It used to be that the art world in Denver took a breather in August, to mark the close of one season and allow galleries to gear up for the next one, which started after Labor Day — but that’s clearly not the case anymore. This month has seen a raft of great shows that have opened just as the schedule was supposed to be winding down. This week, I caught up with a quartet of exhibits that are linked by a shared interest among the participating artists in conveying forms and colors with minimal narrative or conceptual content.
Kimberlee Sullivan / Weather Occlusion is a handsome show at Goodwin Fine Art that features recent abstract paintings by this well-established Colorado artist. Although Sullivan has exhibited her work regionally over the past twenty years, it’s been quite some time since she’s been the subject of a Denver solo.
The reference to weather in the show’s title clues us in to the fact that the works are somehow inspired by atmospheric conditions, something that Sullivan has reduced to arcing, spiraling or meandering lines set against heavily worked and richly painted color fields. These two simple elements are the key components of her compositions. Many have been covered in thick transparent resins that have been applied unevenly, giving the clear coats expressive qualities.
In most, the resin has the expected high-gloss finish, but in some, the finish is matte. In one, the nine-part grid composition “Troposphere,” Sullivan mixed the two types, making some panels glossy and others matte, creating a subtle visual effect that’s only noticeable as a viewer moves by the piece. There are other multi-panel pieces here, as well, the most impressive of which is “River Pattern.” In it, horizontally oriented lines “flow” across five vertical panels. The juxtaposition of the vertical panels and the horizontal lines reconciles tension and lyricism.
The appeal of most of the Sullivans lies in their subtlety, but there are a few that are much bolder and pack a bigger visual punch — in particular, “Atmospheric Flow,” in which a blue spiral rises on one side of a variegated green field. It’s very elegant, and without being pejorative, I would add that it’s very decorative, too, as is its cousin, “Atmospheric Flow 2.”
In the small Project Space beyond the office at Goodwin is Paula Gabriel / Highway Ride, an intimate show of works on paper that were inspired by the sights she saw during a road trip. A Connecticut-based artist, Gabriel does paintings that are evocative of the scenery and yet are clearly the result of instinctual gestures and moves as opposed to being attempts to render actual sights she saw on that highway ride. In a way, she combines impressionism with expressionism, making me think of the chain of historic painterly events that runs from Monet through to Cy Twombly. Gabriel’s paintings are very elegant, and this diminutive presentation is the perfect chaser to the Sullivans up front.
Contemporary abstraction is the standard fare over at Space Gallery, and that’s what you’ll find in Patricia Aaron: Fresh, which is installed in the entry gallery. The show comprises half a dozen large paintings done in beeswax, paint and ink. All were done during Aaron’s recent artist residency at the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center on Maui. The experience clearly affected her color choices, as blues and greens, inspired by the ocean, are dominant in these works.
Further, many of them, including “Turtle Cove” and “Pukalani,” feature scattered forms evocative of the vague outlines of boats on the water — or maybe they’re rocks. Aaron’s surfaces are rich, and her method is to layer on thick coats of wax and pigment, which are mixed together. The wax needs to be melted at high temperatures and applied when it’s hot, meaning that paintings can only be worked on for short periods of time, in order to allow them to cool between coats. The results of this process lend all of the Aaron works a pleasing dull sheen as they catch the light.
The Aaron show is both separated from and a part of Beyond the Plane, the group exhibit that unfolds in the gallery’s main space and extends onto the patio and up to the second-floor overlook. In a way, Beyond the Plane can be seen as a series of solos, as each of the five remaining artists is represented in depth, some by even more work than Aaron.
Chief among those is Lewis McInnis, with a section given over to his marvelous post-minimal paintings. A Fort Collins-based artist, McInnis is a master at striking a compromise between hard edges and soft margins, with his grids and other geometric arrangements seeming to collapse in front of our eyes as they work their way across the canvas. Adjacent to these is a selection of pieces by Bay Area artist Howard Hersh, who also plays with geometric structures. In a trio of wall-relief sculptures from his “Skin Deep” series, Hersh builds irrational basswood armatures that jut out here and there, with flat panels on top covered in linear arrangements that refer to, and in some cases extend, the patterns of the armatures.
The show also includes a group of hammered-copper wall sculptures that have been painted and patinated by Denver artist Stephen Shachtman. These pieces take the form of ruffled handkerchiefs or wavy bowls. Shachtman also has three monumental sculptures that are closely related to one another; each takes the form of a rectilinear spire, with small sections hammered into indented shapes that have been filled in with color.
The exhibit ends upstairs, where Kansas artist Duane Noblett’s assemblages are paired with mixed-media paintings by Colorado’s Judy Campbell. The contrast between the two is tremendous. Noblett’s odd works represent a collision of funk art and minimalism, with the results being fairly subtle. But Campbell is all in, with large works and lots of crudely applied pigment that recalls expressionism and graffiti.
The shows at Goodwin and Space put the spotlight on contemporary abstraction, but so do other shows around town right now, including those of Eric Corrigan at Walker Fine Art, Jennifer Davey at Point Gallery, Priscilla Fowler and Jodie Roth Cooper at Mai Wyn Fine Art, and Anna Dvorak at Michael Warren Contemporary. Together they make the point that abstraction has risen from its deathbed of a decade ago to return as a mainstay of contemporary art.
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On another level, these shows — and other summer attractions that aren’t about abstraction, like that over-the-top John Buck exhibit at Robischon — prove that Denver is now on a twelve-month exhibition schedule.
Kimberlee Sullivan and Paula Gabriel
Through September 5 at Goodwin Fine Art, 1255 Delaware Street, 303-573-1255, goodwinfineart.com.
Patricia Aaron and Beyond the Plane
Through September 5 at Space Gallery, 400 Santa Fe Drive, 720-904-1088, spacegallery.org.