Earthly Delights

From abstracts to landscapes, a century of artistic tradition is on view.

 Color, Line and Form: Abstraction in Metal, at Boulder's Dairy Center for the Arts, is a duet featuring the sculptures of William Vielehr and Doug Wilson. Both have been creating abstract-expressionist sculpture for the last thirty years, but since their studios are in Boulder, they are less well-known in Denver than they should be.

The same is true for Jim Foster, who has been making abstract sculptures and prints in Colorado for decades but whose studio is north of Fort Collins, not far from the Wyoming border. His solo show, Jim Foster: Diversions -- Old & New, is currently showing at The Gallery @ Guiry's.

In the first show, Wilson's welded-steel sculptures have been handsomely arrayed across the floor at the Dairy Center while the walls have been lined with Vielehr's reliefs in bronze and aluminum; Vielehr also shows a freestanding piece. The gallery itself is accessed from the main entrance by proceeding up a ramp and then passing through a soaring anteroom. Plans for this voluminous space call for its conversion into a lobby for the center's theater facilities and gallery.

"Perplexed," by William Vielehr, bronze and aluminum wall sculpture.
"Perplexed," by William Vielehr, bronze and aluminum wall sculpture.
"Dakota," by Stephen Dinsmore, painting.
"Dakota," by Stephen Dinsmore, painting.

Wilson's sculptures vaguely suggest trees or driftwood or animal skeletons, but they are essentially non-objective. Using steel rods and plates, he typically sets a horizontal element on the floor -- a structural necessity -- that balances a soaring vertical spike.

"Arc Second #18A," from 1998, has been paired with the closely related "Arc Second #29," which was completed earlier this year. They have been placed opposite one another inside the gallery's entrance and together are evocative of a ceremonial gate. In both sculptures, Wilson has fanned out the steel rods on the floor, joining them at one end, and bent them into a nearly ninety-degree turn toward the ceiling. However, the resulting forms are not simple right angles, because the rods take a detour or two along the way, doubling back on themselves before rising in a graceful curve.

Some of Wilson's sculptures are painted, but most have been left in a natural state with a patina created by the scorching of the welding torch and the rust that Wilson has encouraged by leaving the pieces outside. Interestingly, even the painted ones have the same earth-tone palette as those that have been naturally patinated.

Wilson and Vielehr have frequently exhibited together since they became friends in the 1960s, when both were art students at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. The work of the old friends and colleagues is distinctly different, however. Wilson's pieces are suggestive of natural forms, while Vielehr uses abstract painting as his source of inspiration. Dozens of Vielehr's exquisite reliefs, all of them done in the last few years, have been hung densely on all four walls of the gallery. The connection to painting is manifested not just by the fact that the work is wall-hung, but also because Vielehr uses drawn lines, letters and numbers as well as multiple surface treatments, often in a variety of colors.

Vielehr begins with wax; lines and other graphic elements are created with steel tools used to gouge the pliable substance. He also uses a palette knife to work the wax when it is still soft, and in places layers the wax to produce texture. The piece is then cast in segments. The casting of the bronze or aluminum is done in the traditional lost-wax method, in which the wax master vaporizes when the molten metal hits it. The segments are then welded together to form the roughly rectangular shape that Vielehr prefers and that elegantly references the walls on which the sculptures hang.

A number of his pieces incorporate geometric forms. In "Ept," a 1998 bronze wall panel, Vielehr uses horizontal and vertical bars as well as a checkerboard motif. The letter X appears frequently, as in "Continued," from 1997, and the more recent "Drawn," from 1999, both of which are made of bronze. Each also features splashes of color, notably turquoise blue. The bronze itself, finished in a variety of ways -- from mirror-polished to etched to chemically patinated -- contributes its own array of colors.

Some of the sculptures, such as 1997's "Perplexed," one of the few monumental pieces included in the show, and the more intimate and lyrical "Nuevo," from 1998, are a combination of bronze and aluminum. There are also a handful of pieces done completely in aluminum that has been finished to a dull, silvery sheen. One of the aluminum pieces is 1998's "3-D Visual," which is a tabletop version of the wall-hung pieces.

To Vielehr, different geometric elements and colors are intended to refer to humanity. He has called some of these wall pieces "manscapes," linking the figure to the landscape but in a thoroughly abstract way.

In Jim Foster at The Gallery @ Guiry's, Foster, like Vielehr, looks to painting techniques in carrying out his bronze sculptures and creates abstractly while using representational or narrative elements.

Visitors enter the gallery through a door beyond the fine-art section of the store. Facing the entrance is the impressive, freestanding painted-bronze "Kiss," from 1991, which has been placed on a sculpture stand. For this piece, Foster formed a blobby organic shape to serve as a substantial base for a flat oval, which he has mounted on top; he finished each of the oval's sides with a different image. On the side facing the entrance, Foster divided the oval with diagonal lines and broad areas of color, both painted and patinated. On the other side is a line drawing of a couple kissing, done in a style that is more than a little School of Paris, á la Matisse or Chagall. The combination of minimal abstract compositions with simplified renderings of recognizable subjects is a signature that can be seen in many other Fosters in this show. But a few are purely abstract, and still others are completely representational.

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