Up, Up and Away

The new Studio Aiello is hoping to soar.

Inside the front door and up a short flight of steps, the Grand Opening Group Show gets under way in a formal entry space with a large and elegant abstract painting titled "Clock," by emerging artist Adam Stacey. The quasi-figural painting, which incorporates cursive writing and scribbled images, is hanging over a console table.

Closely associated is a color-field painting by Wendi Harford installed on the other side of the entryway. The painting's surface is a combination of painterly flourishes and found images. The predominating colors -- whites and icy greens -- are set off perfectly by pink and red accents. Harford's been around for a while, but she rarely exhibits her abstract paintings. That's too bad, because from what I've seen, she does consistently high-quality work.

Beyond the entryway is the first of two large exhibition spaces. In the center of the room is Patricia Aaron's "At Rest," an intriguing sculpture made from three wagon wheels connected by an axle. The wheels are of different sizes and have been arranged along the axle from smallest to largest. The whole contraption is covered in black flocking. "At Rest" is one of four Aarons in the show; displayed near it is "Solo," a found cherry-picker's ladder that resembles a giant, whimsical chair.

"Untitled No. 6," by Mark Travis, mixed media on canvas.
"Untitled No. 6," by Mark Travis, mixed media on canvas.
"Solo," by Patricia Aaron, wood and stainless steel.
"Solo," by Patricia Aaron, wood and stainless steel.

The hardworking Aaron seems to be everywhere at once right now. In addition to contributing to Group Show, she was commissioned by Englewood's Museum of Outdoor Arts to create a light projection for an exhibit called Earth's Geometry, which opened the same night. An Aaron sculpture is also part of the New Urbanism exhibit at Lowry, and her solo show at Spark, called ARTFORMS, is currently on display at the co-op. Gosh, I hope she's gotten some sleep.

Another represented artist who's been exhibiting for some time is Lorey Hobbs, whose "Weathered" is the first painting in the main gallery space in the front. It's a juicy neo-abstract-expressionist confection that marks a distinct stylistic shift for Hobbs.

The biggest surprise of the show is the reappearance of Mark Travis, a painter who essentially dropped out of sight ten years ago, showing only once or twice after being one of the best-known and most-exhibited contemporary Denver artists of the late 1980s.

The two untitled Travis paintings at Studio Aiello are very different from his earlier work. Whereas before he was completely non-objective, in these new paintings Travis has placed representational images -- vague though they are -- front and center. These painterly subjects are surrounded by drippy and vaporous non-objective passages.

I, for one, am glad that Travis is back.

Near the Travis pieces is a dark and remarkable mural-sized painting titled "Charon's Canoe II," by Eastern European immigrant and newish Denver resident Marius Lehene. The heroic style of the painting recalls the baroque.

The paintings, and even Aaron's sculpture, lend the front space at Studio Aiello a contemplative atmosphere, if not a dark mood. The ambience lightens up considerably in the next space, where conceptual art is seen alongside neo-formalism, with a dash of post-modernism thrown in for good measure.

One of the first attention-catching pieces in this second part of the show is Christopher Lavery's "Trace 14," a dead pine tree wrapped in a cocoon created from nine miles of string. The string has been perfectly wound, probably with some kind of machine. It has a lovely off-white color that is perfect with the brown of the tree's stump and twigs.

Lavery is one of the emerging artists making their Denver debuts at Studio Aiello. On opening night, there was another Lavery piece, called "where there was something forgotten." Made of a 600-pound block of ice embedded with baseball bats, it has since melted.

Nicholas Silici is a well-established artist who is represented by one of his marvelous minimalist concrete paintings, "Semblance." Other noted artists in this part of the show include Peter Illig and Jeff Starr (who is showing his lesser-known sculptures rather than his better-known paintings). But few people will be familiar with the neo-pop pieces by the aptly named Kelly Newcomer.

Another newcomer, Mary Pat La Mair, has created a wall installation made of small painted shelves on which content-charged found objects -- parts of dolls, cosmetic devices -- have been placed. The shelf arrangement is symmetrical and radiates out from a central point.

Immediately to the right of the La Mair installation is a mini-auditorium created from a pair of black-painted canted walls with a large projection television at one end. The setup is used to present New York artist Leon Grodski's video "Great Balls of Fire" which is shown by request. The video, taped on September 11 and 12, 2001, intercuts scenes of the burning and collapsing World Trade Center, seen from Grodski's apartment in Brooklyn, with commentary by an articulate homeless man with a taste for irony. On opening night, another Grodski video, "Je Vais sur la Terre qui ne Reste pas" was projected onto the outside of the Studio Aiello building.

This new gallery is really something else, and if the Aiellos are able to pull off the rest of their contemporary art center, I can safely say we ain't seen nothing yet.

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