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Capsule reviews of current exhibits

Landscapes From the Age of Impressionism. Bringing the easel into the sunshine is rather pretentiously called plein-air painting, which simply means painting outdoors. But the fact that the word "air" is used — even if it is in French — is telling, because many of these artists went on to try and depict the air itself as it enveloped the landscape. This approach, which was new and different in the nineteenth century, is the underlying organizing theme of this traveling show in the Gallagher Family Gallery at the Denver Art Museum. It features more than three dozen landscape paintings from the collection of New York's Brooklyn Museum, all of which were painted — or at least sketched out — right on site. The Denver stop has been arranged by assistant curator Angelica Daneo so that viewers can take a straightforward trajectory through the material, beginning with the painters of the French Academic tradition, continuing with the French impressionists, and winding up with the critiques of impressionism done by American artists. Through September 7 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, Reviewed June 19.

Tattoo Detour. This Jack Balas solo is dominated by watercolors and drawings, though there are also some oil and mixed-media paintings included. Most of the pieces were done during a working vacation Balas took to Hawaii. It was the first time the artist ever created "out of a suitcase," he said, and he loved it. The drawings, which are freely done in ink, like doodles or scribbles, were created at coffee shops and restaurants. They depict surfers in unlikely settings, like a guy riding his board on a table, or another with trees coming out of the board. For the more finished pieces, Balas began by sketching the Hawaiian scenery, especially the beach, and photographing the people there, both candidly and in poses. It is no surprise, considering his oeuvre, that most of the models were extremely fit young men. Back in the hotel room, Balas merged the imagery in his studies -- landscapes and people -- to come up with his watercolors and paintings, a number of which really hit the mark. Through August 2 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788, Reviewed July 17.

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