Air Touch

Dale Chisman unveils his latest abstractions at Rule Gallery.

 Dale Chisman: Recent Paintings, now on display at Rule Gallery, is absolutely fabulous -- which is not unexpected, considering Chisman's reputation as a master in the field of abstraction and his status as one of the most important artists in Colorado's history.

As a consequence of Chisman's accomplishments, his work is included in many public and private collections in the region, notably the Denver Art Museum's. Over the years, his paintings have also been seen in important group shows. A case in point is 5 Abstract, currently up at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, a show in which director Cydney Payton chose only five living artists to represent the best in Colorado abstract art; in addition to Chisman, she selected Al Wynne, Bev Rosen, Robert Mangold and Clark Richert ("Broad Strokes," January 24).

Despite this exposure, it's been a long time since Chisman was the subject of a solo show. In fact, aside from a tiny etching show at Rule in 1999, this is the artist's first exhibit in four years. That's really too bad, because Chisman is tremendously prolific and, given the opportunity, could easily have filled an annual roster of exhibits in the intervening years. But that didn't happen, and, as a result, there are entire bodies of his work that have never been seen by the public, including a series of paintings executed in New York in 2000 and 2001. Chisman sees these paintings as being preparatory for the more recently completed pieces that make up the Rule show and which were done in his Denver studio.

"7 Days," by Dale Chisman, oil on linen.
"7 Days," by Dale Chisman, oil on linen.
"Palabra," oil on linen.
"Palabra," oil on linen.


Through March 8, 303-777-9537
Rule Gallery, 111 Broadway

That studio, not far from the Pirate and Edge co-ops on the city's northwest side, is also not far from where Chisman grew up. Born in Denver in 1943, Chisman showed an early interest in art and, at North High School, became a star student of the late art teacher and pioneering Denver modernist Martha Epp. After graduation, Chisman attended a 1961 summer session at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, where he studied with another early Colorado modernist, Mary Chenoweth. Chenoweth's influence became essential to Chisman's development as a mature painter.

The recent paintings at Rule continue to reveal this intimate aesthetic relationship to Chenoweth in that, like her, Chisman paints color fields in bold hues and marks the fields with roughly done geometric or conventionalized organic shapes. And like his mentor, Chisman never seems to exhaust the possibilities of abstract painting. (In Chenoweth's case, only her death in 1999 stopped her, and she continued to create large-scale paintings right into her final months.)

Chisman earned his BFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1965 and later studied briefly with Lester Johnson and Louis Finkelstein at Yale University and at the Royal College of Art in London. He'd wound up in England after meeting David Hockney, who was a visiting artist at CU. At the time, Hockney was about to become a mega-famous British painter. In London, Chisman survived the drudgery of a British art school by working as Hockney's studio assistant; the two developed a close personal relationship, and Chisman is even mentioned in Hockney's biography.

Back in Boulder, Chisman got his MFA in 1969; afterward, he traded on the connections he'd made with Johnson, Finkelstein and Hockney and moved to New York. He quickly found a measure of success, joining the stable at the Martha Jackson Gallery in 1972. "I probably could have gone further if I had stayed in New York and pushed it," says Chisman, who moved back to Denver in 1984. "But after a while, I just had to get out of there."

When Chisman returned, he was little known except to a small group of artist-friends who remembered him from the '60s. The problem was fixed, however, after he joined Pirate and was then picked up by the Cydney Payton Gallery. (That gallery became the Payton-Rule Gallery and then, simply, the Rule Gallery; Chisman has shown at least once during each permutation.) His exhibits in the '80s and '90s established Chisman as one of the greatest artists in the city.

In many ways, Chisman's newest paintings are clearly part of a tight continuum going back to his work of twenty or more years ago. On the other hand, they have some elements that are obviously new.

"When I came back from New York last February," recalls Chisman, who had a rented studio there for some months, "I decided to do a series of large-sized paintings that would also be large in scale." This decision was based on the fact that his New York studio's small size prevented him from doing large paintings, while his Denver studio is quite spacious, with high ceilings. Chisman had returned to the wide-open West (even if it was only indoors).

"Dale always grows and strives, and that's why I never tire of his work," says gallery director Robin Rule, who selected the paintings in the show. Rule has been involved with Chisman's career since the days of Payton-Rule, and she connects these new paintings to his earlier work. "Dale's new show is a celebration; it exudes confidence and joy. For a while, his paintings were about angst and anger, but this time, even when he uses a dark palette, the paintings are not gloomy," she points out. Chisman takes issue with Rule on this point, saying, "My paintings have never been gloomy."

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