Colors of the Season

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

The new Chamberlin sculptures are an obvious outgrowth of the work he's been doing for more than a decade. In the early '90s, he did large installations in which handfuls of ceramic forms sat together on the floor. These were followed in the late '90s by wall-hung sculptures, which were created from assemblages of individually formed organic elements attached while the clay was wet.

This new group of sculptures at Robischon seems to pull inspiration from both types of the artist's earlier work, with separate elements arranged together as a single piece and then hung on the wall, not the floor. Chamberlin puts the clay parts on metal rods mounted perpendicular to the wall, which allows the ceramic pieces to stand out with a greater sense of three-dimensionality rather than hanging flat like paintings. The shapes that Chamberlin creates suggest natural things, including twigs, drops of water and animal heads. The references to nature are also seen in his gorgeous glazes. Each segment on each sculpture is glazed the same way, using deep, luxurious earth tones. The firing, which seems to have curdled some of the glazes, produces an effect not unlike the famous matte vellum finishes of the American art-pottery movement of a hundred years ago.

A number of these recent Chamberlins recall the look of antique European wall fountains, which are typically made of tin-glazed ceramics with a reservoir mounted above a bowl. A good example of this is "dryppe," an orb sitting above a basin, with a teardrop shape mounted below.

"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.

Details

Amy Metier & Bethany Kriegsman
Through November 1
William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street
303-893-2360

Scott Chamberlin and Gary Komarin
Through October 25
Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street
303-298-7788

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This reference to European decorative art is no coincidence. Earlier this year, Chamberlin went on a study trip to Europe; his busman's holiday was funded by a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. He spent half a year in Portugal studying the formal gardens, but he also took time to work in clay. The series of pieces he produced inspired the sculptures at Robischon, which he created in his Denver studio.

Chamberlin has written that although he makes references to things in the real world, his works do not directly relate to his sources in nature. He may use parts of the human body, for instance, but he does not intend for them to evoke the figure. Instead, he does abstractions that are purposefully ambiguous, or, as he would have it, "odd and elegant" and "strange and seductive."

Odd, elegant, strange and seductive are also good descriptions of the compelling abstract paintings by Komarin that are installed in the center of Robischon. Before I knew anything about Komarin, I immediately noticed how his paintings are related to Philip Guston's pioneering work of the 1960s and '70s. The source of this effect is no conundrum, though, since Komarin was a protegé of Guston's at Boston University.

Komarin's works are painterly, with lots of drips, runs, smears and scumbled passages that result in stunning surfaces. On top of the painted and blended ground, Komarin draws with pigment and what looks like oil crayons. The drawings are intentionally crude and childlike, but their simplicity translates into boldness -- a particularly Gustonian touch.

Guston, who died in 1980, was the main mentor of the entire neo-expressionist generation of the '80s and '90s, and Komarin's paintings can be broadly grouped together with that movement, which is now history. However, Komarin's paintings still have a contemporary feel, probably because they're only marginally representational. I think the large, beautiful paintings are just fabulous, enveloping viewers and pulling them into Komarin's majestic vision.

The two shows at Robischon, Scott Chamberlin and Gary Komarin, not to mention the Stefan Kleinschuster reprise in the back, make for some mighty good art viewing. And surely, anyone can tell that Robischon is starting the new season in the same way it ended the last: with the lights turned up to the max.

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