Sticks and Stones

The landscape has served as both artistic inspiration and subject matter for thousands of years, dating back to Neolithic cave painting. And today the landscape's allure is just as strong, even if the pieces it inspires are often far from traditional.

Like landscape-driven art, Eight Ounce Fred, a funky little gallery on Broadway, is also evolving. Business partners and former restaurant workers Aron Bauman and Dea Webb opened the place as a retail shop in the summer of 1997. "We started out as a lamp store, with only one art show scheduled, and then it just took off," Bauman recalls.

Skin:Bone::Breath:Soul, a collection of Bonnie Ferrill's sculptures, is Eight Ounce Fred's largest, most fully fleshed-out show yet. It fills the front exhibition space and spills into the back room, which has been annexed as display space especially for this exhibit. Even with the additional room, Ferrill's pieces seem crowded--but the cramped surroundings help the show function as a sheltering, artistic thicket. That's because Ferrill finds not just inspiration in the environment; she also finds most of her materials there.

To enter the gallery, visitors must lower their heads and walk through "Passage," a tight gothic arch made of bundled twigs that's immediately inside the front door. Ferrill, who was born in Casper, Wyoming, and raised in Golden, started using twigs as art supplies when she became troubled by the chemical hazards of many other materials and techniques. "I wanted to create beautiful objects without negatively affecting the environment," she says. So she turned away from photography and welded metal sculpture--both mediums that produce substantial pollution--in favor of such non-polluting materials as hand-made paper, wax and twigs held together with natural twine.

Like "Passage," two of the most ambitious pieces, set side by side in the back room, are based on architectural forms. The tower-like "Chrysalis" consists of a vertical cone that's closed on top and internally lighted. The cone, made of spiraling twigs woven closed with paper, sits on a mound of tan and gray river rock. "Heart/h," which is based on a fireplace, also includes river rock, but it's used more sparingly. "The circle of stones are like a campfire," says Ferrill. Another standout is "Demeter's Breath," a horizontal wall-mounted piece that's essentially a big, dense bundle of tree branches wrapped in white paper with triangular folds. "Demeter's Breath" has an unexpected monumentality also seen in the much more intimate "Cradle," in which a wall-mounted branch catches stones and seedpods in its boughs.

Although nature is obviously the dominant theme here, Skin:Bone::Breath:Soul also refers specifically to the human figure. "I studied life drawing for many years, and my earlier work in sculpture and drawing was always figurative," says Ferrill. It still is: She points out that the wax-covered paper woven into some of the sculptures suggests "skin stretched over bones." Fortunately, this effect is far less creepy than it sounds. And overall, Ferrill has created a fine body of work.

Ferrill is not the only artist around to use twigs in sculpture, of course. In fact, local art audiences are as likely to encounter sculptures made from garden litter as they are to see the more expected work in bronze. In the intelligent, imaginative group show ...This Tiny Spaceship, This Planet Earth, which closes this weekend at Ron Judish Fine Arts, William Wylie is the one picking up the sticks.

Wylie, who teaches at Colorado State University, has created a site-specific installation titled "Cache La Poudre 2." The low, floor-bound piece, which comes out from the front window, consists of hundreds of twigs arranged in a curving pile. "The shape of the piece relates to the floor plan," says Ron Judish, the director of his namesake gallery. But the installation also formally suggests the debris seen on the banks of a river--in this case, the Cache La Poudre--and relates to Wylie's river-inspired photo project.

Judish has installed several Wylie photographs opposite "Cache La Poudre 2." "Untitled No. 42," a gelatin silver print, offers the outdoor version of his installation. Shooting from above, Wylie takes a close-up view of debris caught by an obstruction in the river's flow. The effect of moving water is again the subject of "Untitled No. 72," another gelatin silver print. In this photo, also taken from above, Wylie focuses on a swirling pool lined with rocks worn smooth by the water.

Wylie was the first artist Judish selected for this show, and the rest of the exhibit was built around him. "I'd wanted to do a landscape show for a long time, but I wanted to somehow avoid the pitfalls," says Judish. "On the one hand, I didn't want to include predictable and pedestrian landscape paintings, which are so common, but I also wanted to avoid the opposite problem--I didn't want the show to be too preachy or political, either. It's meant, as you can tell by the title, to address the demise of the landscape, but hopefully this theme doesn't overwhelm the visions of the individual artists."

Denver photographer Kevin O'Connell, whose work is related to Wylie's, was a natural for inclusion. "I'm dazzled by his technique," says Judish. "His photos are so exquisitely done, and this body of work fit perfectly with my intentions for the show."

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