There's something about abstraction that keeps it keeping on, despite a fairly successful assault from postmodernism's conceptual realism that posits a sharp rejoinder to abstraction's decorative tendencies. And sure, painting itself has long been said to be dead -- particularly a style as quaint as abstract painting -- but it's still going strong, and at any given time, there are more than a few exhibits around town that promote that quintessentially modern sensibility.
For its spring group show, Robischon Gallery is presenting Current, with more than a dozen distinctive versions of contemporary abstraction. Robischon has made a specialty of highlighting abstract art, but the gallery has also been the local leader in displaying conceptual realism.
The show begins with a series of six related lithographs done by the legendary and justly revered painter Ellsworth Kelly. If you think of Kelly as one of the greats of the boldly colored, hard-edged, post-painterly persuasion, as I do, these moody and expressive reactions to rivers in black ink on white paper will be quite a surprise. Though not a doctrinaire minimalist -- his shaped canvases lend a baroque quality to his classic oeuvre -- Kelly obviously comes out of the minimalist ethos, while these prints at Robischon seem positively abstract-expressionist, the precisely opposite stylistic pole.
To a certain extent, each of these lithographs looks like all the others, but they're also obviously different from one another. In "States of the River: The Mississippi," horizontal striations are cross-cut by diagonal lines, suggesting, I guess, the river's notoriously slow movement. "States of the River: The Nile," on the other hand, is almost entirely covered with horizontally oriented marks alluding to its swifter flow. These Kelly prints may be surprisingly gestural, but there's no surprise in how elegant they are; that's the artist's signature characteristic.
Also elegant are the diptychs by Kris Cox, who lives in Basalt. In these mixed-media paintings that refer both to minimalism and abstract expressionism, Cox balances two identically sized panels lined up next to each other, one done in lead and the other in colored wax. The materials themselves form an obvious contrast, but the gorgeous surfaces share a sense of luxury. These pieces are dedicated to different artists, such as Joan Mitchell, Brice Marden, Kurt Schwitters and Chuck Close, even though they all look essentially the same. The paintings at Robischon give you a taste of what Cox's work is all about; if you'd like to partake in a full meal, take a drive to the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, where his solo is running for the next few weeks.
Aspen artist Brad Miller, who is famous for his ceramic and wooden sculptures, is represented by an unusual series of digital photos. Conceptually, they continue Miller's multimedia examination of natural structures. For these pieces, taken from his "Bubble Shadows" series, he placed bubbles directly onto film, which he then exposed to a strobe light. The result is a variety of effects, from those that look like rocks to others that look like patterns or structures.
Another standout is the colorful work by Chris Gallagher, a British-born artist working in New York. His paintings are covered with arching stripes in bright colors, à la op art. I was surprised to learn that Gallagher works in old-fashioned oil on canvas, because these pieces struck me as digital prints with digitally derived compositions.
Denver artist Trine Bumiller does something completely different, using nature and the natural world as inspirations for her multi-part abstract assemblages. Her only piece in the show is the monumental "Vox," which stands over ten feet tall. The installation is mostly carried out in earth tones, including deep reds, browns, blues and lighter green and cream. Climbing the walls are abstracts based on land and water, leaves and trees, and, finally, the sky. "Vox" is clearly a continuation of the work Bumiller's been doing over the past decade or so.
Current also includes a sort of mini-solo devoted to California artist Jamie Brunson. Her colors are bold, bright and somewhat retro, and the paintings are often reminiscent of color-field compositions from the second half of the twentieth century. She tweaks that tradition, however, by covering her paintings with subtle and loosely arranged patterns. The six Brunsons at Robischon work great together and make a big contribution to the mood of the show.
The same could be said about the work of another artist who is seen in some depth, Gary Komarin, whose paintings involve pointedly dumb-looking elements, sometimes faces, isolated among haphazardly painted passages. It's an unlikely combination for success, but somehow Komarin pulls it off. Perfectly matched with his enigmatic paintings are the oddly shaped wall sculptures by Boulder's Scott Chamberlin, which have organic shapes and are finished in subtle glazes, with their sexually evocative forms actually based on trimmed bushes.
There is a free-for-all quality to Current, but I was impressed with how good it is. It got me thinking about the exhibition's title, which I take to be a double entendre, considering what's been brought together in the show. These abstracts are not only "current" in the sense of being of the here and now, but they also represent this or that stylistic "current" in which abstract art is presently flowing.
Continuing the conversation about contemporary abstraction is Laura Fayer, at Rule Gallery. The lyrical Fayers would look perfect in the Robischon show, so this presentation makes a great companion exhibit. The Rule show is Fayer's debut in Denver; the artist, who is a graduate of Harvard University and of Hunter College, where she earned her MFA, lives in New York City.
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A key component in Fayer's pieces are the custom-made painting tools she fashions, including stencils and rubber stamps, that allow her to repeat certain elements in her compositions. These devices are essential to her method and are often employed to paint the lines or bars used extensively in most of the paintings. Some also have lines drawn in colored pencil. The lines, whether stenciled, stamped or drawn, especially the ones that are done in horizontal stacks, provide the paintings with clearly delineated structures that define her pictorial spaces. These lines are often arranged in parallel blocks, whether they're straight or meandering.
There is a Japanesque quality to many of Fayer's paintings -- for example, the wonderful, "Excavation," in acrylic and rice paper on canvas. The way the colors are broken in fragments and the composition itself are reminiscent of a Japanese block print. "Excavation" is one of the older paintings in the show; the more recent ones are simple and less Japanesque. Fayer notes in her artist statement that she is interested in the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi, which roughly translates as je ne se quoi. Fayer's interest in Japan and its aesthetics is not incidental: She lived there as a child.
Fayer's colors are marvelous, with lots of cream as well as strong tones that remind me of the lovely shades seen in a midsummer garden -- or maybe in dresses at a garden party. These spring shades reinforce the undeniably feminine mood of the paintings and the atmosphere of the gallery. Owner Robin Rule said that after such a tough winter, with all the snow, she thought everyone was ready for something sunny and bright -- like these Fayer paintings.
The Fayer show has been quite a success for the Rule Gallery from a business standpoint, with many of the affordably priced paintings flying off the walls and into the hands of collectors. With only a little over a week left to catch it, there's no time to lose.