Now and Then

While Studio Aiello presents new work, RMCAD buys an old campus.

The new work is reminiscent of Travis's efforts of a decade ago -- he's always loved to use found objects as collage elements in his paintings -- but it is markedly different, too. It's completely unexpected, for instance, to find him using the figure and limiting his palette, since he was, as I remember, a formerly non-objective, when-in-doubt-paint-it-red sort of artist.

Among the new paintings is "Untitled No. 1," a cheesecake view of a seated woman revealing her shapely legs. Another is "Untitled No. 8," in which a corpulent woman is seen from the rear. In most of the paintings, the head is obscured with black while the torso and legs are highlighted with white. "Untitled No. 4" is distinct from the others, because the female is held in the arms of a powerfully built male. The pair strike a pose that's right out of a ballet or, perhaps more to the point, a porn magazine. Though it's very abstract, there's no hiding the erotic content, and that goes for all of these Travises.

That eroticism is also unexpected from the artist. Of course, come to think of it, it's unexpected to see work by Travis at all. But I'm glad, as I'm sure many others are, that he's back at work at the easel -- and apparently not a bit rusty -- after being away for so many years. I guess painting must be like riding a bicycle: Once learned, it's never forgotten.

"Untitled No. 4," by Mark Travis, mixed media on canvas.
"Untitled No. 4," by Mark Travis, mixed media on canvas.


Through January 24
Studio Aiello, 3563 Walnut Street

Mark Travis, Cordell Taylor, Marius Lehene at Studio Aiello works on two levels: While it functions as three stand-alone solos, it's also a cogent, sharply focused look at three related though distinct visions of organic abstraction. I believe we have the keen eyes of the Aiellos to thank for that.

Driving out in the western suburbs the other day, I decided to check out the AMC Cancer Research Center on Pierce Street a block north of Colfax Avenue. Why? Well, it turns out that the facility will soon be the new home of the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, which is currently housed in a cluster of characterless buildings on East Evans Avenue at Oneida Street.

Now, I thought I knew all the important buildings in the area -- and I've written about a lot of them -- but I was thoroughly unprepared for what I found beyond the shabby landscaping and crumbling driveway that comes off Pierce in this neglected corner of Lakewood.

As I drove up, what I had at first believed to be the front of an insensitively remodeled historic building turned out to actually be the back. As I proceeded around on the serpentine drive, the facade came into view, and I caught my breath as I looked around. Done in dark-red brick and cream-colored terra cotta, it is essentially original, with the insensitive changes on the back and side of the building invisible from this vantage. And this handsome building is just the beginning: Arrayed in front of it is an elaborate and elegant complex of many architecturally distinguished buildings.

One striking component is a grass-covered mall lined with small buildings, exemplifying a range of architectural styles that reflect the period of their construction, roughly the turn of the nineteenth century up to the 1930s. It's like an authentic version of the Ninth Street historic park at Auraria, which was assembled. Another notable element is the tiny early modernist synagogue in stucco and terra cotta with a stepped dome that's just off the mall to the southwest.

Wait a minute. A synagogue?

It then dawned on me: This must be the old JCRS -- as in the Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society -- campus, a tuberculosis sanatorium dating back to a time when Colorado was a world center for the treatment of the disease. I'd heard of the place, but I'd never investigated it. Actually, I thought it was long-gone, like most of the others of its type. A cursory research check reveals that Denver's premier architects of the early twentieth century, including Harry Manning and the firm of Fisher and Fisher, designed buildings for the JCRS campus.

RMCAD paid more than $6 million for the property but will lease back a portion of it to the AMC until the cancer center can relocate to the University of Colorado's Health Sciences Center at Fitzsimons in Aurora, where it will merge with CU's cancer center.

As I drove away from the place, two thoughts crossed my mind. First, that the whole thing was magical despite its somewhat creepy history. Second, that I hoped RMCAD wouldn't screw it up and damage the historic fabric in order to satisfy the school's functional needs.

RMCAD plans to spend $4 million upgrading the campus, which is the scary part. Surely the place needs quite a bit of work, but a lot of damage could be done with that kind of money if the wrong decisions are made. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but that carries with it no restrictions on changes, and Lakewood has no preservation policy to speak of. It is therefore incumbent upon the decision-makers at RMCAD to do the right thing. Let's hope they do.

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