Realist Democracy

Local galleries are filled with representational imagery.

You'd think that by now artists would have tired of recording the sights of the world in the tried-and-true mediums of painting and drawing. For heaven's sake, representational art has been done for the past 15,000 years. Just thinking about it makes me drowsy. But, no. Despite the rise of photography -- which is a better, more accurate and easier way to record exterior reality -- and the triumph of modernist abstraction, which zeroes in on the un-photographable realm of interior reality, artists persist in rendering the world around them on canvas or paper.

The interminable appeal of representational imagery has led to an art world that's an alternative to the contemporary scene, filled with neo-traditional versions of the landscape, the still life and the figure study. The styles of these works hark back to the art of yore, reminiscent, at least, of the nineteenth-century academics, if not the Old Masters. This kind of stuff is irrelevant to the course of contemporary art, which is why I never review such exhibitions. However, just a step or two in the right direction, and you find artists who are enamored of the landscape, still life and figure study, but who impart something new into the standard formulas instead of just recalling a heroic past. By doing this, they're creating genuinely contemporary work.

Colorado is home to many contemporary representational painters, and there are a number of shows currently on display highlighting their various achievements. Collectively, they work like a thoughtful group show; you'll just have to drive around central Denver to catch all the different parts.

"Bardos 6," by Lui Ferreyra, oil on canvas.
"Bardos 6," by Lui Ferreyra, oil on canvas.
Façade, by Wes Magyar, oil on canvas.
Façade, by Wes Magyar, oil on canvas.


Lui Ferreyra
Through June 16, Sandy Carson Gallery, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-8585

The Barest Trace and Introverted
Through July 8, + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296- 0927

Jeff Aeling and Hidden Treasures/New Monotypes by Joellyn Duesberry
Through July 1, William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303- 893-2360

Recent pieces by a young Denver artist who is surely one of the up-and-comers in the realm of contemporary representational art are being showcased in Lui Ferreyra: Paintings, in the front space at Sandy Carson Gallery. Ferreyra has exhibited in Denver over the past several years; during that time, he's arrived at a signature style.

Ferreyra shatters the surfaces of his works by breaking them up into hard-edged shards of color. The images are thus made up of flat areas of colors that are meticulously assembled to convey the topics of the pictures. The effect recalls paint-by-numbers paintings, digitized reductions from computer animation and, of course, cubism. But this final comparison is the most superficial of the lot: Although Ferreyra does cut his pictures into puzzle pieces, as the cubists did, he doesn't do it to annihilate the forms he's depicting, but to reinforce the formal components. In this way, he's able to arrive at fairly credible renditions of his worldly subjects, which, at Sandy Carson, are mostly people rendered as portrait heads and busts.

The crazed surfaces have a lot of decorative potential, but the paintings Ferreyra has done for the "Bardos" series are pointedly serious and non-decorative. The title of the series refers to the state of semi-consciousness in which a person is somewhere between wakefulness and sleep. Thus all the subjects have closed eyes and impassive expressions on their faces.

"Bardos 6" is a powerful painting of a powerfully built middle-aged man, who, it turns out, is Ferreyra's stepfather. The beefy figure of the nude man is seen from the waist up, with his head coming close to the top of the composition. His pose is unnerving, and though he appears to be standing up, he must be actually lying down, as he's completely limp. This kind of ambiguity, and the disorientation it fosters, is one of the things that separate Ferreyra's oeuvre from the work of many other representational artists and places it firmly in the contemporary camp.

Also in the show is the first of the "Bardos" paintings, "Bardos 1," a self-portrait that's clearly a companion work to that of his stepfather. The poses are essentially the same, and Ferreyra is also depicted in the nude and from the waist up. But what really makes these paintings a pair is the way they are similar yet opposite, like comedy and tragedy masks. While both are stylistically consistent and share the same creamy approach to the palette, Ferreyra conveys his stepfather as bulky and solid, and himself as thin and lithe.

In the small space beyond the information desk is a small selection of studies for the larger "Bardos" paintings, as well as a group of what appear to be abstractions but are actually enlarged details of the human body. These pieces, from the "Li" series, are studies for larger works and are much more conventionally beautiful than the somewhat disquieting "Bardos" paintings. I'll bet they're indicative of a future trend in Ferreyra's style, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a show made up of big paintings based on these tiny ones at some point. I hope so, anyway.

There's only a little more than a week left before the very strong -- if somewhat difficult -- Lui Ferreyra closes at Sandy Carson Gallery. It's worth a look, especially because Ferreyra is definitely a young talent worth watching.

Over at + Gallery is The Barest Trace, a solo of monumental portraits by Wes Magyar that makes the perfect followup to Lui Ferreyra. In fact, the shows look like two halves of the same exhibit. There are a number of reasons for the similarities between Magyar's work and Ferreyra's, including the fact that the two are good friends and obviously respond to one another's style. This is something that often happens with artists, and it's almost always a good thing

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