Changing of the Guard

A talent-packed group show features five artists new to Havu.

It's a basic contradiction of the art world: Artists compete with each other to get into the best galleries, while the galleries compete with each other to get the best artists.

A standard offshoot of this situation is the endless chain of introductory exhibits, meant either to acquaint the local art audience with some hot new artist or to rub the nose of a known talent's former representative in the ground by flaunting the results of a successful coup.

The William Havu Gallery accomplishes both of these goals by showing off some of the artists who have recently joined the stable there in Introductions, which features the work of five artists. A few are well-known, having recently bolted from other Denver galleries; the rest are new to the Denver exhibition world.

"Pox," by Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, mixed-media painting.
"Pox," by Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, mixed-media painting.


Through July 29


William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street

The show goes a long way in laying out gallery director William Havu's extremely broad taste in contemporary art by combining a touch of postmodern, a taste of classic modernism and a heavy dose of neo-traditionalism. Havu, who designs all of the exhibitions himself, has installed the work of each artist in its own distinct grouping within the gallery. This is appropriate, since the approaches of the five artists are so disparate. The exhibit may thus be seen as five distinct solos, and that's perhaps the best way for viewers to approach it.

The show begins with a section devoted to Lauri Lynnxe Murphy's recent mixed-media paintings. Murphy is a well-known figure in the alternative world, having been a member of the Edge co-op in the early 1990s and a founder (in 1996) and guiding spirit behind ILK, where she served as president before taking a more limited role this year. Like most of the other members of ILK, she is a graduate of the Metropolitan State College of Denver (interestingly, Pirate and CORE, two of the city's other co-ops, also came out of Metro's art department) and, until recently, was associated with the Rule Modern and Contemporary Gallery.

Her paintings at Havu combine a wide variety of sources. With her use of a multi-panel format arranged in grids, she refers to structural abstraction. But each panel sports a different style, and the imagery she employs refers not only to repeated patterns, like the overall grid, but to abstract expressionism, pop art and traditional decorations. Although Murphy has been doing this kind of thing for five years, these recent pieces reveal a greater level of integration of the three-dimensional elements she incorporates. Formerly, these attached, found objects had detracted from the compositions; now they enhance them.

The first piece that comes into view is "Ozone," a mixed-media on nine panels, hung three by three. It can be seen from outside the gallery through the window next to the front door. The painting is essentially blue, though green, gray and other shades are also used. The center panel, upholstered in a dusty-blue shag material, sets the tone. Another panel also refers to textiles by incorporating blue fringe. The majority of the rest of the panels have been painted, each in its own style; one has a vaporous image evocative of clouds, another has hard-edged stars on a flat ground. Several include collages of text, like the display ad from a place called Gormley's.

By using different styles and materials for each of the panels, Murphy seems to be saluting several opposing viewpoints at the same time. And there's no denying the way she appropriates the styles of others. But by combining them, she makes them her own.

Other standouts are "Cipher," in which metallic tones are used, and the wonderful "Pox," which is done mostly in reds and yellows. In both, Murphy creates raised bumps in overall patterns. In "Cipher," these raised patterns remind us of stamped metal, while in "Pox," they disturbingly suggest lesions.

Beyond the Murphys, in the space at the bottom of the grand staircase, we switch gears with a fine selection of recent abstractions by Boulder artist Amy Metier, an art teacher at the Community College of Denver and a graduate of both Colorado State University and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Metier, who recently left the Robischon Gallery, is one of the state's most accomplished painters. This current batch of paintings is particularly strong. In style, they are a continuation of her work over the last decade, in which representational imagery -- typically the still-life subjects of fruit and flowers -- is barely visible underneath painterly flourishes of sometimes-vivid color. I'm not certain, but a couple of these abstractions, "Crackerjack" and "Big Blue Painting," both done in oil on canvas, look as though they have landscapes drawn underneath, which is somewhat unexpected.

"Big Blue Painting" is stunning. Metier uses washes of scribbled paint, laid on heavily in places and thinly elsewhere, that record the brushwork without obscuring the drawn lines underneath. The drawn elements in "Big Blue Painting" are geometric, but not strictly speaking, since Metier creates rectangles and trapezoids freehand, so that even the straight lines have an expressive gestural quality.

"Alphabet Soup," another large oil on canvas, is more signature Metier. In this painting, she draws and then partly paints out a tabletop still life of fruit and a decanter. As usual, her instinctual color combinations are gorgeous: in this case, a variety of closely related gray-greens punctuated by pinks and blues.

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