Peter Illig's solo (see review) is rocking the front of Pirate: a contemporary art oasis (3659 Navajo Street, 303-458-6058), making it a hard act to follow. Luckily for us, emerging artist Warren Kelly, whose show children's games is installed in the Associates' Space, stands up to Illig's more ambitious endeavor.
Kelly is a Taos-based artist who has exhibited his abstract work in Denver for the past few years at Pirate and Cordell Taylor (now + Gallery). Born and raised in New Mexico, Kelly is steeped in the art traditions of that state, especially those of the modernists active from the '30s to the '50s. For the past two years, Kelly has based his abstractions on the landscape and people of New Mexico, doing them in an updated version of New Mexico transcendentalism.
For these new paintings in children's games, Kelly has turned his back on his home state and looked to the old European masters for inspiration. It was the wrong move, but that's what co-ops like Pirate are all about. They allow artists to experiment with new directions in their work. And as we all know, experiments can fizzle.
But don't be misled: Wrong turn or not, there are some real standouts in this show. Some of the pieces are every bit as good as the best of Kelly's earlier efforts; it's just that the show does not hold together as well as it should. The collages, for example, are quite nice, but it's hard to say how they relate to the paintings.
Arguably, the best thing is the title piece, "children's games", which was based on a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Kelly says he referred back to old works because appropriating pre-existing compositions freed him to focus more intently on color and detail.
Kelly's children's games is uneven, but it still has a lot to recommend it. See for yourself before it shuts down this Sunday, August 1.