Formal Ware

New abstracts are brought together in great shows at + Gallery and Studio Aiello.

It was two years ago that I first became aware of an unexpected curve in the art road. Despite all expectations, digital media was on the wane, and painting was waxing. The thought gave me a good laugh, because it was such an outrageous idea. Fast-forward to the present, and it's undeniable: Painting is on the comeback trail, and digital is looking tired. The news has been heralded in all the art magazines, in the New York Times and on the walls of Denver's galleries.

The + Gallery, in the Ballpark neighborhood, is hosting a pair of solo shows that feature post-minimalist paintings. Up front is The Edge of Recognition, made up of recent pieces by William Betts; in the back is Click, which comprises Nicholas Silici's latest creations.

Betts, who's making his Denver debut with Edge, does something very clever, considering the dichotomy between digital media and painting: He uses digital technology to create his paintings. The former New Yorker, who now lives in Texas, begins by scanning landscape photos. He then isolates some of the digital information taken and uses it to determine the specific colors and placement of lines in his compositions. Using a high-tech printer that sprays paint instead of ink, Betts lays fine vertical lines onto horizontally oriented panels. The juxtaposition of vertical and horizontal references the landscape originals.

"Longing," by Nicholas Silici, mixed media on board.
"Longing," by Nicholas Silici, mixed media on board.
"Evolution of Concept and Form #7," by Morgan 
Barnes, metal spinning sound sculpture.
"Evolution of Concept and Form #7," by Morgan Barnes, metal spinning sound sculpture.


The Edge of Recognition and Click
Through May 14, + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927

Through May 27, Studio Aiello, 3563 Walnut Street, 303-297-8166

Adhering to this strict formula allows Betts to create paintings that are so consistent, it's hard to distinguish one from another except by color and the order in which each shade is used. But like most systematic paintings -- both the kind done with digital aids and those made the old-fashioned way, with paint and brush -- the predetermined system is not as important as the success of the paintings. Betts really pulls the trick off.

In "Best of Times," yellows and oranges predominate among a host of related tones. Across from it, "When the Dust Settles" has many of the same colors, but the dominating hues are red and black. The true standout here, with its great size and gorgeous, icy palette of blues, grays and greens, is "High Tide."

At first sight, Betts's paintings look like photo-based prints, and in a sense, they are. However, upon closer examination, it's clear that the utterly flat surfaces are done in individually applied pigments. This means that they are not paintings, properly speaking (not even conceptually), but instead are hybrids, and thus neither prints nor paintings.

Denver artist Nicholas Silici also delves into hybrid forms in Click, merging painting with sculpture. The Silici paintings are multi-part, made up of various boxy rectangles painted with thin coats of tinted concrete. The pigmented concrete is used to make monochrome color fields with an atmospheric quality, and the imaginary depth and lack of definition are marvelous foils for the hard geometry of the boxes. In the past, Silici left his concrete paintings in a rough finish, but these -- all done in the last few months -- are sealed in clear polyvinyl acrylic, which has a glossy, wet-look sheen.

The boxes were painted individually, as is revealed by the visible drips on the sides. Silici then put a group of boxes together to create a single piece. In most, like "Stacks" or "Longing," the boxes are arranged hieratically, stacked in vertical rows with the edges essentially lined up to create a rectilinear form. There are a few exceptions, as in "Inclusion," where one part is bumped out from the others, violating the overall rectilinear order. From my point of view, these are less effective than the more strictly organized ones.

Silici, who was long associated with the now-closed ILK co-op, has been using concrete as an ad hoc art material to great success for the past several years. Click is sensational, and as a result, it's nearly sold out, which, I don't need to tell you, is a rare event. Here's the bad news: There are only a couple of days left to catch Click and its perfect companion, The Edge of Recognition, since both close on Saturday, May 14.

There's more time left to get over to see Dialog at Studio Aiello, which is not all that far from + Gallery. Though a group show, Dialog has been installed as a series of solos -- and I'm talking about enormous solos the size of museum offerings. Each of the four abstract painters included is given a discrete space, with the single sculptor taking over floor space throughout the gallery.

The Front Bay belongs to abstract paintings by Denver artist Mark Brasuell. I haven't seen every show Brasuell has done, but I've seen enough of them to recognize one from forty feet away -- a vantage allowed by Aiello's gigantic spaces.

Dialog includes some new versions of Brasuell's classic neo-abstract-expressionist approach. For example, the intimate "Biff," in acrylic on canvas, is reminiscent of a landscape, at least in its palette. Also included are Brasuell paintings that incorporate experimental elements, such as the photographic imagery in "FU" and the use of stenciled letters in the mural-sized "Son of a Biscuit Eater" (which otherwise resembles his signature work).

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