Abstract Express

This year, abstraction is really on a roll.

The same could be said for any comparison between Ikeda's approach and traditional Japanese art. It's a long trip from the minimalist brush painting of Ikeda's youth to the maximum oil-and-wax pieces that are his standard fare: Whereas Japanese painting is known for the staining of the paper, Ikeda's approach is to encrust his canvasses with heavy daubs of paint.

"Howling Rock " is a massive two-panel oil on canvas on display at Carson-Masuoka. It's crowded with clunky organic shapes evocative of mushrooms, flowers and jellyfish. Ikeda uses white and yellow ovals on top of orange and blue fields. He scribbles and scratches, building up the paint and tearing it down. The thick pigment, which has been made even thicker with wax, resembles icing on a cake.

Even more impressive -- and more heavily painted -- is another two-panel oil on canvas titled "In the Deep Forest." Here Ikeda has placed enigmatic forms in orange and white against a receding deep-blue ground. The brushwork is fanatical to the nth degree. It's hardly surprising to discover that Ikeda's been working on this piece, applying coat after coat of paint, for more than five years: It's a tour de force of technique -- and perseverance.

"Embryos of the Ancient Waters," by Ivan Wilson, oil on panel.
"Embryos of the Ancient Waters," by Ivan Wilson, oil on panel.


Milton Resnick and Michael Rubin
Through November 8
Singer Gallery, Mizel Center, 350 South Dahlia Street

Homare Ikeda
Through November 1
Carson-Masuoka Gallery, 760 Santa Fe Drive

Ivan Wilson
Through October 26
Andenken Gallery, 2110 Market Street

This don't-miss exhibit reveals Ikeda as a painter's painter. As weird and individualistic as his work is, he's found a good measure of acceptance for it over the years. Ikeda's paintings are included in many public and private collections and are widely shown here and in Santa Fe.

Another Colorado abstractionist -- one with a long track record, but whose work is unfamiliar to many -- is the focus of Ivan Wilson: Crystallized Embryos Among the Living Seed, at the Andenken Gallery. On second thought, it's an understatement to describe Wilson's work as unfamiliar. The truth is, this artist is almost completely unknown to all but a handful of old-timers.

Wilson was born on a ranch outside Greeley in 1939 and came to Denver as a young adult. He became a major player in Denver's art world in the 1960s.

I first came across Wilson's work about twenty years ago, when I saw one of his ceramic sculptures; I saw a second sculpture about ten years later. They were monumental abstracts covered with deeply incised, linear abstract decorations.Based on what I'd seen, I assumed that Wilson was chiefly a ceramics artist. But he is primarily a painter, as is thoroughly laid out in the strangely compelling but ultimately kooky show at Andenken.

So what happened to turn a prominent artist with good connections into a complete non-entity in the Denver art world of today?

Well, it turns out that Wilson left Colorado for almost thirty years, and for most of that time, he lived as a near-hermit in the deserts of Arizona. (He now lives in the small town of Nunn, Colorado -- wherever that is.) Not only did he hide out from society, but in a thoroughly misguided move, he turned his back on abstraction for a long time and created perfunctory still-life scenes of flowers that are only a notch or two above Bob Ross's landscapes on television. It's a shame that these flower paintings have been included at Andenken; not only don't they enhance the main attraction -- the abstractions -- but they almost discredit them.

The show is split into two parts, with a large selection of contemporary paintings on the first floor and a smaller group of older paintings, subtitled Private Collections, on the lower level. One drawback is that both parts are way too crowded, and the works suffer because they don't have enough breathing room.

The Private Collections paintings date from Wilson's years in Denver. On vividly colored grounds, Wilson has painted shapes that evoke twigs and leaves and other natural forms. The crisp divisions between the forms and the grounds are very nice.

The newer paintings on the main floor, most done in the last year or two, pick up the thread of the older ones (those ridiculous flower paintings were done in between). In both, Wilson arranges organic shapes on colored grounds. However, the recent compositions are more clearly unbalanced and formally off-kilter.

I'm not sure why -- it could be the lack of conventional pictorial balance -- but the Wilsons at Andenken remind me of those Ikedas at Carson-Masuoka. Perhaps both artists are doing the same thing: developing abstracts based on shapes found in nature as altered through their individual perceptions.

Needless to say, with Wilson not having shown his work in Denver in three decades, you should see this show before it closes on Saturday.

The abstract shows reviewed here -- Rubin and Resnick at Singer, Ikeda at Carson-Masuoka and Wilson at Andenken -- come hard on the heels of the Emilio Lobato exhibit at Havu (ending this weekend) and the now-closed Mark Brasuell presentation at Edge, both reviewed a few weeks ago. Such a wealth of exhibits makes this fall season the most abstract-friendly in memory.

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