In the front room of Pirate: A Contemporary Art Oasis (3659 Navajo Street, 303-458-6058) is the notable solo Telling Fantasies, which features recent paintings and drawings by Denver artist Irene Delka McCray. McCray's style is realistic, and she's thoroughly accomplished technically. She revels in accurate renderings of fabric folds and folded skin, and in the effects of reflected light as it illuminates her figures.

McCray has had a long career, and a painting she did back in the 1980s is now on display at the Denver Art Museum. Recently, DAM curator Dianne Vanderlip related a story to me when we were discussing her most recent project, scene Colorado/sin Colorado. She said that when Alex Katz, a world-renowned contemporary realist, saw the show, he noted that Philip Pearlstein, his chief rival in the field, could learn a thing or two from McCray about conveying light. (I think Katz meant it as a compliment.)

But McCray's polished skills are not the first thing you'll notice about her paintings. No, it's her odd, if not downright disturbing, subject matter that will get your attention. Falling somewhere between odd and disturbing is "Ask Me No More" (above), an oil on canvas in which a heavily tattooed man is kneeling before himself. That's not as creepy as some others, like the one that depicts a wailing woman with a graveyard in the background. The woman is shown suspended over the partially draped corpse of her male lover. These paintings are not pretty, but they are pretty interesting and undeniably well done.

In the Associates' Space is Manor House Races, which is made up of new mixed-media work by Julie Puma. Stylistically, these pieces are neo-pop, and the colors Puma uses -- toned up Day-Glo shades -- also harks back to the '60s. She begins with photo enlargements and finishes them off with scribbles, writing and stenciled printing. Though the imagery she uses looks as if it came from the mass media, it is actually taken from family photos; the writing is taken from letters sent to her father after her mother died of breast cancer. Puma views these paintings as being akin to a diary, stating that she is interested in looking at how her past shaped her present.

These two thoughtful shows at Pirate close on July 11.


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