Strange Ways

Unusual mediums are showcased at the Bayeux Gallery and the Foothills Art Center.

Canada's Doreen Balabanoff also uses text in "Haiku," a remarkable ceiling-hung piece which incorporates a found aluminum window.

In the handsome Bartunek Gallery is the stunning Vance Kirkland, Asian Paintings. Kirkland, who died in 1981, was one of the region's most significant artists, and the exhibit at Foothills was curated by Hugh Grant, the director of the Vance Kirkland Museum and Foundation. Grant has elected to show not only Kirkland's Oriental-inspired abstract-expressionist paintings, mostly from the 1960s, but also some choice watercolors from the '40s and '50s that anticipate the Oriental-theme pictures, though they are Western landscapes.

Among these gorgeous watercolors is "Red Mountain," from 1947. In it, Kirkland translates a landscape into a composition made up of floating organic shapes that surrealistically refer to mountains and clouds. By 1950, as exemplified by "Autumn," Kirkland had abandoned landscape elements entirely, and the composition is simply a swirling mass of interacting and ambiguous shapes. Interestingly, both paintings are related to the contemporaneous work of the great Herbert Bayer of German Bauhaus fame who fled the Nazis and wound up living and working in Aspen.

"Concerning Burma," by Vance Kirkland, oil, water and gold on canvas.
"Concerning Burma," by Vance Kirkland, oil, water and gold on canvas.


Foothills Internationale
Through August 20
Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden
3rd American Tapestry Alliance Biennial Exhibition
Through September 3
Bayeux Gallery, 1133 Bannock Street

Most of the Kirklands in this show are abstract paintings in which the artist employed his unique method for using oil and water together. To create fluid shapes, he floated oil paint on top of water, and when the water evaporated, the paint adhered to the surface. The effect is shown off in "Memory of Nara," an oil, water and gold on canvas from 1961, and in the quite similar though much larger "Concerning Burma," from 1964.

Oddly, the Kirkland exhibit provides a direct, if unlikely, link to the last of the three shows in the Foothills Internationale, Vietnamese Lacquer Painting: A New Age. It turns out that in the 1960s, Kirkland struck up a friendship with a Vietnamese artist named Pham Tang. The two met in Rome, where both artists exhibited their work. At the time, Tang lived in exile in the Eternal City because of the Vietnam War. Grant has included a painting by Tang that was originally owned by Kirkland and which is now in the collection of the Vance Kirkland Museum. The painting, "Intrusiveness in Yellow," done in lacquer and eggshell on wood in 1968, is clearly related stylistically to Kirkland's own work and visually connects Kirkland's work to that of the Vietnamese artists in the adjacent Vietnamese Lacquer.

The traveling show, installed in the capacious Waelchli Western Gallery, opened at the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts in Hanoi. Foothills is its first American stop before it goes on to Oakland and Honolulu. It was organized by Wann Caron with the cooperation of the official Fine Arts Association of Vietnam. Caron first became interested in Vietnam during his tour of duty in 1967 and 1968 with the U.S. Army. When Vietnam was reopened to American tourists, Caron began to visit the country frequently and established strong ties to the artists featured in the show.

Bringing a scholarly structure to the show is Ronald Bernier, a University of Colorado art history professor who co-curated Vietnamese Lacquer and contributed to the catalogue that accompanies it. It was Bernier who suggested the idea of the show to Caron.

Bernier traces the origins of modern lacquer painting in Vietnam to the 1930s, when artists, mostly in Hanoi, began to translate the ancient and traditional technique into contemporary expressions. But the show itself completely comprises new pieces. There are a few that bring to mind traditional lacquer screens, in particular "Phong Canh Chua But Thap," by Nguyen Nghia Duyen. But most are linked more to contemporary painting of an international stripe. Among the finest of this type are "Tieng Vong Cua Vat Chat," by Ho Huu Thu, a glittering abstraction incorporating gold and silver leaf, and Bui Mai Hien's "Khong Gian Cua Toi," a retro design with a transcendentalist flavor.

Though the connections between the three shows in The Foothills Internationale, which closes in ten days, are hard to see, each one has a lot to recommend it.

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