Split Seconds

Historic and contemporary photos grace the walls at Gallery Roach, Gallery M and Walker Fine Art.

Only two walls of one room at Gallery M are devoted to John Loengard, but there's still plenty in it worth seeing.

Well-known Boulder-based photographer Bonny Lhotka took over the walls at the front of Walker Fine Art for Illusions, now on display there. Lhotka is an expert in the medium, having experimented with computer-aided art since the early '90s. She is the co-author of a book on the topic, Digital Art Studio (published by Watson-Guptill) and was a co-organizer of the Digital Atelier at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art, where she was an artist in residence.

"Yellowstone Park, Jupiter Terrace," by Otto Roach, 
gelatin silver print.
"Yellowstone Park, Jupiter Terrace," by Otto Roach, gelatin silver print.
"Black Pond," by Bonny Lhotka, digital 3-D lenticular 
photo in a light-box.
"Black Pond," by Bonny Lhotka, digital 3-D lenticular photo in a light-box.


The Wyoming Expeditions
Through January 27, Gallery Roach, 860 Broadway, 303-839-5202

John Loengard
Through January 6, Gallery M, 2830 East Third Avenue, 303-331-8400

Through January 6, Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Avenue, 303-355-8955

The photo-based pieces in Illusions were all done with UV flatbed printers, which are most often employed for commercial applications as opposed to fine art. The flatbeds have a number of unique attributes that make them interesting to artists, and Lhotka first began experimenting with them in 1999. Being flat, the printers will accommodate large panels, and the UV-cured inks have a physical presence reminiscent of paint, standing up off the surface instead of merging with it, like the inks used in inkjet printers. Also, the flatbeds will print on anything, not just paper, allowing Lhotka to place her images on various materials. The use of the different base materials for the prints affects the way they look, and thus play a big part in the visual power of Lhotka's pieces.

Aluminum is a material that Lhotka has been experimenting with, as evidenced in "Mystic Pond" and "Mystic," which both depict the same tree. In "Mystic Pond," however, the image is inverted, because it's a reflection of the tree in the water. The dark, somewhat-metallic inks combined with the dull sheen of the aluminum -- which Lhotka allows to show through in places -- give these pieces an iridescent quality, as if they have an internal glow.

The opposite effect is shown off in "Bay Side," which is printed on Baltic birch wood. In this case, the dark inks and the surface of the wood absorb, rather than reflect, the ambient light.

A few of these pieces were created using an interesting method, whereby Lhotka etches on both sides of a transparent acrylic panel and then lays it on top of a mixed-media painting. One example is "Civic Center," which has an inverted reflection of trees in water across the middle, framed by shadows of temporary fences cast on sidewalks. Interestingly, the fences themselves have been cropped out and are not part of the dense imagery assembled for the piece.

Of all the Lhotkas at Walker, surely the strongest is the quartet of striking light-boxes that depict schools of exotic Japanese koi in a pond. "Spotted Fish," "Blue Waters," "Black Pond" and "Yellow Fish" have all been done as 3-D lenticular animation photos. With this method, the imagery shifts and changes as the viewer moves around the piece, creating an illusion of extreme depth, as though the pieces were several feet thick instead of only inches deep. In these digital-photo-based works, Lhotka used a series of mechanically generated straight lines that follow the four edges of the light-boxes. The lines intersect to form a square in the middle of each, which is where the 3-D effect is employed.

Not everything in this show or in the accompanying catalogue worked for me. The abstracts with geometric elements that are smaller in size than the other works looked a little too decorative -- and a little dated, too. But most of the pieces -- especially those based on the images of trees, water and fish -- were very successful. And that, in a nutshell, is what makes Illusions one of the strongest photo shows I've seen this year.

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