The current exhibit in the main space at Pirate: A Contemporary Art Oasis (3659 Navajo Street, 303-458-6058) has the somewhat poetic and thoroughly pretentious title of Precious Beyond. The show pairs well-known Denver painters Irene Delka McCray and Paul Gillis.
McCray's subjects -- aging, sacrifice, suffering, angst and death -- make her paintings very hard to look at. And the garish colors she uses, from the hottest reds and oranges to the coolest blues and greens (sometime in the same painting) only make matters worse.
A lot easier to take are the bizarre works by Gillis. These smallish paintings are unusual in many ways, not the least of which is that they've been done in watercolors. Gillis is an expert at watercolor painting, tightly controlling the seemingly uncontrollable medium and even producing hard edges with the runny-by-definition pigments; his technical flourishes include a muted but vibrant palette.
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Another unusual feature of his work is the iconography. Gillis conjures up ghosts, robots, cryptic imaginary writing, plants and figures, with results that are a little creepy but also somewhat whimsical. This simultaneously heavy-handed and lighthearted quality is seen in spades in "To Be With You in Hell" (above).
Comic strips have been a longtime source of inspiration for Gillis, part of a generation of artists who came on the scene in the 1970s. This group rejected abstraction and instead embraced conventionalized versions of recognizable things -- like the images seen in the comics.
In the Associates' Space is Low Brow Beautiful (a much better title than Precious Beyond, by the way), which features unusual works by promising emerging artist Jason Miracle, who also references comic strips. The best of these are the new figural pattern paintings (some of them X-rated), which are very clever and about a thousand times better than the kinds of things Miracle was exhibiting a year ago.
Precious Beyond and Low Brow Beautiful are both open through April 6 at Pirate.