A unique feature of Furnas's personal history is his early embrace of watercolors as his medium. The watercolor method has been out of fashion for fifty years or more and is almost exclusively used today by Sunday painters who typically depict fruit and flowers, so Furnas's decision to take it up was a courageous one. The paintings at MCA aren't watercolors, but Furnas points out that since they're acrylics, they're water-based and thus behave in some of the same ways.

Furnas became internationally known in the past few years for his representational works, some depicting pitched battles, with figures arrayed across the compositions. Though the paintings at MCA are all completely abstract — even if Furnas sees them as hypothetical landscapes — he continues to keep his figurative style open to future exploration, and he has not irrevocably turned to abstraction.

The MCA show is fairly small, just four pieces (counting the diptych as one), but the works themselves are fairly large, including "The Whale," which is thirty feet long and was painted on site, in the gallery — and with an audience, no less. To paint the enormous billboard-sized stretched canvas, which only took a few hours for Furnas and his assistants, paint was poured down from one end as the panel was moved to facilitate the flow of the liquefied pigments. When you look at the painting, it appears that the pigments have been poured from the upper right corner, with the forms of the colors seeming to cascade diagonally down. But the paint was actually poured in the exact opposite way, Furnas says, starting at the lower left corner. In this area, there's a sky-blue passage that was formed when clear water was poured onto the piece, driving the paint farther to the right and revealing the blue airbrushed under-painting.

"Silencio" (left), by Michael Clapper, marble and steel; "Sisyphus Rocks," by Monroe Hodder, oil on canvas.
"Silencio" (left), by Michael Clapper, marble and steel; "Sisyphus Rocks," by Monroe Hodder, oil on canvas.

Details

Through October 31, William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360, www.williamhavugallery.com.Through January 10, MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org.

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The subject of these paintings is the end of the world. For Furnas, they record the unimaginable sights of a biblical apocalypse. On the other hand, there's more than a passing relationship with good old American abstract expressionism and its cousin, color-field painting. Students of art history will notice the similarities immediately, including the heroic scale, the non-objectivity of the pictures, and, of course, the poured method resulting in an automatist technique.

But despite all this, Furnas doesn't consider himself a neo-abstract expressionist or a neo-modernist, though either term would describe what he's doing. He sees the origins of his work as lying in the mists of pre-modernism, and he mentions his idols: Turner, which I get, and Gericault, which I really don't.

Barnaby Furnas at MCA Denver is sublime, and so, too, are Monroe Hodder and Michael Clapper at Havu. I guess I don't need to say it, but I will anyway: Despite the wishful thinking of some people, abstraction's obituary has not been written yet.

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