Full House

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

Another standout is "Fifth Season," in which a pear shape set against a brushy oatmeal-colored field first catches the eye and provides a stepping stone to the still life underneath. There is a great but tenuous asymmetry in this piece, as the elements created from drawn lines and wide bars of blue, green, orange and red lead the eye around the edges of the painting, beginning at that pear shape in the center left and ending at the scribbled vertical loops at the bottom right.

The effect of the largest of the Metier oil paintings, "Haywire," is different, as the colors -- a severe acid green, a cheerful sunny yellow and a brooding deep red -- encourage the eye to dart from here to there, willy-nilly. The colors also lend "Haywire" a decidedly '60s retro quality, reinforced by the abstract organic shapes that cover the two panels.

One quality of Metier's work is its highly decorative character, which makes it somewhat controversial. You see, until recently, being "decorative" was the worst thing you could say about a contemporary painter. There are many in the art world who still think of the term as a pejorative, but I don't. Times have changed since formalist modernism was the prevailing doctrine, and right now, being decorative doesn't seem so bad after all.

"Red Nike," by Martha Daniels, glazed and painted ceramic.
"Red Nike," by Martha Daniels, glazed and painted ceramic.
"Fifth Season," by Amy Metier, oil on canvas.
"Fifth Season," by Amy Metier, oil on canvas.

Details

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

It's possible to say the same thing about Woodman's pieces, especially since her pottery, a small selection of which is on display, is technically part of the decorative arts. But it's equally true of the prints she did in a series of sessions with Shark's Inc. in the 1990s; these prints are Woodman's main attraction at Havu.

Woodman no longer lives in Colorado, having retired from teaching a few years ago with her husband, George Woodman, who also taught art at CU. The Woodmans now divide their time between Italy and New York. But since Betty spent forty years here -- coinciding with most of her creative period -- it seems right to extend her emeritus status as a Colorado artist.

Among the pots are several interesting things that Havu borrowed from ceramic dealers. The "Pillow Vase," a raku, is an early example of Woodman's most famous shape, the pillow pot. The piece has been vaguely dated to the late '60s or early '70s, which would make it an early example of the type; this attribution is borne out by the fact that Woodman had not fully resolved the formal problems of such a shape, as she would later do. Just as the name implies, "Pillow Vase" puffs out in the center.

Another interesting ceramic piece is "Challis," dated to the same period. It is a salt-glazed footed bowl with flat ribbon handles made of straps of clay. Like the pillow form, the use of strap handles is associated with Woodman.

Woodman's prints are concerned with the same issues as her pots; in fact, the prints include images of pots that are posed as if they were figures standing in front of tightly organized backgrounds, some of which recall classical settings such as balconies and ceremonial halls. Woodman often leaves a lot of raw paper and uses it as an important feature of the composition. For instance, in "Boardwalk Vase," a color woodcut with chine collé, and in "Oribe Tray/Classical Pitchers," a color monotype with collage, the shapes of the vases are defined by areas of minimally decorated white paper.

Upstairs on Havu's mezzanine, a very different mood is conjured up by James McElhinney, which is billed as an introduction to the artist. Not only is McElhinney new to Havu, but this is his first solo show in Denver. This is strange, since he's been in town for a few years, and he's taught at the University of Colorado in Denver since 1998. But McElhinney apparently doesn't have anything against exhibiting his work: He frequently shows in his hometown of Philadelphia and in Virginia and North Carolina, where he taught before moving to Denver.

McElhinney creates in a contemporary representational style, and in the works at Havu, the landscape is the subject (though I've also seen nudes and portraits by him). All of the paintings depict American battlefields, and instead of the sunny palettes seen downstairs, McElhinney prefers a dark one, with rich browns, deep greens and purplish grays.

He began this series in Virginia in 1991 with the Civil War battlefields of the Southeast, where he lived. But more recently, he has begun to paint battlefields out West associated with the Indian wars. The series depicts the state of the battlefields as they exist now; for example, one is a tacky strip mall. Some are straightforward landscapes, but in others, McElhinney has combined the details of the landscape with battlefield maps and cursive script or printed words. Written across the sky of a painting titled "Sand Creek" (which refers to more of a massacre site than a battlefield) is the word "shame."

One of the most fascinating features of McElhinney's paintings is his fluid and expressive brushwork, which gives his fairly conservative style a more contemporary edge. Because of all the big, sloppy brushstrokes, the paintings look as though they were done rapidly and almost effortlessly.

These two very different shows at Havu, both of which run into January, showcase the distinctive work of four noteworthy artists, and I recommend them enthusiastically.

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