Oh, Really?

Realism from three centuries takes hold at the DAM and at Carson-Masuoka.

After the Civil War, Homer tired of illustration and began to paint watercolors that depicted people, especially children, in everyday activities. In the next two galleries, which together have been subtitled "Innocence," are several fine examples of this kind of work. "Returning From the Spring" shows a little girl carrying a bucket, and "Young Farmers" depicts two little boys in a field. Both watercolors are from the Berger Collection.

The next section, called "Sea," focuses on the time that Homer lived and worked in Cullercoats, England, as well as on his long relationship with seashores, from his native New England to the Caribbean islands he visited. In this section are some genuine masterpieces, including the very impressionistic "The Artist's Studio in an Afternoon Fog," from 1894, and a pair of magnificent views of crashing waves: "Weatherbeaten," from 1894, and the closely related "Eastern Point, Prout's Neck," from 1900. Both are oil on canvas and both have the same somber palette.

The last section, called "Woodlands," takes up Homer's paintings of the natural environment. There are many worthwhile paintings here -- despite that looming play area. One very interesting work is a self-portrait of sorts, though Homer depicts himself from the rear. The oil painting titled "Artists Sketching in the White Mountains," from 1868, is amazing, because it looks half a century newer than it is.

"Artists Sketching in the White Mountains," by Winslow Homer, oil painting.
"Artists Sketching in the White Mountains," by Winslow Homer, oil painting.
"Building (Dexter)," by Barbara Shark, oil on canvas.
"Building (Dexter)," by Barbara Shark, oil on canvas.

Details

Through April 29, 720-865-5000

fig-u-ra-tion
Through May 11
Carson-Masuoka Gallery, 760 Santa Fe Drive
303-573-8585

Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway

The show seems to wind down toward the end, but the 1882 oil on canvas "Two Figures by the Sea," displayed in the last room, is extremely fine. (But why isn't it back in the "Sea" section?)

It's a shame those Homers weren't allowed to stand on their own, without all the "extras" at the DAM. They're good enough, and they've been interesting all by themselves for more than a century.


Something else that's enduringly interesting, apparently, is contemporary realism, clearly representing an update on Homer's style. At the swanky Carson-Masuoka Gallery, co-director Mark Masuoka has put together a group show called fig-u-ra-tion that features the work of six artists from the gallery's impressive stable of talent.

The first piece Masuoka selected was "Bridges," by Canadian sculptor David Pellettier, which has been placed in the gallery's window and can be seen from outside. It is an incredible sculptural group comprising a pair of crouching figures of barefooted young men in suits. The piece is constructed of cast epoxy resin and fiberglass, and finished to a dull whiteness with plaster. The figures are mirror images of one another.

Entering the gallery proper, we find ourselves in a forest of small bronze sculptures of male nudes by Denver artist Bill Starke. Many of these are charming, even funny, like "Climbers," in which dozens of small bronze figures are suspended in various ways on a row of seven wires attached to the ceiling.

The work of two painters, Barbara Shark of Lyons and Ricki Klages of Wyoming, surround the Starkes. The most interesting of the Sharks are those depicting construction workers, such as "Building (Dexter)," in which most of the painting is taken up by the blank surface of the wall. Shark obviously uses photographs as models for her paintings, but the results are not photo-realist, they're too painterly for that. The paintings by Klages are quite different, having a magical quality, with a trio showing people falling and one, "Alchemical Picnic," in which the people are floating. Klages also refers to art history but with an expected idiosyncratic slant.

In the next section are the murky photos of figures by Denver artist Randy Brown. The handsome silhouettes of posed nudes are especially nice. Nearby are retro-expressionist paintings, including an elaborate multi-part one by emerging Denver artist Jim White.

Truth be told, abstraction is, and has been, the lingua franca of modernism, post-modernism, and even neo-modernism. But as these two shows underscore, the well-turned-out figure does have its lasting appeal.

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