Northern New Mexico is renowned for its vibrant art scene, and lots of attention has been paid to it, especially with regard to the region's art history. In the early twentieth century, artists began to go to Taos and Santa Fe, initially attracted by the unique scenery and the colorful inhabitants, but later by the early appearance of a community of artists that in turn brought in luminaries such as Georgia O'Keeffe and Marsden Hartley. Consequently, the remote area had a high degree of sophistication and was pretty well connected to national and international art trends.
An important abstractionist who emerged from that scene was Raymond Jonson, a founder of the Transcendental Painters Group, whose early interest in geometric abstraction made him one of the most advanced artists working in the West at the time. Drawn by the landscape, Jonson came to New Mexico in the 1920s, but he soon began to move toward abstraction with cubist-related work. By the 1930s, he had embraced transcendentalism, and by the '40s, he was working in pure abstraction, which he continued until his death in 1982. Currently, Z Art Department is presenting Raymond Jonson, a strong show dedicated to this later work.
The show comprises paintings, watercolors and other works on paper that concern Jonson's quest for simplicity; some anticipate minimalism while also embracing expressionism. Both of these sensibilities are seen in "Polymer No. 15," from 1959 (pictured). Down the middle, there's a thunderbolt-like shape filled in with two shades of purple and two shades of red. Jonson has applied the pigments in such a way that toward the center of the shapes the colors are more intense, evaporating toward the edges.
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There are a number of wonderful non-objective paintings, all of which carry stripped-down titles to match their bare-bones compositions, including "Polymer No. 13," "Polymer No. 5" and "Polymer No. 3." All are signature Jonsons yet fit neatly into the big picture of American abstraction. Incidentally, the numbering scheme is particular to the year, explaining why "No. 13" from 1961 is a dozen years older than "No. 5" from 1973.
This is surely the largest concentration of Jonsons ever assembled in Denver, and seeing this much of his later work made me realize how relatable he is to Colorado's own Herbert Bayer. What a great duet that would make.
The Jonson solo runs through July 27 at Z Art Department, 1136 Speer Boulevard. For more information, call 303-298-8432 or go to zartdept.com.