Erick C. Johnson

William Havu Gallery

The walls of the William Havu Gallery (1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360, (www.williamhavugallery.com) are covered by The Nature of Things, combining the work of Tracy and Sushe Felix (see review). A second exhibit, Erick C. Johnson, has been installed around the edges, in the corners and outside, with one of the abstract sculptures even seeming to pierce the window.

Considering Johnson's quarter-century-long career and his status as one of the state's most respected artists, it's amazing that his last Denver show was more than five years ago. By way of explanation, he lives a long drive away, in northern Colorado, and the Denver galleries where he used to show, notably Mackey and Judish, are long gone.

Johnson is best known for his large public commissions, and he's received many over the years. A specialty of his for these commissions was suspension sculpture, made up of constructivist assemblages hung from the ceiling. There's a large installation of this type at the Colorado Convention Center and a smaller one in the portico of the vacant Denver Permit Center. Both date to the 1980s.

The recent sculptures in the Havu show are different, less polished and much smaller. Most are wall-mounted reliefs, and since they aren't freestanding, they hark back in some ways to his signature aerial sculptures of the '80s.

Characteristic of this sensibility is "Schnee Kran" — which means "snow crane" in German — in which Johnson has arrayed pieces of carved wood along a tall vertical spine that's attached to the side of a wall. The wood has been stained white so that the grain shows through, conveying the idea of an arctic bird. Similar, though airier, is "Wiggett" (pictured), an arc of metal surmounted by painted and natural wood that's held away from the wall by a prominent metal bracket.

I was delighted when gallery owner Bill Havu told me last summer that he was taking on Johnson, and it's definitely great to see his intelligent pieces in a Denver venue again. Erick C. Johnson runs through February 23.

 
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