Colors of the Season

Varying shades of abstraction fill the fall openers at Havu and Robischon.

It occurs to me that the art world is akin to a light switch. Not the on-and-off type (the art world is always on) but one of those dimmer switches. Metaphorically speaking, at times the lights in the galleries have been turned down to a flicker; at other times, they've been turned up to their full brilliance. At the beginning of this new fall season, we've just watched a collective readjustment of these figurative dimmer switches. A month ago the galleries were pretty dark, but now they're positively blazing.

Nowhere has this change in curatorial attitude been more emphatically demonstrated than at the William Havu Gallery. At the end of the summer, gallery director Bill Havu put on a weird presentation of figure studies that was anchored -- and by that I mean weighted down -- by a group of hideously ugly James McElhinney paintings. Thank goodness Havu has taken an entirely different approach for the current offering, Amy Metier & Bethany Kriegsman, by doing something that's actually good.

The show puts together two respected Colorado artists, so Havu couldn't have gone too far wrong. Metier and Kriegsman were each given separate sections of the grand main space, but their pieces are displayed side by side in the cozy room under the mezzanine. The two have distinctive styles, and you could hardly mistake the efforts of one for the other; nonetheless, their approaches are very compatible because they have more than a few aesthetic interests in common, including a profound appreciation for retro abstraction in the classic modernist mold.

"Shiva," by Amy Metier, oil on canvas.
"Shiva," by Amy Metier, oil on canvas.
"dryppe," by Scott Chamberlin, ceramic sculpture.
"dryppe," by Scott Chamberlin, ceramic sculpture.


Amy Metier & Bethany Kriegsman
Through November 1
William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street

Scott Chamberlin and Gary Komarin
Through October 25
Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street

Metier is up first, and as visitors enter the gallery, they are immediately engulfed in her sumptuous abstract paintings. Straight ahead is the striking "Shiva," an oil on canvas that on one level is nothing more than a balanced juxtaposition of cold and hot tones. From another vantage point, however, it's a blending of representation with abstraction, a technique Metier has used for more than a decade. In order to create these works, she starts with a still life or a landscape and then pushes until it's unrecognizable. Thus the paintings may evoke the familiar shapes Metier started with, but she never illustrates them.

"Shiva" is one of a group of related abstracts that hang in the entry space and in the nooks and crannies surrounding it. Other noteworthy paintings include "Fountain," hung to the right of the entrance, and the enormous "Vernissage."

Arriving at abstraction through representation is hardly a new idea. It's the same one that was used by Picasso and the other great modern masters of the early- to mid-twentieth century. A good deal of abstract painting can trace its lineage back to Picasso, and Metier, in particular, has been influenced by his example.

Kriegsman, whose paintings are installed in the window space and at the bottom of the stairs, also refers to old-modern in her works, particularly to the surrealism and abstract expressionism of Joan Miró. Kriegsman uses plants as starting points, and for the oil on canvas "Summer Garden," which is visible from the sidewalk, she creates shapes based on flowers clustered into a dense, blue atmospheric arrangement surrounded by a sea of roughly rectangular shapes. The crescent-shaped petals of the flowers have an astounding regularity, which Kriegsman achieved with stencils.

Without in any way diminishing the Miró-esque elements of the Kriegsmans, especially when it's undeniable in pieces such as "Sexy Garden" and "Land Between the Rivers," there's also a whiff of Judy Pfaff. "Summer Garden" is reminiscent of the many Pfaffs that were shown at Robischon last season.

Metier & Kriegsman is a wonderful exhibit; it's apparent that both artists had a lot of fun flinging around copious amounts of boldly colored paint. It's definitely an appealing presentation to take in, as I knew it would be. When I went to see the exhibit last week, the whole place felt so fresh, it was as though it had been aired out -- something Bill Havu really needed to do after that McElhinney stink bomb of a summer show. The gallery's radical shift in quality of offerings from one month to the next makes a good point about the nature of the art world in general: A gallery is, first and foremost, nothing other than a big, empty store.

The dimmer-switch analogy doesn't quite work in the case of the Robischon Gallery, because, symbolically anyway, the lights are always at their maximum brightness. The last show of the summer -- the least-important slot on the exhibition calendar, by the way -- is a case in point: It highlighted up-and-coming Colorado artist Stefan Kleinschuster, whose contemporary figural paintings are simultaneously crisply focused and expressionistically painted. It's hard to image how he was able to master this unlikely combination of skills, but, undeniably, he did. You don't have to trust me on it, because you can still check out Kleinschuster's paintings in Robischon's Viewing Room, where an abbreviated version of the August show is still on display.

Back up front, in the main part of the gallery, you'll find Robischon's big fall entries. In the pair of rooms on either side of the entrance is Scott Chamberlin, a solo dedicated to the influential Colorado ceramics artist. In the spaces beyond is Gary Komarin; it's the New York painter's Denver premiere.

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