The appeal of minimalism, in any of its many stylistic guises, is based on the aesthetic philosophy that less is more -- even when, as in pattern painting, that idea is not strictly honored.
Modern art has embraced the minimal component for nearly a hundred years. It began with the reductivism of cubism and futurism at the beginning of the century, then moved on to constructivism, DeStijl, color-field painting, classic minimalism, mathematical abstraction and others. Today the minimalist concept of simple elegance can be seen in neo-minimalism and its many adherents, clearly one of the front-running styles of the contemporary art world.
Interestingly, Colorado artists have been getting the most from the least since the late 1930s, when Charles Bunnell painted his transcendental abstractions and Guy McCoy did his reductivist still lifes, eliminating details to the max. In the 1940s, there was Herbert Bayer, and in the 1950s and '60s, it was Mary Chenoweth and George Woodman. By the '70s, interest in minimalism had exploded, and many Colorado artists were making paintings and sculptures with hard edges.
Two young artists are among the latest to join the tradition. At the Gallery at Guiry's, Melanie Hoshiko is the subject of Traverse, a chaste and breathtaking solo that shows off her latest painted sculptures. Across town at Artyard, Stephane Gonzalez has installed the stunning Mortal, a suave group of closely associated cast- and painted-concrete sculptures.
Hoshiko, who lives in Loveland, was born in Boulder in 1971. "My folks met at [the legendary Boulder club] Tulagi," she says, adding that to her, there's an ironic twist to this fact: "Today they're conservative Christians."
Despite her mixed heritage -- her father is Japanese-American and her mother is of Northern European extraction -- Hoshiko more clearly relates to the Japanese tradition. She didn't receive these ancestral artifacts directly, however. "My dad's generation, unfortunately, abandoned the old customs, so I wasn't exposed to them at home," she says. Nevertheless, she has long felt that her Japanese heritage was a part of her.
More specific inspirations are clearly visible in her work. Chuck Parson and Clark Richert, two of Colorado's modern masters, "played a huge role for me," she says, noting that she was a student of both artists when she attended the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD). "Chuck gave me the drive to get things done, while Clark let me know it was okay to do this kind of work," says Hoshiko, who graduated in 1998.
As with Parson's work, Hoshiko's sculptures have expressed connections that add a narrative component. But her tightly controlled painting technique and her use of bold color relate back to Richert. And even though Hoshiko brings the two influences together, it's in an individual and idiosyncratic way, and her work looks nothing like theirs. It should be added that Parson's sculptures, though broadly related conceptually, don't look anything like Richert's paintings, either.
Most of Hoshiko's sculptures are wall-hung bas-reliefs, and the few that have been placed on pedestals can also be hung on the walls, according to the artist.
Using wooden boards, Hoshiko creates a series of planes, one in front of another, with every level visible somewhere on the piece. Then she paints each level a different shade. The margins between the forms are also painted their own colors. Thus, many of her sculptures look like paintings, despite being three-dimensional. "That's a big thing for me," she says. "I don't know if I'm a painter or a sculptor. In a sense, everything's flat against the wall. Then I try to get off the wall and get really 3-D, but I go back. And yet I can't just do paintings anymore."
One of the first impressions viewers get from this show -- a gorgeous installation designed and installed by gallery director Jason Thomas -- is Hoshiko's strong sense of color. But the artist has severely limited her palette. "I don't like too many colors," says Hoshiko, who reduced her list of acceptable tints for this show to black and white, the natural shades of the wood, and red and blue.
Using only horizontal and vertical lines and forms, she has created a wide variety of expressions. Across from the entrance, we are inexorably drawn to the horizontal wall sculpture "Split," made of acrylic painted wood. The exaggerated horizontal rectangle is divided into two equal parts. The left side is painted white, the right side black. Running vertically down the center is a construction of thin boards painted black, white and red that project out from the surface.
Hanging alone on the end wall to the right is the powerful "Fault Line." For this large vertical composition, Hoshiko has laid down a background in the form of a red painted board. Mounted slightly in front are six white squares, three running up each side of the piece and set at regular intervals. The edges of the squares that are closest to the center have been painted black. All of Hoshiko's sculptures rely partly on the effect of cast shadows, but "Fault Line" relies on this more heavily than most.
Traverse is an impressive entry by an artist who is just starting out. But so is Gonzalez's Mortal. And the connection is no accident, since Hoshiko cites Gonzalez as being among her muses. Not to be outdone, Gonzalez also salutes Hoshiko. "Melanie and I met years ago," he recalls. "We even once made a piece together."
Born in New York in 1977, Gonzalez, too, is the product of a multicultural family: His mother is from France and his father is from Guatemala. "When they met in New York City, neither of them spoke English, nor did they speak each others' language. They say they communicated only by kissing," Gonzalez says with a laugh. As a result of their language differences, he says, he grew up speaking French, Spanish and English.
When he was four years old, his family moved to Albuquerque, where Gonzalez grew up. At the time, he was already interested in art. "I got interested before kindergarten," he remembers. "I took art classes after school all through elementary, middle and high school. I won a lot of art awards; I even got a piece on a billboard when I was sixteen."
Because of this, his parents were unfazed when he received a scholarship to RMCAD, which he entered in 1996 and graduated from last year. And though his parents were supportive about his choice of an art career, his father wanted him to pursue graphic design, a surer way to financial success than being a fine artist. So Gonzalez entered the graphics program at RMCAD. "I lasted a week in graphics," he says. "I went to Chuck Parson and asked how I could change and become a sculpture major, and then I did it. I like to build things with my hands better than working at a computer."
Like Hoshiko, Gonzalez cites Parson and Richert as his direct mentors. "The weight of Chuck's work inspires me, and his craftsmanship is wonderful," he says. "The same with Clark -- his attention to detail in his paintings is incredible." But, as with Hoshiko's, Gonzalez's work doesn't look like theirs.
His current show is made up of a handful of wall-hung pieces, all of which are closely related. In the middle of the floor, Gonzalez has painted a red square. The square and the red color link all of the works together, but Gonzalez doesn't want the exhibit to be seen as an installation, an art form he has addressed previously.
The small wall-mounted sculptures are in the form of squares and rectangles. Gonzalez had acrylic forms custom-fabricated and then used them to cast cubes or rectangular solids in concrete. "I have a sense for the size I want to use, but the specific dimensions are not a concern for me," he explains.
Despite the use of rectilinear shapes, Gonzalez says the subject of Mortal is the fragility of human life, specifically the medical struggle against dying.
Most of the pieces are concerned with health, but some are dedicated to specific people that Gonzalez has known who have died. In "Untitled #5," he memorializes his grandfather, who died of lung cancer. A pair of small concrete cubes are anchored high on the wall. Coming out of the bottom of each of the cubes is a red string that hangs limply, partly gathered on the floor. Many of the pieces incorporate lengths of red string, which Gonzalez says represent human life.
Another neo-minimal piece with a human subject is "Untitled #6," a rectangular concrete solid that is mounted horizontally. Off the side is a catheter tube that evocatively falls in a graceful arch.
While both of these neo-minimalist shows look forward to the next hundred years, they also, appropriately, look back and pay homage to their shared sources and mentors.
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