Picture Perfect

Painting and photography intersect at Havu and Walker Fine Art.

It's hardly a new observation to say that the invention of photography revolutionized the visual arts; it's trite, but true. Before photography, the best way to capture the appearance of exterior reality was to paint it. Once people could take photos, however, the idea of painting as a window on the world was conceptually out the window. In fact, it's likely that the invention of photography played a big role in the rise of impressionism and abstraction more than a century ago, as well as other new styles of expression.

In the 1960s, painters began to respond to photography by embracing its methods. This led to the development of photo-based techniques, such as the incorporation of photographic imagery into paintings, and traditional work that pictorially captures the character of photographs while preserving the tactile surface qualities of painting. Known as photo-realism, hyper-realism, super-realism or contemporary realism, the movement attracted a lot of artists, particularly in the West.

Two artists of this type have been paired in separate offerings at the William Havu Gallery. On the main floor is Jeanette Pasin Sloan, a large exhibit featuring striking and remarkably detailed paintings and works on paper by the internationally known New Mexico artist. On the mezzanine is Rick Dula, made up of a handful of this Coloradan's easel-sized paintings of changing Denver landmarks.

"D.A.M. Building Progress," by Rick Dula, acrylic on canvas.
"D.A.M. Building Progress," by Rick Dula, acrylic on canvas.
"Breeze," by Bonny Lhotka, infrared photo on aluminum and die-cut acrylic.
"Breeze," by Bonny Lhotka, infrared photo on aluminum and die-cut acrylic.


Through January 5, William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360, www.williamhavugallery.com.Through January 5, Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Avenue, 303-355-8955, www.walkerfineart.com.For a slide show preview of these exhibits, visit our slide show gallery.

Pasin Sloan, born in Chicago in 1946, studied at Marymount College before receiving an MFA in graphics from the University of Chicago. Her expertise in the graphic arts was reflected in her early and continuing interest in printmaking; since 1978, she's been producing prints for Landfall Press, which was founded by her husband, Jack Lemmon, in 1970. The exhibit at Havu includes several lithographs (with others available on request) and a single linocut, all courtesy of Landfall. But the main thrust of the show is Pasin Sloan's skill as a painter, and it includes creations in both oil and watercolor.

A special interest for the artist is capturing the visual tricks brought on by patterns reflected in shiny surfaces; the eye-dazzling and complicated results are an ideal vehicle to demonstrate her unbelievable technical skill. She begins by setting up a still life with a piece of patterned fabric on which silver vessels of various types have been placed. Next, she photographs the still life, then records what she sees in paint, precisely following the elaborate elements of her constructed scenes.

The rich detail is mirrored — pun intended — in the luxuriousness of the fabrics and the silver vessels, and I don't think that's a coincidence. In "Silver Maze," Pasin Sloan has placed a mid-century-modern silver pedestal dish on a field of silver material that has an all-over Greek Key motif in black. The linear pattern and its morphed reflections in the dish allow the painting to both appear highly realistic and to have an abstract, geometric quality. The same is true of all the pieces here, as Pasin Sloan uses dots, circles and other abstract patterns together with simple modernist objects.

During the past forty years, artists have done this kind of representational imagery to death, but Pasin Sloan, who's been at it almost that long, has the skill and imagination to put a new wrinkle in the old approach. The same can be said for Rick Dula's paintings, as they also refer to abstraction by way of realism — in his case, by rendering actual scenes of objects that look abstract.

Dula spent most of his life in California, emerging with a BFA from California State University, Hayward in 1984. He has built his career on capturing the often gritty roadside scenes glimpsed in neglected parts of cities and towns. His interests from his California period remind me of those of an urban archaeologist, because Dula most frequently captured the extremely un-picturesque landscape of blacktop and factories.

After moving to Denver, he subtly changed topics, focusing instead on local scenes. In a trio of paintings, Dula recorded the construction of Daniel Libeskind's Hamilton Building at the Denver Art Museum. In another group, it was last summer's demolition of the Rocky Mountain News building that caught his attention. You could say he froze the Hamilton as it was coming and did the same for the Rocky as it was going. The idea of construction is the opposite of demolition, but from a pictorial standpoint, they are essentially the same; the views constantly change as the work on each progresses.

It's tempting to explain Dula's eccentric taste in topics along some kind of political or ecological lines. But that wouldn't be right, because to him, these sights are majestic in their own right, even if they're not "pretty" in a conventional sense.

More than most artists who are concerned with being as realistic as possible, Dula also goes in for some textural, painterly brush work rather than the utter flatness that might be expected given his style of choice. So although his paintings are extremely realistic, they'd never be mistaken for photos.

While Pasin Sloan and Dula have incorporated photography into their processes by using photos instead of sketches for their preliminary studies, Boulder-based artist Bonny Lhotka comes at the issue from an entirely different direction in Natural Order at Walker Fine Art. She does photos that have the look of paintings.

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