Full House

The William Havu Gallery has decked the walls with four aces.

After seeing the stunning Martha Daniels, Amy Metier, Betty Woodman installed on its first floor, I'm tempted to say that the William Havu Gallery has never looked better.

This is hardly surprising, and it's obvious why: All three artists are stylistically linked to one another in a variety of ways. But even more essential to the construction of this very coherent show is the way the related palettes of the artists interact. Daniels's strong reds and greens look great with Metier's oranges and greens, which in turn are terrific with Woodman's pinks and greens. The strong hues light up the gallery, making this tremendous exhibit the perfect visual antidote to the gray-white days of winter.

The emphatic effect of color is seen as soon as viewers enter the gallery. Just inside the front door is a ceramic sculpture by Daniels titled "Red Nike" -- and the title's no lie. The electric lipstick red is as red as red can be. The piece is a perfect expression of classic Daniels style, in which Mediterranean influences are mixed with Oriental ones, a combination she shares with her stylistic mentor and co-exhibitor in this show, Betty Woodman. Daniels, a transplanted New Yorker, discovered Woodman's work more than thirty years ago when she first moved to Colorado. Already an accomplished artist at the time, Daniels had studied at the prestigious Cooper Union in her hometown of New York City.

"Red Nike," by Martha Daniels, glazed and painted ceramic.
"Red Nike," by Martha Daniels, glazed and painted ceramic.
"Red Nike," by Martha Daniels, glazed and painted ceramic.
"Red Nike," by Martha Daniels, glazed and painted ceramic.


Through January 5, 303-893-2360
William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street

But in truth, Daniels's approach to ceramics is very different from Woodman's. The vessel, the ultimate archetypal ceramic form, remains a central concern for Woodman, even when she makes prints and drawings. For Daniels, it's the figure, which is, of course, the ultimate archetype for sculpture. In this particular sense, Daniels's work is less a part of the tradition of ceramics than it is within that of sculpture, and a piece like "Red Nike" could actually have been made of bronze or some other material than fired and painted clay.

The "Nike" of the title refers to the "Nike of Samothrace," or, as it is better known, "The Winged Victory." This famous ancient Greek sculpture of a goddess was decapitated by the ravages of time, but it is still so nice that it effectively anchors the grand staircase in the Louvre in Paris. Like the original, the Daniels figure is headless.

"Red Nike" is expressionistic, and the elements of the figure -- legs, torso, arms and wings -- are roughly made from bent and twisted sheets of clay. The forms are brought together in a kind of crescendo of shapes that flare out at the wings (which are at the top of the figure rather than the back). This composition gives the sculpture more monumentality than could be expected from a piece that stands merely five feet tall.

Just ahead is another Daniels figure, "Red & Green Reclining Nude," in which the same red is used on the torso. In this case, however, the effect of the color is modulated by the verdigris boughs that surround the figure. Again, the piece could just as easily be a painted bronze as a ceramic.

Some of the Daniels pieces could be nothing other than ceramics, though, since their surfaces are the product of glazing in a kiln. Notable in this regard are two works that were included in the artist's solo show at the Denver Art Museum a couple of years ago, "Autumn Plant Form" and "Summer Plant Form." The glazes, a monochrome orange-ish red for the autumn piece and a complex set including white, pink and blue for the summer one, both recall modern Italian ceramics, an acknowledged source for Daniels.

The dozen or more paintings by Metier are interspersed among the Daniels sculptures. Since they were created in the last eight months, Metier must have practically chained herself to the easel. Making the accomplishment all the more astounding is the fact that her typical technique is to layer the paint on each piece, beginning with a sketch and running through to the underpainting and finally to the glazed surface. It's hard to imagine how she found the time, considering that she commutes between her studio in Boulder and her job as a painting teacher at the Community College of Denver.

Metier's influences are broad and clearly include Picasso, Willem de Kooning and Richard Diebenkorn -- not to mention Woodman, who was teaching at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1979 when Metier got her MFA there.

For many years, Metier has been creating abstract-expressionist paintings based on still-life compositions. Using sketchy and gestural lines evocative of fruit, flowers, bowls and other typical tabletop accessories, she paints them over and over in thinned-out pigments. Typically, she depicts these objects simultaneously from different points of view, with one vantage laid over another. As a result, the paintings are not representational versions of still-life compositions, but seem almost abstract, being essentially unrecognizable.

But there are clues, like the banana shape -- or is that a slice of melon? -- that is repeated in "Palimpsest," a mid-sized, mostly white oil on canvas. The title is of Greek origin and refers to something that has been erased, and, come to think of it, the surface of the painting does look as if it's been scraped off. Particularly nice are the daubs of blue and orangey rust that have been used sparingly on the left-hand side of the panel, creating a great asymmetrical tension when juxtaposed with the predominant white.

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