Mixed Messages

There's change and neo-modernism at + Gallery, and new realism at Pirate.

Previously, Livingston created a body of paintings that were shown in the exhibit This Year's Model at Cordell Taylor, where he first illustrated his systematic approach. The paintings in that exhibit were limited to the hues identified by the Benjamin Moore Paint Company's predictions of which colors would be popular the following year. This time, Livingston came up with his own palette -- well, sort of. He took a paint-chip fan deck and went through magazines looking for ads. Livingston surveyed the colors that were used in the advertisements, matching the chip in the deck to the hue on the page. He identified fifteen shades that appeared over and over, and then he did the paintings in Mr. Sparkle in some combination of them. Livingston also appropriated formal and compositional details from the ads and translated them to his paintings.

Definitely not related to Richert's approach is Livingston's use of short slogans -- again, inspired by advertising -- that are meant to be sincere, ironic or informative. Livingston says he's socially awkward, and the paintings say things to the viewer that he would never say himself. He uses the painting "I Wuv (You)," latex house paint and resin on canvas, as an example. The baby talk, he says, is an expression of his true feelings -- and he's not kidding. He may not be kidding about the would-be ironic ones either, like the fabulous "Welcome to the Future of Painting!"

Livingston's Mr. Sparkle is spectacular, and you shouldn't miss it -- especially since it's the last effort by the could-have-been-great gallery formerly known as + Zeile Judish.

"I Wuv (You)," by Colin Livingston, house paint and 
resin on canvas.
"I Wuv (You)," by Colin Livingston, house paint and resin on canvas.


Ordinary Adornments and Mr. Sparkle
Through August 21, + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927

Life on Earth
Through August 1, Pirate: A Contemporary Art Oasis, 3659 Navajo Street, 303-458-6058

Things have been changing over at Pirate, but unlike the changes at + Gallery, the ones here are for the better. What has changed at Pirate is that the gallery has gotten interesting again -- and no one could be more surprised about that than me. One of the city's oldest artists' co-ops, Pirate had been becoming increasingly irrelevant in recent years. More often than not, the place was filled with half-hearted shows. But inexplicably, that's turned around this past season, and that old dog of a place has become a venue for some impressive new tricks.

The latest in a cavalcade of great shows is Life on Earth, a solo by Pirate member Peter Illig. The exhibit is dominated by a 64-foot-long charcoal-on-paper drawing that covers two walls in Pirate's grandly scaled front space and becomes, as a result, an ad hoc installation. Illig has a good handle on how to carry out monumental work, and he should really consider entering the public art fray, because many of the artists who get those gigs cannot handle projects that call for large pieces.

The style of the drawing is neo-pop, and Illig has clearly taken considerable inspiration from the early work of pop pioneer James Rosenquist; the style of Illig's representational images comes from advertising art and illustration, which is where Rosenquist's came from as well. Illig also cites Mark Tansey, the source du jour of many contemporary representational artists. Speaking of representational art, have you noticed that the style is approaching critical mass? It's strange that one of the big museums or art centers hasn't presented a group show with work taken from the many talented artists in the area who are currently exploring the figure, the still life and the landscape.

There's also a noir quality to Illig's style, and something of a vague retro feel. The mammoth drawing is episodic, with a chain of enigmatic images lined up or overlapping one another. It's ostensibly narrative, even if it's impossible to understand the story. There's a woman standing in the rain, a man sitting on the floor, a tipped champagne glass, a bunch of knocked-over bowling pins and many other familiar elements that are made strange because of the way Illig says he intuitively arranged them.

Illig has definitely hit a home run with Life on Earth, and I strongly recommend that if you haven't seen it yet -- and word is that few have -- you really should make the effort before it comes down this weekend.

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