Pride of Place

Tracy's recently completed paintings are hung together in the main, two-story gallery, just beyond the entrance. This small group of landscapes is dominated by a gigantic vista, the 1998 "Mount Princeton," measuring eight feet across. Tracy has centered the mountain on the horizontal panel. Below are the plains and foothills; above, a cloudy sky. "Mount Princeton" clearly illustrates Tracy's program of updating tradition. Like old-fashioned landscapes, he takes a full-frontal, big-picture view of the subject. In other recent paintings, however, Tracy focuses on a detail, such as the very summit of his chosen peak, as in 1998's "Longs Peak," or his "Mount Neva," from 1999.

Most of Tracy's paintings are based on real scenes, but he also likes to create imaginary landscapes. "Uplifts," done in the last few months, is such a painting. "It's fictional; it's a play on the Boulder Flatirons. I love doing my own version of the landscape. It gives me the feeling of being the great creator," Tracy says, only half kidding.

In addition to the group of large paintings, Tracy has included a quartet of studies that are markedly more expressive. "In my regular paintings, I do a lot of underpainting and overpainting. For the small studies, there's only one layer; they're spontaneously done like sketches," says Tracy. This slapdash method, which works very well, is not the approach taken in the fifth preparatory painting, "Colorado Panorama, Mural Study," which was made in Tracy's regular way. This painting, hung upstairs on the back wall of the mezzanine loft, is exaggeratedly horizontal, being only eighteen inches tall but six feet long. It depicts a cross-section of Colorado from the eastern plains to the western slope, and in spite of its small scale, it conveys the monumentality of the state's topography.

Back down on the ground floor is the other half of Felix & Felix, a large selection of Sushe's efforts in paint and clay. Unlike Tracy, who has created a distinctive style and stuck to it for more than a decade, Sushe has been wildly experimental, going through dozens of different approaches during that period.

Sushe was born in Colorado Springs in 1958. As a child in the 1960s, she studied at the Bemis Art School. She also pursued her art training at the University of Colorado in Boulder and received her bachelor of fine arts from Arizona State University in 1980. She carried on with graduate work at ASU, where she was influenced by two of her art teachers, Daniel Britton and Jim Pyle, "more as people than as artists," Sushe says. Returning to Colorado Springs in 1983, Sushe got a job as a picture framer at the Frameworks Gallery, where future husband Tracy was the manager. Though Tracy and Sushe had known each other casually before, their business relationship soon grew into a personal one, and they married the following year.

Sushe began to exhibit in Denver at Abacus, an early LoDo gallery, and she became an overnight sensation as part of a group of neo-expressionists then emerging in Denver and across the country. Her paintings were figural, often centered on a self-portrait. Her style was wild, with her paintings festooned with glitter, fabric and lace and accented with garishly colored acrylic paints. "My work of fifteen years ago truly reflected where I was as an artist. I was young, just starting out. The paintings were wacky and zany. I just wanted to have a lot of fun," Sushe says.

But like Tracy, Sushe soon became interested in the history of art in the region. In 1989 she began private study with Eric Bransby, an elder painter of the traditional stripe who was a protege in the 1940s of Thomas Hart Benton and of Colorado's own Boardman Robinson. Bransby preached old-fashioned techniques of preparing the ground with gesso, sketching on top of it, laying in undertones and filling in with paint, then finishing it off with varnishes and glazes. Sushe's paintings from the time she worked with Bransby were radically different from her earlier efforts. Instead of raucous depictions of her everyday life, the Bransby-influenced paintings took up mythological and religious themes. In 1990 she even painted a completely traditional crucifixion. Her fans in Denver felt betrayed, and many of her former supporters abandoned her as she metamorphosed.

Then, in 1991, she put on the brakes. "I just decided I was tired of working with Bransby. I had discovered Raymond Jonson, Agnes Pelton, Emil Bisttram and the others of the transcendental painting group," recalls Sushe. With these transcendentalist-inspired pictures, Sushe reclaimed her fans among Denver art collectors, and her work was avidly acquired by, among others, the DAM. However liberating it was for Sushe to cut her ties to Bransby, she learned a lot about age-old painting techniques from him, lessons carried on in her work to the present day.

The transcendentalists who worked in Taos, Santa Fe and even Colorado Springs from the 1930s to the 1950s created abstractions based on the locale that led them to pure abstractions. "I relate to the transcendental feelings about art, the way spiritual beliefs may be connected to the local landscape," Sushe says. Her current paintings continue to express an interest in transcendentalism and are clearly the latest versions of a single pursuit she's carried on since the early '90s.

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