Real New

The Havu and Judish galleries are the latest to showcase contemporary representational art.

The three "painter" paintings are completely different. Whereas the battlefield scenes are loosely painted with coats of translucent pigment, resulting in an atmospheric quality corresponding to the exterior world itself, the painter paintings are done with thick pigments in small repeated strokes. The perspective has been shortened, creating an awkward spatial relationship in the compositions. It's almost as though McElhinney is creating the unseen painting in his painting. The setting is France, and it's possible that McElhinney is using this awkward approach to three-dimensional imagery -- the figure of the painter, for instance, is positively wooden -- to refer back, if only ironically, to classic French salon painting from before the rise of impressionism.

In the more intimate spaces under the mezzanine of the gallery are the small, easel-sized hyperrealist paintings by Rick Dula, who moved here from Oakland just last year. Dula's paintings concern the urban environment, and most are set in his former stamping grounds on the West Coast. There is at least one Denver landmark among the paintings, however: "Factory," an acrylic on board, is a perfectly executed view of the Gates Rubber Company plant on South Broadway.

Upstairs on the mezzanine are more than a dozen landscapes, both paintings and strange dioramas, by Texas artist Lloyd Brown. All are very conservative in style -- virtually impressionistic --but since they're just this side of neo-traditionalism, they're worth seeing.

"Summit Springs Battleground: Dog Soldiers' Last Stand," by James McElhinney, oil on canvas.
"Summit Springs Battleground: Dog Soldiers' Last Stand," by James McElhinney, oil on canvas.
"Untitled," by Francis Johansen, mixed media on paper.
"Untitled," by Francis Johansen, mixed media on paper.


Of Place and Time...
Through June 1
William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street

Francis Johansen: New Works; Ron Katz-Carnevale Di Venezia; Christopher James: Photographs; and Group Exhibition
Through June 1
Ron Judish Fine Arts, 3011 Vallejo Street


Yet another representational style is being illustrated at Ron Judish Fine Arts, where Francis Johansen: New Works is being shown in the gallery just beyond the entry space.

Johansen moved to Denver in the late 1990s from Minneapolis, where he graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1993. He first exhibited at the CORE artists' cooperative, but was soon picked up by Judish, which has exhibited his work since 1999. His pieces involve the depiction of buildings in monumental, meticulously rendered charcoal drawings. In spite of the fact that the charcoal is faintly applied, as are the colored shades, there's a remarkable sense of verisimilitude, and the drawings are strikingly detailed and realistic. Well, sort of, given that he's concerned with creating a surrealistic world.

Several concern charming Victorian houses, including "The Thin Path" and "One More Time," which loom like transparent apparitions in the distance; Johansen uses this effect in all of these charcoal and mixed-media drawings.

In some he has painted ghostly double images so that one apparition appears to be in front of the other. This is seen in "Horizon," in which two figures sit on a porch that's superimposed onto the facade of another building. Even more elaborate and intriguing is "Untitled," the most breathtaking Johansen in the show. In it, a frontier-town street is combined with a looping railroad trestle; it could all be set in Georgetown. The piece is the largest and most colorful one in the show, with areas of green and orange subtly arrayed across its nearly four-by-six-foot paper surface.

The shows at Judish and Havu, as well as the ones at Robischon, all come down on June 1. Together, these four exhibits offer gallery-goers the chance to view an ad hoc "blockbuster" exploring contemporary takes on the physical environment.

And since all four are clearly part of the representational trend seen all season, they are essential viewing, no matter what.

The Johansen show is just one of a quartet of exhibits at Judish, and although the other three don't contain contemporary representational paintings or drawings, they are still notable.

In the gallery parallel to the Johansen show is Ron Katz-Carnevale Di Venezia. For his color Fuji crystal archival prints, Katz has taken candid close-ups of the masked revelers at Carnevale in Venice, which is a 1,000-year-old-plus version of Mardi Gras (in Italian, it's called Martedì Grosso). The photos have a documentary quality, but the outrageous and sumptuous outfits people are wearing make the photos look otherworldly.

The second solo is Christopher James: Photographs, which consists of images of the region that the artist has captured in sumptuous gelatin silver prints. In a sense, he's acting as a modern-day William Henry Jackson, memorializing the changes that are taking place -- though Jackson mostly recorded the city being built up, and James is fascinated by its coming down. For instance, the heartbreaking "Currigan" zeroes in on one of those incredible space-frame columns exposed during the recent demolition of Currigan Exhibition Hall. Also distinct from Jackson, James seems to be out shooting only after sundown.

The James photos are quite dramatic in terms of the rhythm of lights and darks and the imaginatively cropped compositions. Both features are seen in "Palace," a shot looking down on the roof of the Brown Palace Hotel, and "Storm," which shows a series of lightning strikes set against the downtown skyline.

Lastly is Group Exhibition, an enormous and compelling show with work by more than two dozen artists from Judish's stable, including Gail Wagner, Roland Bernier and John Morrison. It's amazing and worthy of a museum show. But there's no room to talk about it here, so go and see it for yourself.

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