Figures, Facts and Fountains

The human form is in the galleries, while Metro State and the city's fountains are in the news.

Depictions of the figure are getting hot in the art world again; I haven't seen this much interest in the topic since the 1980s. Falling in line with this international trend, the Robischon Gallery is presenting Stefan Kleinschuster, a mega-sized show that provocatively fills several of the spaces up front. Kleinschuster is one of the state's best contemporary representational artists, and this very strong show goes a long way in explaining why.

The paintings are oversized, which makes Kleinschuster's subjects -- nude male figures -- seem enormous. The large sizes of the paintings and the large scale of the figures made me think Kleinschuster would be great at mural painting, though his subject matter might make the idea a hard sell to anyone other than a gym owner. There is a threatening quality to some of these pieces -- and not just because of the hugeness of the looming men, who are heavily muscled. In several cases, the artist posed them in positions of physical conflict, as in the stunning "Rubric IV," in which one hulking male nude is tackling another, who is conveyed only by his legs. This aspect of aggression -- what Kleinschuster has called "brutality" -- lends the paintings an edginess that prevents them from being decorative in any way. And I mean that as a compliment.

Kleinschuster is able to convey the figures very realistically, which is amazing considering that his brush technique is so expressionistic. The perfectly proportioned details of the men, so crisp from far away, melt into dense daubs of pigment when seen up close. And how about those fabulous colors? There are buckets of natural pink skin tones, but there are also bright and unexpected shades, including blues and reds.

Detail of "Rubric IV," by Stefan Kleinschuster, oil on 
Detail of "Rubric IV," by Stefan Kleinschuster, oil on canvas.
"Survey," Lui Ferreyra, oil on panel.
"Survey," Lui Ferreyra, oil on panel.


Stefan Kleinschuster and Ann Hamilton: face
Through June 4, Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788

Go Figure Through May 20, Sandy Carson Gallery, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-8585

Robischon paired the Kleinschuster solo with Ann Hamilton: face, a small show of conceptual photos by the internationally known Ohio artist. For these portraits, Hamilton used her mouth as the aperture for pinhole photos. The whole idea sounds goofy, but the resulting photos are actually pretty dignified. Hamilton believes that the act of looking into her open mouth visibly affects the expressions on the faces of her subjects; however, that's impossible to see in these tiny, blurry and very grainy shots. In Hamilton's defense, it must be hard to come up with great new ideas all the time.

Also cashing in on the current craze for art about people is Go Figure, at Sandy Carson Gallery. This meandering group show features representational drawings and paintings depicting the figure. Gallery director William Biety put the exhibit together, and the heterogeneousness of it reflects his broadly inclusive taste.

In the front are works in charcoal on paper by New York artist Graham Nickson, who depicts bathers at the seashore. These drawings are beautiful, and though they're very traditional in a modernist sense, they somehow don't look dated. Part of the reason is that Nickson captures the male and female bathers as they undress to go swimming, which does put something of an erotic point in the pieces.

The same could be said for Gerard Huber's utterly precise illustrations of figures in antique settings, like Imperial Rome, which are hung facing the front door. In these paintings, a representation of a man or woman is paired with a statue or bas-relief of a figure made of stone or metal. It sounds gimmicky, I know, but Huber has astounding hand-to-eye coordination, so they actually work.

Off to the side are pieces by Barbara Shark from Boulder; these include some pastel drawings and a series of small panels done as grisailles. The little panels, displayed unframed, show Shark as she goes through her Tai Chi exercises. They're pretty neat, and, taken together, the black-and-white palette causes them to resemble cartoon strips. Nearby are Wyoming artist John Giarrizzo's delicately done pencil drawings of children who have a mystical character to them.

In the center space are quirky and enigmatic paintings by Mary Connelly, who's on the faculty of the University of Colorado at Denver. These paintings are dreamlike; the best of the group is "Honeymoon at Slit Rock," which, like the others, seems to riff on the artist's Catholic upbringing. Also in the center space are large paintings on steel by Madeleine Dodge, who also lives in Denver. In these paintings, figures are glimpsed beneath a graphite grid.

Biety installed most of the show so that one artist's work leads to the next -- a typical approach for a group effort. But in the case of the last artist I'll mention in Go Figure, Lui Ferreyra, Biety has given him his own room. I can see why the gallery director gave the emerging artist this kind of star treatment: Ferreyra's paintings are very cool. He cuts the figures up into geometric shapes and then paints the shapes so that they convey the three-dimensional contours of the figure and the background. He also uses novel compositions. For example, in "Survey," an oil on panel, the young man's face is shown in profile at the bottom left corner. His idiosyncratic style looks very hip, like a cross between cubism and paint-by-numbers.

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