Strange Ways

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

By way of celebrating the first anniversary of its opening, Bayeux Gallery owner and operator Carla St. Romain has mounted her most important show yet, the 3rd American Tapestry Alliance Biennial Exhibition.

Bayeux is an appropriate stop for this national traveling exhibit, because it's the only regional gallery specializing in fine-art textiles. But it's also unusual because this is the first time that the American Tapestry Alliance has presented its exhibit in a private gallery. Ordinarily it is seen in public institutions, as it was in 1996 when it appeared at Golden's Foothills Art Center. That was the only other time the Biennial has come to our region.

The show has two basic components: There are the nine artists who were invited to exhibit, and nearly thirty artists whose work was selected by a jury. In an unusual turn of events, the nine invitees were on the jury. Their decisions were not final, however; that was left to nationally known weavers Yael Lurie and Jean Pierre Larochette, who organized the show for the ATA. Some may see this as an ethical problem, but St. Romain points out that the pieces displayed by the jurors, which she describes as "stellar," should be seen only as an adjunct to the juried section of the show, which is larger than it has been in the two previous ATA biennials. Unfortunately, no distinction has been made between the two groups, either in the hanging of the show or in terms of quality of work.

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

Details

Foothills Internationale
Through August 20
Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden
303-279-3922
3rd American Tapestry Alliance Biennial Exhibition
Through September 3
Bayeux Gallery, 1133 Bannock Street
720-359-0990

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The show begins in the front of the gallery, where St. Romain has temporarily relocated the reception area. Hanging together on the south wall are a pair of pictorial weavings that make up "Diptych: Dreams, Visions, Memories," by Canadian artist Barbara Heller. The two similar weavings both depict a figure looking out through a window. On the left is the face of an old woman; on the right, that of an old man. There is also Hebrew writing on a sign. The setting is a ghetto in Krakow, Poland, where the artist's ancestors lived. The weavings are incredible in their details, with Heller quite accurately conveying things like peeling paint and broken glass. "That would be hard to do with paint, but with wool, it's unbelievable," says St. Romain.

Several other artists in the show use almost photographic detail to refer to recognizable subject matter. Standouts of this type include the tapestries by Sarah Swett and Anne Adams, both from Idaho, and Colorado's Kathy Spoering. Celina Grigore, the only other Colorado artist in the show, uses representation as a taking-off point for abstraction. In Grigore's "Dream in Black and White," the artist lines up conventionalized figures, animals and birds done in black wool across a cream-colored field made of silk.

Many of the tapestries are reminiscent of Navajo rugs, and, not surprisingly, there are more artists from New Mexico represented than from any other state. These include Irvin and Lisa Trujillo, Robin Reider, Rachel Brown and Ramona Sakiestewa. Part of the story is that northern New Mexico is a national center for weaving. "There are a huge number of textile artists who live between Albuquerque and the Colorado border," says St. Romain, who sees the continuing appeal of the New Mexico aesthetic as being important to the place of textiles in the art world. "The Southwestern style has created increased interest in weaving. It is the biggest influence currently for American tapestry weaving."

The Biennial, which will run through the beginning of September, will certainly attract many new visitors to Bayeux, and that's surely just what the plucky St. Romain had in mind.

The Foothills Internationale in Golden shouldn't be confused with last weekend's International in Castle Pines -- the former being a trio of art shows at the Foothills Art Center, the latter a golf match, which was held despite the absence of Tiger Woods. As was not the case with the golf tournament, the stars of the Foothills Internationale -- the works themselves -- showed up.

The three shows in the Internationale, though only nominally interconnected, somehow work together.

The first is the small but impressive International Women's Contemporary Stained Glass exhibit, which is installed in the Metsopoulos Gallery and spills into the front alcove and the connecting anteroom. It was put together by French-born part-time Colorado resident Marie-Pascale Foucault-Phipps, who has included two of her own pieces, "Glass Robe" and "Bobcat Fire 2000." These pieces, and those by the artists she selected for inclusion, reveal that Foucault-Phipps is not interested in traditional stained glass, but rather in work that pushes the edges of the material and oozes over into the realm of conceptual art.

"Glass Robe" is one such case. The freestanding piece, which is in front of a window, is made up of a sheet of transparent and flexible plastic that has been hung with cables between a steel support system. In a grid of plastic pockets are rectangles of clear, partly painted glass -- hardly the kind of thing that comes to mind when we think of stained glass.

Another innovative artist working with stained glass is Great Britain's Chinks Vere Grylls. In both of her pieces, she uses sheets of glass mounted like shelves in which she has etched words so that they reflect against the wall.

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.

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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