe through the center, and the rich play of the gold leaf against the pink and other pastel paints is wonderful. There's also a checkerboard motif in "Heaven Above," an oil on wood with silver leaf that includes two parts hung vertically, an elaborate shape of a plume piercing a ziggurat and a horizontal canopy suggestive of the sky.

Lobato, a well-known local painter, has contributed more than twenty closely interrelated paintings to the show--and the place is so big there's room for even more. All the paintings feature dark palettes with lots of black. This current body of work is both a cogent progression from Lobato's paintings of the last year or so and a clear break, since there's also something that's new about them.

Though these paintings are essentially abstracts, Lobato tells us in his terse artist's statement that they are also autobiographical. Lobato writes that the paintings come out of the "isolation and solitude" he experienced while "growing up in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado." The personal aspect of these paintings is further enhanced by Lobato's use of old book pages, some of which are from Spanish-English dictionaries, as collage material. Lobato is Hispanic.

But even though they are covered with pages of found print, the paintings are hard to read from a strictly narrative standpoint, and it's difficult to understand how they illustrate Lobato's upbringing. Nonetheless, they're successful as pure abstractions. In "Encuentro (Encounter)," an oil and collage on panel, Lobato has arranged a series of black circular forms, some of them numbered, on a ground of book pages laid in rows. Like the book pages, the circles are collage elements. On the left side of this central passage is a black bar; on the right, a wide dark-red field. For "Madre & Hijo (Mother and Child)," another oil and collage on panel, Lobato employs organic rather than geometric shapes. In this vertical piece, Lobato pairs a large vegetal form, reminiscent of two black blossoms on a stalk, with a smaller version of the same thing on a field of those ubiquitous book pages.

The show ends with the paintings and monotypes by Heitler, who is another significant area painter. In the selection here, Heitler presents a series of garden views that she has converted into beautifully colored and densely painted abstractions that are downright lyrical. In the oil on canvas "Window Cactus," Heitler lays loosely composed geometric shapes in lavender, cream, yellow and brown over scribbled graphite details. Heitler also displays monoprints side by side with her paintings--and they're surprisingly similar, at times virtually indistinguishable. That's surely the case with the monoprint "Escuela," which is hung next to the closely associated "Baja Breeze," an oil on canvas. But some of Heitler's prints are clearly works on paper and not painterly at all, such as the airy "Zen Garden 7-7-97."

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