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.

Ironton Studios & Gallery is the flagship facility of the one-year-old RiNo Art District. "RiNo" is a contraction of the words "river" and "north" and refers to the relatively vast area along the South Platte River, northwest of downtown, where some art-related operations -- notably a lot of studios -- are located. Ironton has several studios on site, one of which is Junoworks. I single out Junoworks because of a project the studio is doing right now that towers above everything else in the sculpture yard near Ironton's entrance.

The monumental construction, titled "The Doors," is by internationally famous sculptor Donald Lipski, who contracted Junoworks to fabricate the piece. Lipski is best known in these parts for "The Yearling," the life-sized horse on a super-sized chair on the lawn of the Denver Central Library. "The Doors" is very different from that work, however, with three attenuated vertical rectangles leaning against each other to form a kind of truncated pyramid. The ladder-like elements that so predominate the construction's appearance are actually structural and will be hidden by cladding when the piece is finished. Also in the yard is a maquette for that cladding. A flat square is set in the ground diagonally; wooden planks edged in hammered metal and held in place by oversized nail heads represent the proposed surface of the exterior, while a polished stainless-steel sheet on the other side will be used to line the interior. Ultimately, Lipski's "The Doors" will be sent to Scottsdale for installation at a major intersection, so it won't be part of the Denver scenery for long.

Checking out the show in the gallery proper provides you with the perfect excuse to come out to Ironton, with the Lipski being simply an added attraction. Iron, Et Cetera, a group presentation of sculpture, was organized by artists Rian Kerrane and Mark Guilbeau. Both have lived in the region for the past few years; Kerrane is an associate professor of art at the University of Colorado at Denver, and Guilbeau teaches art at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

"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.

Details

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

Drawing from their friends, former students and colleagues from across the country, Kerrane and Guilbeau selected pieces that feature some kind of casting. Most of the sculptures are examples of metal casting -- typically cast iron -- but there are a few things done in other materials.

The show starts off with a small work by each of the co-curators. Kerrane's "Science of Picnics" is an orb with small castings appended, including a miniature teapot and tiny teacups, and a cylindrical spout with a crystal stopper. The piece seems to simultaneously refer to a bomb and a decanter, which reinforces the narrative inherent in the title. The piece by Guilbeau is very similar in terms of size and form. "WMD" is a rusted-iron sphere whose surface is formed by tiny toy soldiers intertwined and overlapping one another. The soldiers are ready-mades that were originally cast in plastic and later used by Guilbeau to form molds for casting "WMD."

Both Kerrane and Guilbeau explore conceptual realism by using representational elements in the creation of non-realistic sculptures. Not surprisingly, many of the artists they invited to join them in Iron are interested in doing much the same thing. Tobias Flores, from Kansas, uses wrenches and depictions of the Virgin to make a crucifix he calls "Mary Fix It." A bicycle pump and a shovel are apparently the inspirations for "Transport" and "For the Journey," by New Mexico's Shereen Lobdell. "Anus Grenade," by Denver's David Seiler, which has a wonderful form and beautiful surface, is exactly what it sounds like: a hand grenade covered with cast assholes. No, really. Two of the neatest pieces along this conceptual-realist vein are "Fool's Gold" and "Scout," tiny dioramas under clear plastic domes by David Lawrence Jones, from Wyoming. I especially loved "Scout" and its miniature jalopy done in a marvelous dusty blue.

Abstraction, conceptual and otherwise, is underrepresented in this show, but nonetheless, two of the best pieces here fall into that category. "Lifesaver," a transparent disk in luminous green mounted on a light box by Viviane Le Courtois, is a showstopper. Le Courtois, who is the program manager at Downtown Aurora Visual Arts, is interested in process art that records some kind of use over a period of time. "Lifesaver" most likely has a process element to it, but there's no explanation of what that might be -- though the dried foam bubbles on the surface suggest that it's been wet. Across from the Le Courtois is another standout, "Trapped," a cast bronze with paper by Wyoming's Ashley Hope Carlisle. It's an organic abstract table sculpture with a basket-weave effect on one side and a luminous cadmium-red gourd shape on the other.

There's quite a bit of interesting material in Iron, but truth be told, the selections are seriously uneven, and there's more than one dog in this manger. Plus, connecting works of art according to how they are made strikes me as an inadequate device on which to hang a theme show.

That's one criticism that couldn't possibly be leveled at Susan Cooper: Pursuing Perspective, at William Havu Gallery, since this solo is very tightly focused on the differences between painting and sculpture. Denver artist Susan Cooper has expressed this dialectic in several different ways, including installations, wall sculptures and even works on paper.

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.

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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