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Karen Kitchel and David Sharpe record the Western landscape in solos at Robischon.

The Kitchel solo has been paired with the eponymous solo David Sharpe, which is installed in a side space midway back that's surrounded on three sides by East Meets West. This show features a half-dozen photos by David Sharpe, an established and well-respected fine-art photographer working in Denver. For years Sharpe has focused on doing unfocused shots of the landscape taken with homemade and primitive cameras. Photographers such as Sharpe don't have to work as hard to gain the contemporary status that representational painters like Kitchel do, because photos are clearly contemporary. In fact, photography forms the basis of many other current media, notably those videos that Robischon will soon be projecting on the window.

Sharpe was born in Syracuse, New York, and got his BA in art history at nearby Colgate University. In the early '80s, he did graduate work at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, but he earned his MFA in photography at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan in 1984. He returned to Colorado that same year and has been exhibiting his photographs in various venues ever since. His work was formerly shown at the now-closed Ron Judish Fine Art as well as Spark Gallery, an artists' co-op of which he was a prominent member during the 1990s.

Sharpe uses pinhole cameras made out of oatmeal boxes, soda cans and other cylindrical things that are totally sealed against light save for one tiny pinhole. Instead of using film, Sharpe puts photographic paper in his ad hoc cameras. Like the glass-plate photographers of the late nineteenth century who traveled with developing labs, Sharpe has a specially outfitted pickup truck with a light-tight chamber made from an old, decommissioned refrigerator. There, he can change his photographic paper and download the exposed images into what he calls a "safebox." His developing process is also interesting -- and also homemade. Sharpe's darkroom is in a two-story detached garage behind his house. He has cut a hole in the second floor so that he can project his images onto photographic paper on the first floor. This method allows him to enlarge his pinhole originals to the heroically sized silver-gelatin prints on view at Robischon.

"Dawn at Big Fill," by Karen Kitchel, oil on wood.
"Dawn at Big Fill," by Karen Kitchel, oil on wood.
"Eastern Plains Suite 2.10," by David Sharpe, silver-
gelatin print.
"Eastern Plains Suite 2.10," by David Sharpe, silver- gelatin print.

For this group of photos, Sharpe recorded three distinct Western locales: the eastern plains of Colorado; Utah's Great Salt Lake; and the coast of Mendocino, California. All the photos are closely interrelated -- both formally and by the gray-toned, grainy prints that are the calling card of the pinhole method. There's also the curvature of the horizon, an inevitable consequence of Sharpe's cylindrical cameras.

There's an iconic quality to many of the artist's compositions -- especially the images of the Colorado plains, as in "Eastern Plains Suite 2.10," and those of Robert Smithson's nearly lost earthwork, as in "Spiral Jetty," at the Great Salt Lake. In both photos, a strong central element predominates; in others, such as "Mendocino 1.1," there's an empty space in the middle, creating the look of Japanese watercolors with the blurry edges of the pinhole standing in for the expressive brushwork. The two Mendocino photos are only the tip of the iceberg for this series, with many others from the group currently being shown at the prestigious Linda Fairchild Contemporary Arts in San Francisco. But they are illustrated and discussed in a small, handsome catalogue that's available for purchase at Robischon.

In the past, Sharpe often has exhibited his photos unframed; it looked good but brought in a lot of conservation issues, such as the accumulation of dust and dirt over time, and the inevitability of crushed corners. For the show at Robischon, Sharpe has had them framed, and I think that's a smart move on his part.

Kitchel and Sharpe both prove how relentlessly interesting the Western landscape is to contemporary artists. Because Robischon keeps its sales private and does not use red dots to mark the pieces that are sold, I'll need to go out on a limb here and say that I think Kitchel's paintings and Sharpe's photos are also popular with collectors. And unlike those video projections that will someday fill Robischon's window, it's easy to imagine people buying them and hanging them in their homes and offices.

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