Sex in the City

Two galleries blow hot and cold.

Although "Holding Our Dead Selves" and "Hold On Dear Life" are large, vertical paintings with a monumental quality, McCray also shows smaller paintings that appear to be studies. These pieces feature single nude figures, either the man or the woman seen in "Holding Our Dead Selves," sometimes paired with the image of a leopard.

The Illig and McCray shows work beautifully together, with one flowing seamlessly into the next -- a rare occurrence at Pirate.

The conference room of the Carson Masuoka Gallery features the work of another contemporary representational artist in Ricki Klages: Room with a View. Klages has bounced around the West over the last twenty years. She started out studying art at the University of Arizona in Tucson in the '80s, did graduate work at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque in the early '90s and, since 1996, has taught painting at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. For the past couple of years, she's also exhibited her work in Denver.

Ricki Klages, "Moving Day," oil on canvas.
Ricki Klages, "Moving Day," oil on canvas.


Proximity and Indefinite Locations
Both through August 18
Pirate: a contemporary art oasis
3659 Navajo Street

Ricki Klages and Group Show
Both through August 30
Carson Masuoka Gallery
760 Santa Fe Drive

Klages, too, is interested in sexuality, and she delves into the subject with a sense for the erotic. One of her oil paintings, "Planting," is practically soft-core porn. In the vertical composition, a seated nude woman twists into a contrapasto pose, her soft and voluptuous flesh seen hard against a brown field of crop stubble. The field and a cherry she's holding by the stem -- a cherry! -- refer back to the title.

Although "Planting" is a contemporary realist-style painting, other works by Klages, while similar in technique and even style, are clearly surrealist. These pieces are more complicated in their composition, as well as much bigger, even mural-sized. One of the larger paintings, "Moving Day," reveals a nude woman walking across an enigmatic scene that combines a Front Range landscape with interior details such as vases, curtains, a chair and a mirror. With her back turned toward the viewer, the woman pours water from a porcelain pitcher. Another woman's stern-looking, bespectacled face is reflected in the mirror. Is the severe woman Klages herself? I think so.

In "The Shining Man," another big, surrealist painting, Klages stages a strange scenario on a beach. In the foreground is a creature with the body of a nude woman and the head of a red fox, holding a white swan by the neck. In the mid-ground stands a nude man, his head aflame -- or glowing, at the very least. In both "Moving Day" and "The Shining Man," Klages manipulates the viewer by posing the figures in dynamic tableaux, creating lots of diagonal lines that have the eyes zigzagging across the surface.

It's difficult to determine what Klages's large paintings depict; at times, they seem like references to obscure myths, or even Biblical passages. But regardless of their ambiguity, many have the power to leave a lasting impression.

Klages also contributes nine small paintings, and they're exquisitely done. One set of four, including the lovely and sadly relevant "Mesa Verde Smoke Plume," depicts the landscape. The other five are gorgeous renderings of mundane household items, like a bathtub in "Clawfoot" and a door, of all things, in "Front Door." The use of thick oil glazes for these small paintings gives them the character of ceramic tiles.

Like Illig and McCray, Klages creates work that's simultaneously distinct and intensely connected. All three artists use similar traditional painting techniques to explore sexuality through the representation of the figure, whether nude or semi-clothed. Still, each has a distinct, signature style. Believe me, you could never confuse the work of one for another.

While Klages occupies the conference room, Group Show fills the main front galleries at Carson Masuoka. Nothing in this exhibit is realistic, not even the photographs. Instead, abstract and conceptual art has the floor -- and, of course, the walls.

Mark Masuoka, the gallery's director, has put together a summer show that demonstrates his ability to attract new talent. Some of the newcomers are from local campuses, including Quintín González, a UCD art professor. Gonzàlez uses digital, computer-altered images to create non-objective pattern pieces executed in light-jet prints. Up close, it's possible to see that Gonzàlez employs a wide variety of colors, but from a distance the handsome prints appear sepia in tone: a witty, if unintentional, reference to early photography.

Masuoka is always checking out the alternative spaces, and that's where he found two more artists working in photo-based mediums, the marvelous Gwen Laine and the consistently good Kelly Shroads. Group Show features a pair of Shroads's beautiful blue-dye coupler prints from the same series as those in the Force Future 2002 show at the Andenken Gallery (see Artbeat, page 64).

Also included in Group Show are pointedly decorative paintings by Amy Sloan Kirchoff, who first exhibited her work in this area last year. Taken together, these pieces record her transition from the dense, circle-covered abstracts of a few months ago into the loose, circle-covered abstracts of today. Both types are fabulous.

Sculptor and installation artist Virginia Folkestad is no newcomer to the Denver art scene, but she's fairly new to Carson Masuoka. Her pieces here are small steel sculptures formally based on seesaws. In each, a metal cylinder is topped by a metal plank resting on one of its edges; on top of that are vegetable-based forms in wire, paper pulp and wax.

After seeing all the steamy nudes in the adjacent Klages show (not to mention those unnerving ones by Illig and McCray at Pirate), the abstract photos, paintings and sculptures that dominate Group Show make for an exhibit that's very cool, indeed.

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