Straight Ahead

Modernism rules in two fine shows at Judish and Andenken.

Sometimes it seems as though Price sets up standards only to violate them. For instance, although his paintings have always been totally flat, Price violates this flatness with the use of the transparent layers that push parts of his paintings back into space. But even then, the planes of his creations remain in line with the planes of the walls.

An even greater violation of Price's ethos of flatness is found in two paintings where there's actually the illusion of three-dimensional space. This effect is seen in both "In the Full of the Bloom" and "Large Form on Slick Surface." In these pieces, single large rectangles obscure underlying patterns -- a green-and-white checkerboard in "Bloom" and red-and-yellow bars in "Slick Surface." The rectangles appear to recede into space, creating a tension in relation to the utterly flat underlying patterns.

The eight paintings in this show are connected to one another more conceptually than visually. It's ironic then that Price says he's not interested in conceptual art. "I'm an object maker, a painter," he insists, "and I have consciously chosen not to be a conceptual artist."

"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.

Post-minimalist painting, along with modern sculpture, is also seen in 32/26 at Andenken Gallery. The exhibit introduces two newcomers, painter Karen McClanahan and sculptor Jonathan Stiles. The show's odd title is a play on a lyric by the punk-rock group the Violent Femmes, but more particularly, it refers to the artists' ages: McClanahan is 32, and Stiles in 26. Both recently relocated to Denver -- McClanahan from Arizona and Stiles from California via Washington State.

McClanahan's paintings are all closely associated with one another, representing a unified body of work that's been created over the last year. In both the small oil studies and the larger acrylic canvases, McClanahan juxtaposes organic abstract forms with hard-edged, straight-lined compositions.

In "Systemic Division," the first painting in the series, done last December, McClanahan divides the large, vertical panel into three areas defined by lines. Across the bottom is a wide horizontal rectangle; across the top are two different-sized vertical rectangles. Partly within these sections and partly crossing them are color fields, red on the bottom, beige and blue-green on the top. These color fields have sinuous margins evocative of the human shape. This combination of geometry and the figure is McClanahan's great innovation in these paintings.

"I have notebooks full of figure studies," says McClanahan, "and that's where the forms in the paintings come from. A lot of them are based on parts of a figure, or even the shadows the figure casts."

McClanahan uses only a handful of colors for each painting, but her sense for balancing shades is nearly perfect. She employs red generously, but she also uses a lot of black, typically for the straight lines and only rarely for the color fields. An exception is "Shmo (for C.R.)," in which a luxuriant purple field is juxtaposed with an even more lavish black one. The C.R. is meant to pay homage to McClanahan's mentor and former teacher -- none other than Clark Richert.

An important attribute of these paintings is the pristine surface that's the result of the artist's scrupulous technique. The edges between the colors are as crisp and clean as possible. In some of the color fields, there's a monochrome effect, which on closer examination reveals that multiple colors, in nearly identical shades, have been used. McClanahan thinks of these understated elements as being secret passages in her paintings.

Sculptor Stiles is also interested in sublety and secrets. In "Fissure," for example, he points out that the all-but-invisible underside is painted blue. "You can't see it directly, but it creates a blue glow under the piece," he says.

"Fissure," which is very good, sort of looks like a flying shovel. Hung at a diagonal from the ceiling and floating just a couple of feet above the floor, it is constructed of carved wood, welded and repoussé steel and a big chunk of carved rhyolite. The steel and rhyolite are attached to the wooden members with a big hinge.

"Wally's Advice," the immediate predecessor of "Fissure," is very similar. Its title was inspired by the advice Stiles got from his Swedish uncle, Wally, who reminded the young man "not to drag my oar in the water." (I guess they're based on oars, not shovels.)

The best thing Stiles has done is "Hydrodynamic Polarity (in red)," an elegant floor sculpture of a red-painted carved-wood lever mounted on a handsomely cast and fabricated aluminum base. Some may notice the influence of Erick Johnson, which is no coincidence, since Stiles is the respected sculptor's former student and assistant.

Stiles is the latest to join a group of emerging young Denver sculptors that already includes Emmett Culligan, Andy Miller, Joe Riché, Zach Smith and Bryan Andrews.

The works of McClanahan and Stiles are wonderful together. Despite the fact that 32/26 is really a pair of single-artist shows that have been joined, it functions as a seamless and completely coherent exhibit and is one of the best things the newish Andenken has hosted thus far.

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