Magic Mountains

Tracy Felix provides an idiosyncratic take on the scenery out West.

Off to the left of the gallery's main entrance is a quartet of these paintings: "Land Rhythms," "Cubic Landscape," "Mountain Uplifting" and "Mountain Pass." In each, Felix lays out the scene using hard-edged lines that are not quite straight. The pieces are a lot more abstract -- and a lot simpler -- than his traditional ones (which are already abstract and simple), but they still convey the idea of mountain scenery.

Interestingly, a couple of paintings are done in a style that is halfway between Felix's traditional mode and the cubist sensibility. "The Sangre de Cristos" is a good example, with the mountain range reduced to interlocking semicircles of color that make it seem as though the peaks are roiling, like the clouds.

Among contemporary artists, Felix is unusual on several counts -- mainly, that he's followed the same path he set out on decades ago. Styles and sensibilities have come and gone, but Felix has kept his own counsel all along. Given the historic sources he cites and the way his paintings look -- both traditional and cubist -- his work is obviously part of the neo-transcendentalist movement, though he dismisses that appraisal out of hand. "I'm not into theories at all. I just want to paint," he says with a laugh.

"The Maroon Bells," by Tracy Felix, oil on panel.
"The Maroon Bells," by Tracy Felix, oil on panel.
"Mountain Pass," by Tracy Felix, oil on panel.
"Mountain Pass," by Tracy Felix, oil on panel.


Through February 11, William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893- 2360

In addition to Tracy Felix, Havu is presenting the work of several other artists. Installed throughout the main exhibition space are ceramic sculptures by Boulder artist Margaret Haydon. The pieces, many of which reference ships, are beautifully made and have exquisite glazes. The use of boat shapes is a witty play on the idea of the vessel, which is the mainstay of ceramics.

"Long Boat," in glazed stoneware, is displayed in the window, just inside the door. It's an exotic-looking craft that's been skillfully modeled. The exterior is covered in a foaming white glaze with a rich celadon on the inside; it's very Asian-looking. "Long Boat" is signature Haydon, but there are other pieces that aren't, including the large abstract sculpture "Canyon." In this two-part piece that was glazed a yellowy brown, the boat forms were reduced to elements in a random decorative pattern that covers the piece.

As marvelous as these Haydons are, they don't really work with the Felix paintings. I understand why it occurred to gallery owner Bill Havu to put them together -- like Felix, Haydon is doing cartoonish versions of recognizable things -- but the subjects just don't jibe. After all, Haydon's boats are in some ways antithetical to the arid mountain scenery beloved by Felix. It would have been better if the installation were clearly separated so that each artist could shine in his or her own way.

The meticulous and beautiful pencil drawings by Denver artist Michael Burrows are hung in the space below the mezzanine, which is wholly separated from the Felix landscapes, though there's a Haydon or two nearby. Burrows takes an almost photo-realist approach, but the shared subject of the landscape thematically links his work to Felix's.

Burrows, who teaches at the Community College of Denver, has a steady hand, and it's amazing that he can get such realistic-looking pictures using only black and white. And while he chooses scenes that are dense with pictorial elements, he still renders the tangle of plants and web of clouds to the nth degree of accuracy.

The Burrows are quite traditional, as are the Jeff Aeling landscape paintings upstairs on the mezzanine. Don't get me wrong: Their styles are completely different, with Burrows being interested in a downright fanatical attention to detail while Aeling takes a more painterly and atmospheric approach. But they're both still old-school contemporary realists.

Aeling is from St. Louis, and like so many Midwestern artists, he's repeatedly come out West to record the picturesque views. His monumental paintings at Havu are heroic, with panoramic views of the sweeping plains and majestic mountains. They are somewhat dark and moody, suggesting that something's about to happen, whether an approaching storm or simply the coming of sundown.

Though Tracy Felix and the other displays at Havu opened just a couple of weeks ago, there's a shorter-than-usual run -- only five weeks total -- so get over there soon, because it will all be put away before you know it.

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