Donald Lipski/Iron, Et Cetera/Susan Cooper

RiNo celebrates its first birthday, and Susan Cooper shows work that is both -- and neither -- painting and sculpture.

Cooper has been a fixture of the Denver contemporary art scene since 1975, when she moved here with a BFA and an MFA from the University of California at Berkeley. It's been a very long time since she's had a solo in the area -- the last one I remember was at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in 1996. But Cooper didn't give up on her career; rather, she turned her attention to public commissions, earning 25 of them across the country in the past fifteen years.

Stylistically, Cooper does a personalized version of cubism. This sensibility seems appropriate in a show about the nature of perspective, both the painted and actual types. In "Circles," Cooper used three principal elements: conventionalized versions of a floor lamp, a table and a mirror. All three parts are painted red and accented by shades that suggest imaginary shadows cast by the ersatz lamp and the manufactured reflection of the tabletop in the false mirror. It's pretty cool.

In addition to living-room vignettes like "Circles," Cooper did a series of pieces based on the bedroom. In "Relativity," she took fifteen square constructions arranged in a grid of five across and three high and placed a geometric depiction of a bed in each. The individual constructions are like framed pictures except that the subjects are three-dimensional and come out of the frames. They are not, however, fully formed. Instead, the beds are flattened according to two-dimensional techniques such as foreshortening. In other words, they're sculptures built according to the rules of painting.

"Science of Picnics," by Rian Kerrane, cast metal and glass.
"Science of Picnics," by Rian Kerrane, cast metal and glass.
"Circles," by Susan Cooper, acrylic paint on wood.
"Circles," by Susan Cooper, acrylic paint on wood.


Through February 9, Ironton Studios & Gallery, 3636 Chestnut Place, 303-297-8626. Through February 17, William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360.

If you go to see the Cooper show at Havu, don't forget to look at the outdoor sculptures. They are not part of a show, but simply pieces by gallery artists. Noteworthy is the monumental rusted-steel sculpture by David Mazza that dramatically cantilevers over the ground near the front door, as well as his two more delicately scaled sculptures, "Spica" and "Nacon," in the garden. Both of these smaller works are elegant zigzags of finely scaled steel rods finished in stunning colors. Also worth seeing in the garden are the two monumental ceramic figures by Tony Sarenpa and the trio of steel-and-concrete spikes by Michael Clapper.

As I passed back through Susan Cooper on my way out, it occurred to me how difficult some of this artist's pieces are despite the familiar shapes, friendly colors and crisp detailing. I think it's because of her attempt to bridge painting and sculpture: In some ways, her work is both, and in others, it's neither -- and that's pretty unusual, if not downright strange.

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