Jenny Morgan's "psychological portraits" reveal stunning technical skills

Though she was born and raised in Salt Lake City and has lived in New York for nearly a decade, painter Jenny Morgan has maintained her presence in the Denver art scene with regular exhibits at Plus Gallery. Her latest effort, Kith and Kin: New Paintings by Jenny Morgan, includes only eight paintings, but that's enough to lay out her current concerns.

Morgan is a contemporary realist whose paintings are photo-based, but she's not a photo-realist; her work makes reference to other approaches, like pop art and conceptualism. As the exhibit's title suggests, the subjects of these paintings are Morgan's friends and relatives. Most are people she grew up with — in particular, members of the Rapp family, who were her childhood neighbors in Utah. She's also added two portraits of people she met in New York but who, like her, grew up in the Salt Lake Valley. Morgan has written that she was "thinking of that bond we all share — experiencing the same landscape and culture, yet developing immensely different lives." Not surprisingly, Morgan considers these works "psychological portraits," and she uses different techniques, like building up paint or, conversely, sanding it down, to express the inner feelings of the sitters.

The resulting bigger-than-life-size portraits reveal that Morgan has astounding technical skills, rendering the models with a high degree of accuracy. A couple have blocked-out passages painted as silhouettes in bold colors, a la pioneering conceptualist John Baldessari. A good example is "Mother and Child" (pictured), a classic Old Master-ish composition in which Morgan has painted out one of the mother's arms in a smooth coat of red and used washes to obscure the faces of the mother and child. The use of washes and other techniques that "mess up," as she says, her realist skills, throws some areas out of focus. In others, there are gradated tones that lighten or darken the figures as the shades work their way down or across them.

Kith and Kin runs through July 14 at Plus Gallery (2501 Larimer Street, 303-296-0927, www.plusgallery.com).

 
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