New Directions

Bill Burgess and Don Quade raise Walker's status, but the chips are down at the CVA.

Bobbi Walker, owner and director of Walker Fine Art, has worked hard to break into the top ranks of Denver's contemporary galleries and, at the same time, make a profit. I can't comment on how it's possible to make money in the art business, but I can say that Walker's current show, Balance, is precisely the kind of exhibit she needs to rise to the loftiest level of the local art scene.

In the case of this wonderful show, the recipe for success is obvious: elegant sculptures by Colorado master Bill Burgess combined with compatible paintings by talented contemporary artist Don Quade.

Walker has made a habit of attracting established Colorado artists who do not live in the metro area and thus are less likely to have relationships with Denver galleries. It's a savvy move on her part, especially in the case of Burgess.

"Convolution," by Bill Burgess, welded-steel sculpture.
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"Convolution," by Bill Burgess, welded-steel sculpture.
"Journal II," by Don Quade, mixed media on board.
"Journal II," by Don Quade, mixed media on board.

Burgess has been a part of the Colorado art scene for a long time. He graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder way back in 1958, and in 1964 earned a master's degree from Colorado College in Colorado Springs. He later went to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore for his MFA. Though his work has been exhibited around the country, especially in the Southwest, the last time he was the subject of a show of this size in Denver was in 1993, at Artyard.

The pieces at Walker Fine Art handily fall into two distinct types, though all of them are in Burgess's signature welded-steel method, his preferred technique for over forty years. There are those that are finished with an all-over rust patina and those that are polychromed, with different elements painted different colors. Another perceivable distinction is that the rusted sculptures take the shape of simple, unified forms based on nature, while the multi-colored works are more complicated, juxtaposing expressionist elements with geometric ones.

Two of the largest pieces, both of them in rusted steel, start off the show. Even though they're not the first pieces inside the door, they immediately catch our attention because of their size. "Ascender" is installed in the two-story atrium space across the front of the gallery, and "Convolution" is displayed nearby, in the gallery proper. "Ascender" is a vertical spire created from a serpentine form that is widest at the bottom and looks sort of like a melting obelisk. "Convolution" is an organic spiral that suggests a gigantic scribble.

Further into the show are some of the polychromed compositions, notably "Verde," which has an ultra-luxurious feel because Burgess combined elements in natural patinas, paint and scuffed stainless steel. Back in the corner is another great polychrome sculpture, "Prophet," for which Burgess mounted a pair of metal hoops on top of a cluster of poles on a rectangular base.

The abstract paintings by Don Quade, which make up the other half of Balance, go beautifully with the Burgess sculptures, though I think it makes the most sense to view the two artists' work separately. Quade was born in El Paso, Texas, but has lived in Colorado for many years and exhibited locally for the past decade or so. He started painting when he was a student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins in the 1980s, but only returned to the medium about five years ago. In between, he created three-dimensional mixed-media compositions that often reflected his Hispanic heritage.

At first Quade's painting style was similar to that of his close friend Emilio Lobato, which makes sense, considering that both combine abstraction with imagery and colors inspired by their shared ethnic background. Both artists are also affected by their love of santos and retablos and other elements of Chicano-flavored Roman Catholicism. But Quade has seemingly broken this affinity in his new paintings. Previously, he was drawn to dark palettes, but in these latest creations, there's an encompassing lightness, with only a small dark accent here and there.

The paintings have complicated compositions, and Quade's use of dark details on the light-colored grounds makes them operate differently depending on the viewer's vantage point. From a distance, there's a geometric organization to the picture, with the dark forms -- often rectangles, squares or even circles -- standing out against the lighter, predominant color field. Up close, the surface is crowded with drawn and painted details. Many of these paintings are great, but from my perspective, "Journal II," which is lively in any number of ways, is the standout.

Balance is one of the best shows I've seen at Walker, so if you haven't gotten a chance to catch it, do make the effort. Be warned, however, that there's very little time left: The show closes this Saturday, May 7.


Though it had been an open secret for a while, the bad news became official last week: Metropolitan State College of Denver pulled the rug out from under the Center for Visual Art, its only claim to excellence. What's happening represents a major retraction for contemporary art in Denver. Worse, the decision could mean the eventual disappearance of the place, as its current lease is up in a year.

Most important among the many things that have transpired is that MSCD has drastically reduced its financial support for the CVA, which the school has provided since the center was founded, in 1991. Beginning with the start of the fiscal year this summer, Metro will pony up less than half as much as it did last year. I don't need to tell you that that alone spells potential disaster for the place.

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