East Colfax Avenue as it runs through central Denver is definitely on the way up. From downtown to the Monaco Parkway, storefronts are being spiffed up, shops and restaurants are opening, and people are starting to fill the formerly seedy sidewalks.
The part of the street that seems to be getting the most press lately is the Bluebird District, around the marvelous old theater of the same name. There's Mezcal, a popular Mexican eatery and cantina, and a number of other hipster businesses mixed in with the dry cleaning plant and the pet groomer. One of these up-and-coming enterprises is Ism Gallery (3229 East Colfax Avenue, 303-322-6460, www.ismgalleryart.com).
Ism is a cross between a commercial operation and an alternative space. It was opened four years ago by budding artist Craig Thomas, who also uses the place as his studio. Until now, exhibitions have been erratically scheduled, but Thomas plans to shed what he calls a "black sheep" approach to running a gallery.
The current show is Patrick Porter: Soopermart Grand Opening, and though it's very uneven, there are some pieces that really hit their marks. Porter, who grew up in Bailey, is a recognized musician with a number of CDs to his credit, and he's also a published poet, with several volumes to his name. And though he's long been interested in painting, this show at Ism is only his second solo in town.
Porter's paintings have a manic, expressionist character. His subject is urban life in all its complexity and rawness. The drafting on the panels has an angry and frenetic quality to it, but the imagery — faces, signs, buildings — has been naively rendered. Both attributes are shown off in "Advertising Campaign" (detail pictured). As I was looking at the paintings, I thought it seemed as though a child had done them while in the midst of a head-banging tantrum. The neo-expressionism of these pieces recalls the art of the 1980s, in particular the work of the late Jean-Michel Basquiat — and that's not a bad thing.
Patrick Porter closes on July 5. The gallery is open Thursday evenings and Friday and Saturday afternoons.