Go Figure

The human form continues to provide inspiration for contemporary artists.


Reality + Imagination, a lively group show that starts the fall season at William Havu Gallery, also features work that balances tradition with relevance. But while these artists were brought together because of their shared interest in figural and representational imagery, they all also share an advanced level of technical prowess.

In many ways, Reality + Imagination is not so much a group show as a series of exhibits devoted to individual artists. Each of the five painters is given an autonomous section of the gallery, made discrete by movable walls. The work of the sixth featured artist, Texas sculptor Stephen Daly, is scattered throughout the show.

"Hero Complex," by Wes Hempel, oil on canvas.
"Hero Complex," by Wes Hempel, oil on canvas.
"Hero Complex," by Wes Hempel, oil on canvas.
"Hero Complex," by Wes Hempel, oil on canvas.

Details

Through November 3, 303-298-7788

Reality + Imagination
Through October 27
William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street
303-893-2360

Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street

Two Daly sculptures flank the gallery's entranceway. On one side is "The Collector," a silver-patinated bronze-and-aluminum casting in the form of an abstract and simplified figure holding -- or perhaps attached to -- a tray covered with small sculptures. The figure is essentially formed from a cylinder with a simply detailed head on which ridges stand in for hair. In "Woman With Mirror," which stands on the other side, Daly takes the same approach to the figure, but this time he makes the hair with squiggles of bronze welded on the bronze cast. Finished in a delicious yellow patina, the figure faces away from the viewer, but her face can be seen in the highly polished bronze mirror that she holds before her. A third Daly sculpture -- his most important piece in the show -- is installed out back in the sculpture garden, where it looks great. "Daphne," a cast and fabricated bronze finished with an oil glaze in a verdigris color, captures the mythical Daphne as she turns into a tree.

Just past the Dalys at the entranceway hangs recent work by Luis Eades, an old master of Colorado painting. Born in Spain to British parents in 1923, Eades came to this country in 1949. Starting in the '50s, he taught painting for almost a decade at the University of Texas at Austin; in 1961 he left to accept a job in the fine arts department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he remained until his retirement in 1987. But while Eades retired from teaching, he did not retire as an artist. In fact, the septuagenarian created many of the pieces seen here specifically for this show, assembling discordant and unlikely combinations of images.

In "Toys," an oil on canvas, Eades captures a surrealistic landscape. In the foreground, a mockingbird perches on top of a cactus; other cacti are seen mid-ground and on a hill in the distance. The hill is the first oddball element, since it's made of a pile of discarded dolls. Another weird addition is a ghostly portrait of a woman that floats in the sky, its strange effect heightened by the traditional representational style Eades has used.

Also using traditional stylistic techniques for non-traditional ends are several Eades paintings that recall and reassemble ancient art. In "Fiddler," an oil on canvas, a basically hieratic composition has been created by confining the face of an ancient Buddha sculpture in a horizontal rectangle; the Buddha's mouth floats over a larger rectangle. The bottom right of the composition shows a bird on a cactus; on the left is a skeleton playing a violin -- or, more correctly, a fiddle.

The center space is devoted to fanatically detailed figure paintings by Irene Delka McCray, a Colorado artist who also spends time in Santa Fe. In "Surrender," an oil on canvas, an old woman and an old man are lying on a bed of plantlike forms while, at the bottom, it looks as though the ocean tide is coming in. Both the figures and the subject -- their impending death -- are pretty creepy. That's the same description I'd give to "Inner Force," which shows an aging hippie couple from above. The man and woman are nude, stuck in a parched desert landscape, and they look out at the viewer in horror.

In the window space are small paintings by Lori Nelson, a young artist from Salt Lake City. These pieces imitate the old masters, even to the point of having elaborately carved gold-leaf frames, but their subjects are contemporary. In "Last Fall" a woman in a blue dress, holding fruit in her hands, talks with a small child while a man falls from a tree in the background, adding a humorous element. The surfaces of Nelson's paintings are particularly interesting: They seem to have been heavily glazed with tinted varnish, which gives them an antique look.

Under the mezzanine is a large group of figural abstractions by Erica Daborn, an English-born artist who lives in California. Her paintings recall underground comics in style, and, like that art form, they incorporate disturbing images. While all of her paintings are beautifully done, "Networking," a huge oil on Masonite, is clearly the most important. For this piece, Daborn has arrayed a line of four female figures across the canvas. The figures are linked by cords or wires attached to their heads, but each stands on her own pedestal, hiding her face behind a mask, and each holds a tray with a pair of lips on it. This is a biting commentary on opportunism, with the four women interconnected yet completely isolated.

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