Nothing Is Hiding

William Stockman tells the naked truth in a new show at the Singer.

One cue to viewers that the paintings come from drawings is the light-colored grounds that have their obvious corollary in the white fields of the drawing paper. In each of the works on canvas, the palette is made up of just a few powdery shades, with a different set used for each. Stockman told me he struggles with color, but it looks like he wins these bouts. Although he doesn't believe it, his restraint shows that he is adept at orchestrating color schemes, because the limited palettes are perfectly balanced every time.

The backgrounds of light-colored fields accented by a handful of hues are essentially abstractions. Singer director Zalkind has likened this element to the efforts of twentieth-century modernists such as Clyfford Still and Cy Twombly, among others, and I can see what he means. But traditional American and European art is also important to Stockman. His elegant rendition of the human figure, nearly always placed in the foreground, especially recalls figural compositions by artists active in France in the nineteenth century.

Maybe that's why Stockman's pieces bring to my mind the famous nude drawings by Ingrés or, as in the magnificent "Archery Lesson," in which four archers are lined up across the painting, Puvis de Chavannes's allegorical works. This ultra-traditional and conscious reference to classic representational art of the grand order is offset completely by that abstract — not to mention painterly — handling of the background.

"Archery Lesson," by Bill Stockman, oil on canvas.
"Archery Lesson," by Bill Stockman, oil on canvas.

Details

Through January 18, Singer Gallery, Mizel Arts & Culture Center, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360, www.maccjcc.org.For a slide show preview of the exhibit, visit our slide show gallery.

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Another factor that plays a role in Stockman's pieces is the way he tentatively fills in the details of his pictures. This represents an additional level of abstraction wherein Stockman often crosses out or goes over parts of his images so that they're blurry and sometimes even vaporous. This covering over or erasing adds an enigmatic angle to his work, making it hard to tell what his pieces are about. "They're about mortality, human frailty and past relationships," notes Stockman, but he adds that since his method relies on automatism, there's no specific meaning there to begin with, nor does he wish to impart a specific narrative to any of them. However, there clearly are narrative aspects in Stockman's creations. He just won't, or perhaps can't, explain what they are.

This ambiguity of content gives the show's title, Nothing Is Hiding, coined by gallery director Zalkind, an ironic twist. But here's something I'll say in all sincerity: William Stockman's solo at Singer is a standout and a triumph in a Denver art season that's been filled with first-rate offerings.

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