For a few days last month, Denver and the Front Range were shrouded in a smoky haze, courtesy of the forest fires in California. It was more than a little unsettling, lending the town a doomsday quality right out of a disaster movie. But fires are a natural part of the life of the forest, and some believe that efforts over the last century to prevent them have actually made matters worse.
That's the conceptual framework that underlies the drawings and watercolors in Apparition: works on paper by Anna Kaye, a small but handsome show at Sandra Phillips Gallery (744 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-5969, www.SandraPhillipsGallery.com). The exhibit reveals Kaye's staggeringly high level of drafting — a mastery that makes her drawings seem like photos. Consider the title piece, "Apparition" (pictured), in graphite and charcoal. When I first saw it, I thought it was a photograph. The piece shows a bare, scorched tree in the foreground with another, larger scorched tree appearing like a ghost (or apparition) in the background. It is stunning both in terms of its perfectly balanced composition and in Kaye's flawless execution.
These same attributes can be ascribed to other drawings included in the show, notably "Checkerspot," which features a hyper-realistic rendition of a butterfly near the floor of a burned forest. It turns out that the habitat of the checkerspot butterfly is being damaged by fire prevention. This is because its host plant, the dwarf plantain, is dying out in the ever-thicker forests that are the consequence of a fire-suppression policy.
The watercolors are equally striking and are also done with an astounding level of technical prowess. "Indian Paintbrush," for instance, shows the well-known wildflower blooming in the ashes, and the detailed view is very realistic. These watercolors look even more like traditional pictures than the drawings, yet like the latter, they also have conceptual content that references forest fires.
I might add that Kaye puts her money where her aesthetic is: She's pledged that 10 percent of revenue from sales at the show will be donated to the Colorado State Forest Service. This wonderful exhibit closes on October 17.