The Wild Side

Works by John Hull and Philip-Lorca diCorcia are among the pleasures at Ron Judish Fine Arts.

Although Ron Judish Fine Arts is a commercial gallery, it seems more like a full-fledged museum because it presents permanent displays and unbilled offerings alongside its featured attractions.

On more or less permanent display are a robust Emmett Culligan sculpture, a ceiling-hung, photo-based installation by Bob Coller, and a group of nineteenth-century vellum drawings of the church in which the gallery is housed, drawn by architects Franklin Kidder and John Humphries.

An unbilled group show is in the large space in the back. It combines three solos from last month -- the neo-expressionist paintings of Catherine Kirkwood, the post-minimalist ones by Bruce Price and the nearly abstract photos of Cinderella City by Ron Pollard -- into a single group presentation.

"Picnic," by John Hull, acrylic on canvas.
"Picnic," by John Hull, acrylic on canvas.
"Riders," by John Hull, acrylic on canvas.
"Riders," by John Hull, acrylic on canvas.

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Through February 23, 303-571-5556
Ron Judish Fine Arts, 3011 Vallejo Street

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And then there are the featured exhibits. The first of the three current ones is Javier Marin, which is impossible to ignore, as Marin's sculptures demand attention. Although the display is made up of only two pieces, they're gigantic, and they carry the entire front space at Judish. Each is a monumental head made of polyester resin and amaranth seeds mounted on a modernist steel stand. They're titled "Cabeza #1" and "Cabeza #2." Both were made in 2001.

Marin is a hot Mexican contemporary artist, and like many of his generation in Mexico and in the southwestern United States, he's interested in creating art that reconciles the elements of his country's mixed culture. Stylistically, the heads recall the Spanish half of Mexico's ancestral heritage and resemble Spanish Baroque sculptures. One of the materials, however, the amaranth seeds, reflects the other side of Mexican history, the Meso-American. These seeds were an important cereal grain for the Aztecs.

In the pair of rooms adjacent to the Marins is another of the featured exhibits, John Hull, which focuses on a ten-part painting cycle just completed by the contemporary representational painter.

The nationally recognized Hull was born in Connecticut in 1952. He has become well established and widely known around here since he left Yale University about five years ago -- where he was teaching and where he had been trained -- and took over as chair of the art department at the University of Colorado at Denver. Although he gave up that UCD post a couple of years ago, he still teaches art there.

The paintings at Judish were all done in the last year or so, which is pretty amazing considering the year that Hull has had. Last spring, while he was teaching full-time and preparing for three different solo shows across the country, Hull developed bronchitis. Since he was preoccupied and busy, however, he didn't do anything about it. As happens in a predictable number of such cases, the bronchial virus in Hull's lungs transferred to his heart, resulting in heart failure this past summer. Hull is now on the mend, back at work in his studio and teaching again.

In spite of his health problems -- he quit painting for two months, the longest hiatus from the easel he's had in a twenty-plus-year career -- these latest pieces are pure Hull. All concern an incident from his rebellious teenage years and are set in the early 1970s in Oregon. Though his dad was a physics professor, Hull didn't hang out with the brainiacs from high school; he sought out the roughneck bikers from the trailer park instead. It's this group of young guys, along with their families and girlfriends, who populate the paintings in the show.

The entire cast of characters is introduced in the first painting, "Picnic," from 2001, which is immediately to the right as you enter the show. Like all of the Hulls here, it's done in acrylic on canvas. It depicts a bucolic scene: a group of people gathered together at an outdoor party. In the way the people are dressed and the type of cars that are seen behind them, Hull fully communicates the fact that the scene dates back to the '70s.

In the center of the picture is a picnic table set with a checkered tablecloth; the table is in the deep shadows of the large trees that surround it. Among those sitting at the table are a man with his arm in a sling, a bare-chested man, and a middle-aged woman wearing glasses. These three figures will play a major role in the unfolding story of star-crossed lovers that is the topic of the entire ten-painting cycle. The lovers themselves are glimpsed off to the right in the sunlit background. By lighting the lovers and placing the other figures in shadows, Hull leads the viewer's eye back to the innocent-looking young woman and the vaguely dangerous-looking young man.

In this piece, as in the others, Hull conveys narrative content and detail through the poses the figures take. In the case of the young lovers, both are pulled back from one another, revealing their mutual shyness. Interestingly, though Hull has an expressive and painterly style, he also conveys facial expressions. Taken together, the pose and the gaze of the figures become extremely evocative and are fairly unambiguous.

In the second painting, "Riders," hung immediately to the left of "Picnic," the young man is sitting on a motorcycle, and the young woman is about to climb onto the back of it. In the doorway of a house is the man with his arm in a sling. On one of the other motorcycles is a man in a black T-shirt. According to Hull, the three men are a trio of thuggy, drug-dealing brothers he knew as a teenager.

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