The show is dynamite, and I highly recommend it.

I feel the same way about Trace (Figurative) at Metro State's Center for Visual Art, and that really surprised me, because I didn't expect to. What I had heard about the show was that artists had referred to the figure by using such stomach-turning materials as dirty footprints, wads of hair out of drains, sweat stains on fabric and smears of blood — none of which sounded particularly appealing. On top of that, some friends had told me how bad the ideas put forward by the artists were.

But because the show was put together by CVA director Jennifer Garner, someone whose work I've long respected, I gave Trace a chance, and I'm really glad I did. Far from being a gross-out fest, it's filled with thoughtful pieces, some of which are even conventionally beautiful. Each of the artists was allotted scads of space in which to spread out. The form of the all the works is abstract, but the content is conceptual, as indicated by the strange materials the artists employed.

"Before Me Behind Me," by Chuck Parson, metal and mixed materials.
"Before Me Behind Me," by Chuck Parson, metal and mixed materials.

Details

Through August 9, Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden, 303-279-3922, www.foothillsartcenter.org.Through August 13, at the Center for Visual Art, 1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207, www.metrostatecva.org.

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The exhibit gets under way with the large paintings by Jason Lee Gimbel, made up of canvases covered with his own footprints from his hiking boots — though each also includes a single image of his bare foot. The paintings seem like all-over abstractions until you notice the unmistakable tread marks made by the soles of the boots.

In the next space are all those wads of hair, done in digitized prints on paper by Nigel Poor. The artist had noticed that the stress of her new job as a tenure-track art professor was causing her to lose her hair, so she started cleaning the drain of her bathtub and scanning the results. The scans, mounted directly onto the wall without frames, also look like all-over abstracts, and until viewers examine them carefully and closely, they might think they're nothing more than pencil scribbles. There's a documentary quality to these pieces, and each is titled according to its specific date.

Probably the most compelling are the installations made up of sweat-stained cloth stitched together by Heather Doyle-Maier. I absolutely loved these elegant and subtly colored works done in a wide range of off-whites. Though all of Doyle-Maier's pieces are very nice, the most beautiful of them is "99 Reasons for Silence," 99 squares of fabric hanging in a suspended grid in its own dedicated space.

The last of the quartet of body snatchers, so to speak, is Denis Roussel, who uses digitized photos of smears of blood that have been put under different conditions. This sounds gross, but the resulting prints are lovely if you don't think about what you're looking at. Roussel calls them "experiments," and they are part of a broader group of works that explore the human body.

Trace looks like a nationally traveling show, but it isn't, with Poor being the only artist who doesn't live in Colorado. Even more interesting is the fact that Gimbel, Doyle-Maier and Roussel are so little known despite how good they are. Leave it to Garner to discover them.

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