Alternating Currents

Hybrid styles fill the Mizel Center, and pure abstraction stars at Havu.

Altman's Incognito and Green's Crowded are midway through their runs; both close early next month.

Currently inside the front door of the William Havu Gallery is a group of white stands on which three fabulous Martha Daniels ceramic sculptures are displayed. They are not part of any exhibit, but are simply an added bonus for gallery-goers.

"Infinitely Suggestive," by Steve Altman, mixed media 
on canvas.
"Infinitely Suggestive," by Steve Altman, mixed media on canvas.
"Blind," by Jeffrey Keith, oil on linen.
"Blind," by Jeffrey Keith, oil on linen.


Letters to Stanley
Extended through October 16; Incognito and Crowded, through November 6. Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360

coloris: Jeffrey Keith and Julia Rymer: night paintings
Through November 5, William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360

The sculptures -- "Stormy Weather," "Door to Belen" and "August" -- are abstract planar compositions made of flat clay shapes appended to one another. In form and surface effects, they remind me of Italian modernist ceramics from the '50s and '60s, long an important source of inspiration for Daniels. The glazes, which are spectacular, are also reminiscent of mid-twentieth-century Italian work, especially the deep reds and sunny yellows and oranges.

Daniels is unquestionably one of Colorado's preeminent ceramic artists, but here's some bad news: She's seriously considering moving to California! If she does, we'll lose one of the state's contemporary masters. Like so many others, I hope she reconsiders and decides to stay.

The rest of the first floor has been given over to the impressive single-artist show coloris: Jeffrey Keith, which showcases recent paintings and works on paper by another well-known and widely respected Colorado artist. Visitors will immediately be struck by the distinctive odor of linseed oil. The smell means that many of these paintings by Keith are still technically wet -- beneath the top surface, anyway.

When he moved to metro Denver in the late '80s, Keith immediately jumped into the local art scene. The latest paintings at Havu are part of a personal stylistic continuum he began more than a decade ago. Paint is tooled onto a linen canvas in broad bars of color that run horizontally in some places and vertically in others. The bars are in an all-over composition, with no particular point of focus.

Keith applies the pigments so thickly that the bars sometimes look as if they've been attached in sheets, collage-style, rather than directly applied to the canvas. But it's just paint on canvas, except in the handful of genuine collages that are also in the show.

The paint is Keith's subject, putting him firmly in the neo-abstract-expressionist camp. But they are not true examples of the style because of the basket-weave structure he creates from swaths of different colors. That is where the title "coloris" comes in: The word defines the pleasure derived from perceiving colors, something Keith unapologetically orchestrates without any hint of a narrative underneath. This color-for-color's-sake philosophy is exemplified by several beautiful oil-on-linen paintings, such as "Blind," "Blush" and "Candide."

In addition to being a practicing artist, Keith taught at the University of Denver for a decade. Among his many students during that time was Julia Rymer, whose night paintings exhibit has been put on display on the mezzanine at Havu, where she was gallery director before leaving to earn her MFA in painting from the Pratt Institute in New York. Today she teaches at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design and at Regis University.

Interestingly, despite her sojourn to study in New York, Rymer's paintings still show the effects of her student days with Keith. This is particularly true in the way she handles the grounds of her paintings, which are done in a similar way to Keith's. That feature makes this smaller show a perfect companion for the larger one downstairs.

There are differences, though. For instance, Rymer doesn't adhere to Keith's horizontal-versus-vertical format. Instead, she freely arranges her smears into various orientations, including every gradient of diagonal, and puts on a top layer of scribbles in lighter colors. In "North," an acrylic on canvas, she uses red arching lines on top of a field of purple, purply gray and off-white, among other shades. The formula is similar in "Demeter" and "September," which are hung nearby.

While you're at Havu, don't miss the sculpture garden out back, which is decked out in metal pieces by young Denver artist David Mazza. There are also a pair of Mazzas out front -- one near the gallery's main entrance, and one directly across Cherokee Street.

The William Havu Gallery doesn't promote a single style and has a widely inclusive philosophy. That means that there are often diverse offerings in the various parts of the gallery. But right now, abstraction rules throughout the place. There are the sculptures by Daniels, the paintings by Keith and Rymer, and more sculptures by Mazza. Everything looks great together because it represents a single consistent theme.

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