Two Sublime

The Rule gallery proves that Mary Obering and Dale Chisman make quite a pair.

Even more exaggerated in its horizontality is the ironically named "Vertical Series (Section 1)"; the title no doubt refers to the precise vertical divisions of the picture between the areas of burnishing clay, gold leaf, egg tempera and buff-colored limestone.

These first three pieces share a quiet palette, despite the sheen of the gold leaf. In the main room, however, Rule has assembled many brightly hued works featuring strong and vibrant shades of red, blue and green.

A rich and gestural lipstick red draws our eyes immediately to the striking "Vertical Series (Section 4)" on the back wall. More subtle is the appeal of the greenish-gray slate that Obering also uses in the piece.

"Light Dark Duel," by Mary Obering, mixed-media painting.
"Light Dark Duel," by Mary Obering, mixed-media painting.
Print from the "Voz" series, by Dale Chisman.
Print from the "Voz" series, by Dale Chisman.

Toward the front of the room is another eye-catcher: "Light Dark Duel" is a small but stunning square-shaped painting with a particularly rich shade of green. Obering has divided the panel in two; on the left is a vertical rectangle of limestone, on the right is one in green egg tempera. She has emphasized the sides of the painting by covering them in gold leaf. Though this may remind viewers of gilt framing, Obering's intention is to make the sides of her paintings as important as the front. As a result, many of her paintings take on a sculptural, three-dimensional quality.

The most sculptural paintings here are from a series of five cruciforms collectively titled "Stations of the Stones" from 1997; it's the only piece in the show that isn't absolutely new. "Stations of the Stones" is hung next to "Light Dark Duel" and fills up most of the north wall. In the five components, all of which are equilateral Greek crosses, Obering varies the size of the pictorial elements created by her different materials. A loose progression is thus created, with the artist employing various-sized squares and rectangles of red and blue tempera, gold leaf, burnishing clay and limestone.

On the east wall are two paintings that stand apart from the rest. Whereas most of the paintings in this show have elements that are lined up evenly and run from top to bottom or side to side, "Selection" and "Slateslip" include elements that stop mid-panel, leaving a jagged, or stepped, footprint. Interestingly, this subtle change introduces depth, with the forms appearing to be in front of the footprint, instead of simply being above it, as they are.

Mary Obering is extremely elegant and represents the kind of art we expect to see at Rule, since minimalism and its progeny are a gallery specialty. Another special interest for Rule is gestural abstraction, as seen in the other show, Dale Chisman. This exhibit, made up of little more than a single suite of etchings, is installed in the small and informal back gallery. But if you ask, you'll also be able to see a handful of new Chisman paintings hung in the storage area.

Chisman is one of the state's most accomplished painters. Born in west Denver, not far from where he still has a home and studio, he represents a contemporary link to the state's modern art history.

At North High School, where he graduated in 1961, Chisman studied with the late Martha Epp. Later that year, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, he trained with Mary Chenoweth, who died a year ago. The two women exerted a strong early influence on Chisman, an artistic relationship that was evident in Epp and Chenoweth's paintings in the BMoCA Vanguard Art in Colorado exhibit.

Chisman went on to Yale University, the University of Colorado and London's Royal Academy. He also spent more than a decade in New York, where he was successful as a painter before returning to Denver in 1984. Little known here at first, Chisman joined the Pirate co-op and handily established himself as one of the city's premier artists. He plans to return to New York soon, if only periodically, and has already rented a studio there.

A large part of Dale Chisman is taken up by a portfolio titled "7-4," which includes seven etchings and four poems set in letter press and placed together in cloth binding. The poems are the work of Juan Ramon Jiménez, an important Spanish poet. The black-and-white etchings have a lyrical quality and include vaguely floral and vegetal references.

The small, almost whimsical character of the etchings is also seen in the Chisman prints from the "Cruz" series and the "Voz" series, which combine etching with the chine collé of pre-printed papers. Some of the pre-printed papers sport geometric patterns, while others have been decorated with simple conventionalized floral motifs. All of the Chisman prints were pulled by Mark Lunning, master printer for Denver's Open Press.

Though Chisman has used recognizable elements before in his otherwise abstract compositions, they are often edgy in content, like wings or scribbles. This expectation has left many in the art world unprepared for the unmistakable flowers that have cropped up in his recent prints and paintings. Chisman's use of a flower as a component was first seen in a painting in Colorado Abstraction at the Arvada Center. These abstracts with flowers have not been readily accepted, and there's no denying that they are difficult.

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