Time Marches On

Colorado's abstract art tradition continues.

Ikeda is one of several artists whose work since the '80s demonstrates the continuing power and appeal of abstract expressionism. There is no mystery why: Abstract expressionism is about paint itself, and paint is something in which painters are definitely interested.

Also associated with abstract expressionism are two marvelous paintings by Steve Altman that are hung on either side of the entrance to the west wing. On the right is an untitled piece from 1988 in acrylic, wax and pencil on canvas. In it, three ovals are arranged horizontally in a line on a dark, nearly black background that is accented with scribbles and lines. Altman's more recent effort -- also untitled -- is carried out in acrylic, crayon and oil stick on paper that has been adhered to wood. Both pieces feature gestural brushwork used in automatist passages, but the earlier painting has a more organized composition, with the ovals dividing the picture into three clear parts. The newer piece, painted just this year, is disordered by comparison, though still carefully balanced.

Ania Gola-Kumor is another artist who has been exhibiting since the 1980s. Her work is the heir to abstract expressionism as well as other abstract styles, notably cubism, at least in the case of "Composition," an oil on canvas from 1988. In this piece, she uses a creamy monochrome color scheme to create roughly geometric shapes that overlap one another. On the adjacent wall is the elegant "Untitled," a group of eighteen mixed-media collages done in 1997 and 1998. The collages, which have been individually framed in aluminum and hung in a vertical grid, are dark and lush, characteristics that are offset by the gleam of the aluminum frames.

"Untitled (Benighted Time)," by Homare Ikeda, painting.
"Untitled (Benighted Time)," by Homare Ikeda, painting.

Painter, sculptor and installation artist Jeffrey Keith has bristled at the idea that he is part of the '80s generation. According to Andrews, he felt his work should have been seen in Part I with the artists of the 1970s. He's right.

Keith has gotten uneven results in a variety of styles and media, but he has always been at his best in the realm of abstract painting. In "Untitled," an oil on ragboard from 1982, Keith uses bold tones of yellow, orange and red for his sunny palette. Surely he chose this painting to complement his superb mural "Water Under the Draw Bridge," an oil on canvas from 1998. The gigantic horizontal painting is hung on the back wall, where it commands the east gallery. Painted for the most part in a toned-up yellow and accented by hard-edged geometric forms down the right side, it has been extensively underpainted, creating a rich, multi-hued result.

The art of underpainting, in which the surface color results from the colors underneath, has also been a keen interest of Trine Bumiller's. Unlike the other painters in Part II, Bumiller does not base her efforts on the abstract expressionists. "Genus," from 1986, has two white spikes, with heavy black shadows running at a slight diagonal from the bottom to the top of the vertical painting. The spikes are set against a boldly painted background of mostly creamy yellow. More familiar is the style of her newer painting, 1998's "Piece of Heaven," in which three distinct panels are stacked horizontally. As she has typically done in recent years, Bumiller has applied coat after coat of nearly transparent oil glazes to this piece.

Several of the 1990s painters also tend to build pictures by building up paint. Jeff Wenzel, for example, paints his images over and over, often tearing off and discarding parts while attaching new fragments. The technique relates to his former career as a ceramic sculptor, working with clay. His "Red Fish II," a 1998 mixed-media work on paper, is the incredibly beautiful result of this unorthodox method. Wenzel is one of the greatest of the current crop of abstract painters.

John Clark is another '90s painter interested in a textured surface, which he makes with tiny swirls of paint that blend the colors. But he also creates a structural component by assembling three distinct panels -- one gray, one cream, one black -- in a vertical line for the mixed-media "Leader of Fire."

Bill Brazzell also cuts up his paintings into separate parts. "Icarus II," an oil, wax and tar on wood from this year, is made up of scores of small square elements. These have been thickly sheathed in a variety of media that have been unified by a shiny transparent covering.

Harry Tulchin lets various layers show through to the surface of "Untitled (For Mark Sandman)," a 1999 acrylic on canvas that has been partly scorched. Scott Holdeman, for his part, paints as thinly as possible, setting black clearly against white in "Products of Understanding," an oil on canvas from 1996.

Another artist who handles surface in a novel way is Andrew Speer. In "Sufficient Grace," an acrylic, oil, encaustic and charcoal on canvas, he has inserted areas that are not on the same plane as the picture's surface but are either slightly higher or lower. They must take a lot of effort to make, and the result is distinctive. Director Andrews notes that Speer is an inspiration for many of the artists in Part II.

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