Denver artist Jason Appleton takes the role of the outré bohemian, the perfect pose for a longtime member of Pirate: A Contemporary Art Oasis (3656 Navajo Street, 303-458-6058, www.pirateart.org). Over the years, I've come to learn that although he's always ambitious, he's also always uneven; a typical Appleton show has some great things displayed cheek-to-jowl with some real stinkers.
His latest solo in the front space, New Splash Paintings, makes the case. Nearly everything in the show is heroically scaled and obviously took a lot of effort, but while some of these murals are spectacular — like the enormous "Splash" painting leaning against the back wall — others are downright monstrosities.
More consistently good are the abstracts in the Associates' Gallery in The Emerald Table, featuring recent paintings by Taos artist H. Warren Kelly. The artist's annual outing at Pirate can be counted upon to be interesting, and this time around, his work has a decidedly retro quality, because he refers to mid-twentieth-century modernism — in particular the transcendentalism that was popular in the Southwest. This look back is underscored by the antique boards with peeling white paint that he has used as his frames.
Some of the paintings are clearly based on the scenery and people of his native New Mexico, including the gorgeous "Walking Rain" (pictured) that clearly is an abstraction of a mountain scene. Kelly has several strengths, the first of which is his sunny and complicated palettes. In "Walking Rain," Kelly juggles shades of red, turquoise and yellow along with a host of others. His brushwork is lyrical, with a taste for looping, scribbled lines that are used to great effect. In fact, it's the same whiplash marks that he uses to sign his name at the bottom.
Something new this time is the large group of gouaches on paper covering three of the walls. These drawings are much less literal than the paintings, and their underlying subjects are hard to decipher, as in "Toss Up 2," which has a very cartoon-like style.
Jason Appleton's New Splash Paintings and Warren Kelly's The Emerald Table both close this Sunday, August 19.
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