Western art and contemporary art would seem to be mutually exclusive, but they're not. There are many artists in the area who combine the two sensibilities to create what's called -- you guessed it -- contemporary Western art. This type of work has gotten a big boost from the Denver Art Museum, which is displaying it in a prominent place in the new Frederic C. Hamilton Building. As I hardly need to tell you, this sets an example that gets other institutions and private collectors more interested.
That's the context in which to view the solo Don Coen, at the William Havu Gallery (1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360). Seeing this show makes for a very important outing.
Coen, who is in his seventies, was born in Lamar and now lives in Boulder. During a four-decade-long career, he's emerged as one of the acknowledged masters of contemporary Western painting. The Havu show is impressive and takes over the entire first floor. It's mostly made up of large, airbrushed pictures that capture farming and ranching scenes with the accuracy of photographs.
When you look at the surface of a Coen painting, his idiosyncratic approach to picture-making reveals itself. Coen pencils in the scene, then airbrushes it with pigments, and then goes in a final time with pencil to sharpen the details. It's hard to believe he's able to use all of these abstract marks to convey a hyperrealist rendering of a recognizable scene, but that's what he does.
Coen loves animals, and many of the paintings at Havu involve cows or horses. But they aren't cliched depictions recalling the old West; instead, they have a very up-to-date cinematic quality. For example, in "Holyoke Ponies" (pictured), the horses are captured head-on, as if up on a movie screen.
It's rare to see Coen's work in Denver; I can't remember when he last had a solo in town. That makes it worth the effort to catch the exhibit at Havu before it comes to a close on April 6, which is just a couple of weeks away.
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