Art Factory

At the Ironton, production is at full capacity.

Ironton Studios & Gallery, which opened in April, is a hard place to find -- unless, of course, you work in the freight-hauling trade or some other light-industrial pursuit that might bring you to the corner of 36th Street and Chestnut Place. Actually, it's not far from Coors Field, but since neither 36th nor Chestnut is continuous, only a circuitous route will get you there.

The building, a large, nondescript structure made of corrugated metal, was formerly a garage and repair shop owned by the now-defunct Denver Mobility, a medical taxi company. It was purchased last year by sculptor Russell Beardsley, photographer Mike Mancarella and woodworker David Walter. Using plenty of sweat equity (and surely a lot of real equity, too), the three artists have lightly -- and effectively -- rehabbed the place. Capacious studios now accommodate fifteen artists, many of whom are sculptors who work on pieces of monumental size. They have also landscaped the sizable fenced yard, decorating it with trees, a community garden and several sculptures, some of which are unfinished.

Inside, beyond a reception area -- complete with kitchen and restrooms -- is a small but handsome exhibition space for which volunteer gallery director Deana Spinuzzi has put together an exhibition schedule that's still in its preliminary stages. The current show, Homare Ikeda: The Invisible Flight, is only the second one to be held here. (The inaugural exhibit last spring featured the work of the artist-tenants at Ironton, including Emmett Culligan and Debra Goldman.) It was Beardsley who suggested that Ikeda's work would make a good show -- and he was right.

Spinuzzi visited Ikeda's home and studio in north Capitol Hill and was immediately impressed. She selected pieces and, in cooperation with Ikeda, laid out the show. Spinuzzi's day job is with Fine Arts Express, a national art-handling company, so it was no trouble for her to install the exhibit herself.

Ikeda is a well-known Denver artist who has exhibited frequently in the region. However, he no longer has a relationship with any local commercial galleries, which is why Ironton was able to snag him. "I don't like commercial galleries; I have had bad experiences," Ikeda says candidly in his Japanese accent, noting that he's been stiffed for money by previous representatives.

Born and raised on Yoron Island, a small, isolated place near Okinawa, Ikeda didn't have much exposure to the world of the fine arts growing up, but he was interested nonetheless. He taught himself Oriental brush painting by copying pictures out of books and later became interested in contemporary art. "I was more of a naive artist," he says. "I gathered junk and made things out of it. I used to own a coffee shop; I painted all the walls inside, painted the chairs, tables, signs, everything, but I didn't have any idea about painting."

In 1978, he came to the United States with his new American wife, whom he had met in Kyoto. The couple settled in Southern California, and Ikeda began his formal art training at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. It was there that he came under the influence of Bill Williams, whom Ikeda describes as "a wonderful art professor. He spent all his energy on his teaching. He created his own art scholarship by collecting aluminum cans. He bought students' works to help them out financially. He took me to museums, operas -- he increased my cultural awareness, he taught me many aspects of the creative process."

But if Ikeda owes a debt of gratitude to Williams, so do we. It was Williams who suggested that Ikeda complete his art education at the University of Colorado in Boulder. "He said I should get a four-year degree and he just happened to have an application form for CU on his desk, and that's how I ended up in Boulder," says Ikeda.

In Boulder, Ikeda studied with Jerry Kunkel, Kay Miller and Chuck Forsman; he also cites Scott Chamberlin as an influence. He received his BFA from CU in 1985, and the next year his work was included in a show at the Pirate co-op. In 1987, he got his MFA in Boulder, and in 1989, he had become sufficiently established as a contemporary artist to have had his work purchased for the permanent collection of the Denver Art Museum. Since then, he has been the subject of a number of solo shows and has had his work included in dozens of group outings, most recently in last fall's significant and history-making Colorado Abstraction at the Arvada Center.

Ikeda has also been influenced by a couple of artists whose work he knows only from history, notably the nineteenth-century American landscape and seascape painter Albert Pinkham Ryder and the twentieth-century Italian master of the modernist still life Giorgio Morandi. The role of these artists in Ikeda's development is obvious, especially in their similar handling of surfaces and their attempt to impose an individual vision on a traditional form. Though Ikeda's paintings seem to be entirely abstract, he sees them as landscapes, albeit clearly untraditional ones. "They are landscapes of the mind," he says.

Ikeda's paintings, drawings and prints in The Invisible Flight are signature works flaunting the distinctive elements of his style. The paintings especially are pure Ikeda, sporting heavily impastoed paint and awkward and unbalanced compositions that can be linked to CU's Miller. The show is installed in the two-part gallery at Ironton. In the first space, exhibition director Spinuzzi has arranged several paintings, some of them quite substantial; in the smaller space, Ikeda's more diminutive works on paper are displayed.

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