It's a Guy Thing

A beautiful show at Artyard explores the five phases of man.

Flying way below the region's art radar right now -- it hasn't even appeared in most of the city's gallery listings -- is Fetem, a thematically linked exhibit of sculptures by Bryan Andrews, a twenty-something artist who has been exhibiting locally for the last few years. The show is on display at Artyard.

Andrews was born in 1973 in Springfield, Missouri, which is nestled in the Ozark Mountains in the southeastern part of that state. Andrews remembers it as being culturally isolated. "When I was a kid, I never saw any real art. All I saw was the kind of things people made as hobbies and sold by the road, like little wood carvings of animals and people."

After graduating high school in 1992, he enrolled in college in Missouri but dropped out almost immediately. "I was taking art classes, but it was at a big state institution, and so -- you know -- art was at the bottom of the barrel," he recalls. "Then a friend of mine said he was coming out to Denver, and I said, 'I'm coming with you.'"

"Giant's Leg," found, carved and painted wood.
"Giant's Leg," found, carved and painted wood.


Through August 11
Artyard, 1251 South Pearl Street

When he got here, Andrews enrolled in the industrial-design program at the Colorado Institute of Art (now the Art Institute of Colorado). "Industrial design was interesting to me, but it didn't fit me," he says. "I needed to find something better suited to my creativity, so I transferred over to RMCAD (the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design) and switched to a fine-art major."

At RMCAD, from which he graduated in 1997 and where he still works as the lab coordinator in the sculpture department, Andrews studied with painter Clark Richert and sculptor Chuck Parson. Although Richert and Parson exposed the self-described "hillbilly" to the most sophisticated ideas in contemporary art, it's important to note that Andrews's work looks nothing like that of either of his mentors. No, Andrews's style is completely his own. He has taken ideas from a variety of sources, however, which is why many of the pieces in Fetem recall both those roadside wood carvings of Andrews's youth and, at the same time, refer to the minimalism of Richert and Parson.

Truth be told, Fetem has its flaws. But if that were all there was to it, why even discuss it? Because there's something more than the uneven quality of many of the pieces: It's that Andrews, unlike many of his peers, is capable of creating objects of genuine beauty. And from my point of view, that's good enough.

Believe it or not, to some people in the contemporary art world, beauty is no virtue, and work of the kind that Andrews does has been labeled by them as reactionary, as well as Eurocentric and reflective of a male-dominated view of art. I believe, though, a successful work of art is one that is visually interesting. And surely beauty is one of the most interesting visual qualities that an object can possess.

Andrews's commitment to beauty is palpable even in the gorgeous card he mailed out to announce the show. On a shiny black field, he placed a blue circle with the word "Fetem" in cursive script below. The companion business card includes a color reproduction of a massive tree trunk on one side and that blue circle on the other.

The blue circle has a great deal of meaning for Andrews. It's a key part of an elaborate iconography he's cooked up in which simple abstract shapes are given narrative or even spiritual meanings. For Andrews, the blue circle represents his soul. It's easy to understand how he came up with the idea of using a blue circle to stand in for his soul. It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and Andrews's eyes happen to be the same color blue as the circles. Come to think of it, they're the same shape, too.

And blue circles are the first things visitors see as they approach Artyard. Outside, arrayed along a concrete driveway, is the wonderful "Glimpses of the Journey," a five-part sculptural group. All five of the elements are adorned with -- you guessed it -- the signature blue circles.

"Glimpses," which premiered a few months ago in a show at Raven's Nest, is clearly Andrews's greatest accomplishment to date. In a way, the rest of the show is based on it. According to Andrews, the piece is meant to chart the artist's progress through life thus far. Interestingly, Andrews hasn't lined up the elements in a linear progression in terms of their size, as we'd expect considering the topic, but rather in a way meant to reflect biographic details of his life that are unknown to the viewer. For example, the final element is the tallest, but the second to the last is one of the smallest. Andrews says the juxtaposition reflects his heartache, followed by his recovery, from a failed romance about a year ago.

When I first saw "Glimpses" at Raven's Nest, I wrote in a review that the imagery used for the piece was phallic. The forms Andrews employs are blunt-topped cylindrical shafts. Andrews was downright furious at me for making this observation -- to the point of calling me up to complain about it in no uncertain terms.

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