Separate Ways

Chuck Parson and Emilio Lobato follow different paths to formalist abstraction.

Like all installations, these occupy discrete spaces, and viewers are encouraged to enter them. But Parson is concerned not only with what is seen, but what is heard, and he makes sounds -- either recorded music or the amplification of viewers' footsteps, or both -- key parts of some. Two of the installations, each called "Installation, variations," are reformulated versions of earlier pieces. The first, from "Moments of Being," fills a corner and includes a painted backdrop and two gravel walkways with microphones magnifying the sound of walking through the piece. The other is from "Framed Choices," which is similar in concept to "Moments of Being" but features a pair of metal-grate walkways and a plain backdrop.

All of the installations are incredible, but one is really out of this world: the thirty-foot-tall, site-specific "Descant," which was built just for this show and rises three stories in the Arvada Center's enclosed atrium. The title refers to the top line of a Christian hymn, and the piece includes a soundtrack of minimal spiritual music done by Mary Jungerman. (Parson has worked with Jungerman for decades in the experimental-music group 3/3, which also includes Joseph Kasinskas; the trio will present a concert in conjunction with Sonnet at 7 p.m. Friday, November 12, in the Lower Galleries.)

Parson is ranked among the top sculptors in Colorado, along with the likes of Robert Mangold and Carl Reed. And with this fabulous outing, it's easy to see why.

Untitled installation (framed choices) by Charles Parson, steel, cord, metal grates and plastic.
Untitled installation (framed choices) by Charles Parson, steel, cord, metal grates and plastic.
"Tajada (Slice)," by Emilio Lobato, collage and oil on canvas.
"Tajada (Slice)," by Emilio Lobato, collage and oil on canvas.

Details

Through November 21, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org

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On the second floor of the center, in the aptly named Upper Galleries, is Emilio Lobato: Candela: Slow Burn -- and it's a knockout, too. Like Parson, Lobato is one of the state's most important artists, a total workaholic who produces a tremendous amount of work every year. Also like Parson, he believes his thoroughly abstract style stems from living in the American West. Lobato was born in 1959 in the small town of San Pablo in the San Luis Valley; his agrarian family has lived in that part of the state for more than 200 years. He's frequently said that the isolation of his childhood has been a continuing source of artistic inspiration -- and although that's hard to find in the work itself, judging from the dozens of paintings in this show, he must spend many hours every day toiling alone in his downtown studio.

Lobato attended Colorado College, graduating in 1982. The late Mary Chenoweth was one of his teachers in Colorado Springs, and the influence of her simple yet expressive approach to abstraction is still apparent in his paintings. But there are other stylistic sources for Lobato's signature style, including Russian vanguard art of the early twentieth century. Many of the mixed-media paintings owe a debt of gratitude to El Lissitzky, who worked in Russia a century ago. Just like Lissitzky, Lobato loves creating compositions that juxtapose circles with straight lines, as seen in the breathtaking "Tajada (Slice)," a collage and oil on canvas. (Come to think of it, Chenoweth's style is related to Lissitzky's, too.)

Relying on his instinctual sense for composition, Lobato assembles ordinary shapes -- in addition to the aforementioned circles and lines, rectangles and bars -- into extraordinarily powerful formalist arrangements. The shapes are each a different color, though he uses the same palette for most of his paintings: a deep red, lots of black, and a browned-out off-white. One piece is done entirely in that antique-looking off-white color: "Candela (Slow Burn)," the exhibition's title piece, in collage on canvas. Technically, this painting is light in color, but with all those brown tones, and within the context of the rest of the show, it "reads" dark. An all-over abstraction, "Candela" is virtually constructivist, as is "DINDI," in which Lobato covered the surface with horizontal stripes and bars in red and green on an ecru field of book pages.

Lobato's somber palette has a Hispanic character, harking back to the deep tones associated with the Spanish baroque style. That approach was important both in Spain and in its colonies, including San Pablo, which was in Nueva Espana but is now in Colorado.

But the deep tones surely also reflect the dark times in Lobato's personal life: His wife of over twenty years, Darlene Sisneros, is battling cancer for the second time. Laudably, her illness didn't stop her from hosting a Ken Salazar fundraiser at the William Havu Gallery last month. And speaking of Havu, Lobato has work on view there, as well: He has a large group of pieces in Compose Construct, his duet with fellow Colorado artist Stan Meyer. Preparing for Candela: Slow Burn would seem like more than enough effort for one artist to expend in a year, but apparently it wasn't enough for Lobato.

The Parson and Lobato shows are each captivating on their own, and together they represent a very strong season opener for the lately irrelevant Arvada Center. Their presence may not completely redeem controversial curator Jerry Gilmore, but it's a good start.

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