Group Dynamics

Wide-ranging themes underline an intriguing group show at Fresh Art.

Born in Houston, Garcia studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to New Mexico in the late 1980s. Though he frequently exhibits his work, he has mostly shown in his adopted home town of Santa Fe and nearby Taos. This is his first time out at Fresh Art, although he presented his work in Denver at the Sophia Georg Gallery in 1999 and again in 2001.

The most impressive of the Garcia paintings in this show, most of which are oil and alkyd on wood, is "Last Dance." The piece is dominated by a carefully rendered red poppy that stands out beautifully from an elaborately painted blue field incorporating a partly hidden image of a 45 record and part of a conventionalized wreath. "The View," which also includes a rendering of a red poppy, and "Live in Me," which also uses the image of a 45, are other choice paintings by Garcia.

The last of the three painters in the show is Eric Adrian Lee, an emerging artist out of Colorado Springs. The Lee paintings demonstrate a great deal of promise, though they're an odd lot and vary too widely, which is so typical of a beginning artist.

"Untitled," by Eric Adrian Lee, painting.
"Untitled," by Eric Adrian Lee, painting.
"Fleurs De Guerre," by Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, 
mixed-media painting.
"Fleurs De Guerre," by Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, mixed-media painting.

The best of the Lees are very good, particularly the extremely cool neo-pop "Untitled." In it, Lee used black-and-white photo transfers of boxers to fill the bottom of the painting, then covered the rest of the canvas in thick red paint that looks as if it were smeared on with a wide knife. Although photo-based pop art and smeary abstract expressionism were once thought to be antithetical to one another, they have long since been viewed as wholly compatible. In fact, Denver artist John Haeseler, now essentially retired, started doing this kind of neo-pop/expressionist combo some twenty years ago. So Lee's not a pioneer, but he's still onto something good, with a lot of ground yet to mine in the area.

That same blend of pop and abstract expressionism is seen in another Lee painting that's also called "Untitled." (Annoyingly, all the Lee paintings are untitled.) In this piece, a horizontal lozenge shape is outlined in black on a sea-green field that fills the top, while two partial lozenge shapes enclose a field of newsprint at the bottom. Except for the recognizable images and words of the newsprint, the painting is completely non-objective. Lee is a genuine unknown as far as I can tell -- even the gallery had little to say about him -- but based on this work, he's decidedly an up-and-comer.

The work of another emerging artist finishes out the show: Jeff Jackson's stone-and-metal sculptures have been placed throughout the gallery, variously displayed alongside the works of Murphy, Garcia and Lee. This really doesn't work, and it's too bad that Jackson's work wasn't displayed all by itself.

The Jackson sculptures are extremely simple. Many of them are essentially little more than poles, and most are pierced, making them both phallic and vaginal in form -- a pairing that's rarely employed because it's so hard to pull off.

Jackson's sculptures bear a certain relationship to Bryan Andrews's "fetems," which were displayed recently at Cordell Taylor. Especially similar are the simple vertical forms that both use. In truth, though, Andrews's fetems are more completely unified than the more luxurious stiles by Jackson. A relative newcomer to the area, Jackson exhibited his work at Walker Fine Art until this past spring.

As I said at the top, Winter Exhibit is a typical Fresh Art presentation, but there is a disturbing plot twist. As is an open secret among many in the art world, King will be moving back East in a few months and closing Fresh Art. In recent weeks she has been shopping her artists around to other galleries and trying to market her space, which she owns in a condominium-like arrangement. And -- another open secret -- the folks at Cordell Taylor are interested in the place.

I'm one of many who will be sorry to see Fresh Art close, especially since it seemed to have so much going for it. And losing King herself will be a detriment to the art community, because she has been instrumental in the establishment, and success, of Santa Fe Drive as an art district. The shutdown will be a slow one carried out over the next several months, but Winter Exhibit may be the last wholehearted effort mounted at Fresh Art. And that's really too bad.

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