Straight Ahead

Modernism rules in two fine shows at Judish and Andenken.

It's hard to believe, but it was only about five years ago that Denver painter Bruce Price first made a splash with his distinctive post-minimalist paintings. In Painting in the Age of Transparency, one of three exhibits at Ron Judish Fine Arts, Price shows off his latest batch of elaborate, eye-popping works.

All of the compositions are the same size -- forty by forty-five inches -- but some are hung horizontally and others vertically. "Forty by forty-five is a root-five rectangle," Price says, explaining that the mathematically derived shape is "a part of the canon of Western civilization." In art, the use of the root-five rectangle goes back to the ancient Greeks; the shape has long been considered aesthetically pleasing.

If Price's interest in mathematics reminds you of Clark Richert, whose own solo is across town at the Rule Gallery, you're on the right track. Price is a former student of Richert's and is the best established of the elder artist's many protegés. But Price is quick to point out that his interest in math as it relates to art goes back to his childhood.

"Hydrodynamic Polarity (in red)," by Jonathan Stiles, sculpture.
"Hydrodynamic Polarity (in red)," by Jonathan Stiles, sculpture.
"Everything Happens All the Time," by Bruce Price, acrylic on canvas.
"Everything Happens All the Time," by Bruce Price, acrylic on canvas.


Painting in the Age of Transparency,
Through January 5 at Ron Judish Fine Arts, 3011 Vallejo Street, 303-571-5557.

Through January 2 at Andenken Gallery, 2110 Market Street, 720-291-4567.

Price was born in Kansas in 1958 and raised in Indiana. As a teenager, he became seriously interested in classical music and studied at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. Eventually he began playing the viola professionally in small, Midwestern orchestras. "Almost no one knows about this part of my past, but for a long time, music was the only thing I was interested in," Price says. "Even today it's an important source for me. Music is mathematical -- it's repetitive. Written music is a pattern, and I think my early interest in music relates directly to my work as a painter now."

In the 1980s and early '90s, Price, who was living in Dallas, lost interest in music and did what so many in the performing arts have done -- he worked as a waiter. In his early thirties, he decided to study painting, first at Richland College in Dallas and later at Denver's Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, where he met Richert.

And the rest, as they say, is art history.

The show at Judish begins in the back of the first gallery. The stunning and densely composed "Everything Happens All the Time" is the first thing people see. It's an acrylic on canvas hung vertically on the back wall. The piece is aptly named, because in spite of the rigid horizontals and verticals that Price uses exclusively, there's a lot going on. I suppose it's this attribute that makes Price a more-is-not-enough post-minimalist rather than a less-is-more neo-minimalist.

The painting is obviously based on a grid, but by putting rectangles one over another asymmetrically, Price denies the ordered regularity of an ordinary grid. Among the most remarkable features of "Everything Happens" is the bold color scheme. There's a lot of an earthy, orangey brown, which looks pretty edgy with the rich powder blue, the other principal tone. Used more sparingly is a fabulous black, and, as accents, a group of tasty Necco wafer pastel shades, including pink, yellow and chartreuse. They look mighty intense against the predominating brown and blue.

"I think that teaching has really helped me in regard to color," says Price, an art-theory-and-practice teacher at the Community College of Denver. "Teaching color theory has made me more and more interested in the relationship of colors to one another and the effects that can be achieved."

Although Price can point out places in "Everything Happens" where there are visible, yet transparent, layers of glaze laid over the pigments, it's in the other paintings that the transparency is more obvious. By alternating clear and opaque passages, Price constructs luscious surfaces -- perhaps his key difference from mentor Richert.

But the use of such techniques is only one of a number of meanings implied by the exhibit's title, Price says. "It has to do with the way people interact, with the way motives are revealed."

Both meanings are shown off in "Surface Sociology #1," which is very different from "Everything Happens." For one thing, it's hung horizontally and is organized by a series of horizontal bars. For another, it sports diagonal lines. There are also bona fide gestures in the form of scribbled lines done in colored pencil. Both things are unexpected from Price, whose signature is ruler-drawn hard, straight lines reinforced by his use of masking tape. But Price says "the scribbles form a kind of pattern, too -- it's just that the scribbles are arranged in a random pattern."

Another feature of "Surface" is the application of soil -- or "dirt" as Price characterizes it. The brown horizontal bars that cover the painting are done with a dark-brown earth mixed with medium and sealed with multiple coats of glaze. This particular substance comes from South Dakota and was brought to Price, at his request, by his parents. Other paintings in the show are partly colored with various powdered soils given to Price by other family members and friends. One batch even came from Price's own backyard. In a sense, the dirt adds not only a textural component to the paintings but a narrative element, because it was gathered by Price and those close to him.

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