With several new shows, abstract art continues to dominate the Denver scene

Abstract paintings and sculptures continue to be popular draws at Denver galleries, and there are several shows on display right now, but abstraction — which I'll get to in a moment — is also in the news.

First up in the abstract realm is Galileo's Garden, made up of mixed-media paintings by Monica Petty Aiello and sculptures by her husband, Tyler Aiello, at Space Gallery. The Aiellos appeared on the Denver scene in 2002 when they opened Studio Aiello in RiNo, which in some sense was the ancestor of RedLine, since it combined studio space for artists with exhibition facilities. Studio Aiello was the city's largest commercial gallery at the time, and the couple used it to introduce a number of artists to local art audiences — in particular, those from northern Colorado. The gallery also established the Aiellos as players in the Denver art world, even if the business itself went under in 2005.

When I first approached Space and caught a glimpse of Tyler's abstracted, floral-based bas-reliefs, I was a little put off; they struck me as being sort of fluffy and not really serious. The pieces, from the "Caladenia" series, are based on a kind of orchid and have metal petals radiating out from the center. They've been painted in bright colors, with one shade on the front and another, nearly hidden, applied to the back. But as I looked at them more closely, they grew on me — excuse the pun — and by the time I left the gallery, I'd gained respect for them and felt that they worked really well with the rest of his pieces in the show, and also with Monica's paintings.

"Toki #5," by Homare Ikeda, acrylic on canvas.
"Toki #5," by Homare Ikeda, acrylic on canvas.


Through June 11, Space Gallery, 765 Santa Fe Drive, 720-904-1088, www.spacegallery.org.Through May 28, William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360, www.williamhavugallery.com.

The title, Galileo's Garden, combines the two inspirational aspects of the show, with Galileo reflecting the influence of astrophysics on Monica's pieces and the garden reference pointing to Tyler's interest in organic vegetal forms. However, even Monica's impressions of the craters on Io, one of Jupiter's moons, look very floral and, to my mind, very neo-art deco, recalling the lacquer work of Jean Dunand and others from the 1920s.

The enormous exhibit takes up the main room at Space and the cavernous gallery in the back; all together, it's an impressive array. Though the artists each have their own separate oeuvre and style, the increasingly close interrelationship of their work has never been more obvious. In fact, the next logical step would be for them to make pieces together. I could easily imagine murals with Monica's paintings serving as grounds and Tyler's wall sculptures appended to them.

Next up on the abstract circuit are three solos at the William Havu Gallery, all showcasing recent work by prominent artists. It's no exaggeration to say that Havu has been on a roll since the first of the year, with these shows being worthy successors to the over-the-top salute to Emilio Lobato that came down last month.

The main exhibit, which covers the walls of the first floor, is Homare Ikeda: Time Is Floating. Ikeda, who was born and raised in Japan, has been regarded as an important artist since the '80s, when the Denver Art Museum first acquired an example of his work for its permanent collection. His style is idiosyncratic, with an instinctual approach to color and form, while his compositions are often awkward and pointedly unbalanced. For many years, Ikeda was known for his heavily worked canvases that often took years to complete — though he would work on several at the same time. But a few years ago, while completing a residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Ikeda decided to streamline his process and work more quickly. Interestingly enough, the results, such as "Toki #5," look essentially the same as the older ones.

The Ikeda show shares space with Michael Clapper, which includes a handful of works in stone and metal that have been scattered around the first floor and one, a large Yule marble and steel sculpture, that sits in front of the gallery. I love Clapper's work, especially the way he adeptly mixes materials, as in the tabletop piece "Stylus," in which a cone made of Yule marble and gray limestone is partly surrounded by a halo of stainless steel. The cone is horizontally mounted, with the metal rod allowing it to rock without tipping over or rolling off its stand.

Up on the mezzanine is Amy Metier, devoted to recent paintings and works on paper by this well-known Boulder-based painter. Metier, who's been around for three decades, is by now an acknowledged master of Colorado abstraction. Though many might see her compositions as being related to abstract expressionism, there are clearly other forces at work as well, and the artist herself has frequently referred to the concept of simultaneity, a cubist characteristic in which different perspectives are merged into a singular one, and to dynamism, an aspect of futurism that attempts to record movement despite the inherent stillness of paint on canvas. Merging these disparate abstract motives, Metier surprisingly has come up with a coherent and unified style. She's also an accomplished colorist, and I always find her palettes to be fresh and cheerful. The Metiers at Havu are very harmonious with the Ikedas, and pairing them was an inspired choice by gallery director William Havu; the Clappers are simpatico, as well.

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Generally smaller and more understated than his paintings, these monotypes (some with mixed-media embellishments) nonetheless echo many of the compositional motifs and stylistic devices he used in his canvases, with their subtle, deft mixes of smudges, scribbly lines and veils of color.