Artbeat

Brief sketches of what's happening in the Denver art scene.

There's an interesting if uneven exhibit of abstract paintings and sculptures at the enormous Studio Aiello (3563 Walnut Street, 303-297-8166). Called Quartet, it includes the work of four artists: Andrew Speer, Chad Colby, Michael Burnett and Jonathan Hils.

Speer, who is well known to many because he's taught in the fine-arts department of Metropolitan State College for a decade, is holed up in the Front Bay. His dark, abstract paintings combine organic and geometric elements, making them quite idiosyncratic. The thickly applied pigments have been worked to death, which results in a scuffed-looking, muddy surface.

In the Second Bay is Colby, who also used to teach at Metro but is now on the faculty of Fort Lewis College in Durango. He integrates imagery based on photographs with abstract forms, making it all seem to come right out of a paint-by-numbers picture. The resulting compositions, which are carried out in rich earth tones, are dramatically dense, with lots of gestures, scribbles and painted-out passages -- not to mention the odd drip or run.

Burnett's neo-abstract-expressionist paintings in the Third Bay are the real revelation of the show, because they're so unexpectedly good. These notable paintings are the best works I've seen by Burnett. For the past several years, the Scottish-born Denver artist has amply demonstrated his desire to create large abstracts in the tradition of the New York School, but they've mostly fallen short. In this new body of work, however, it all comes together for him -- especially in the largest ones. In one of those, "Untitled" (right), Burnett uses big overlapping loops that he juxtaposes with a tight serpentine stripe that runs up the right side. The loops and the stripe make an especially effective combination.

Hils, whose sculptures are displayed in each of the three painting-filled spaces, is from Oklahoma. He came to the attention of Studio Aiello through his inclusion in the North American Sculpture Exhibition at the Foothills Art Center in Golden earlier this year. Using simple, repeated forms that he welds together, Hils creates large, organic shapes that sit directly on the floor. They're wonderful.

Quartet runs through December 3.

 
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