Hot and Cool
It's surprising, yet it's all but official: Walker Fine Art has established a place for itself at the main table of contemporary art in Denver. True, it hasn't quite reached the top tier of local venues, but it's only one level down from it -- pretty impressive for an operation that's only in its second year. Walker's success is due entirely to the sweat -- and high spirits -- of owner Bobbi Walker, who is likely to take the gallery even further in the near future.
What makes this success most surprising is that the art market around here is saturated with a head-spinning number of galleries. But even more astounding is that Walker has succeeded despite being marooned in the Prado, one of the most pretentious buildings anywhere, owing to its ridiculous Greco-Vegas design. "Some people have complained about the building," Walker says, "but look at this space!"
She does have a point: The capacious though rough-finished rooms are the perfect setting for contemporary art exhibits. And hideous as it is, the Prado is undeniably well located in the heart of the Golden Triangle, even sharing a block with the firmly established William Havu Gallery. "Scheduling our openings on the same night as Bill Havu's has really helped a lot," Walker notes. "Our traffic has been way up since I started coordinating with him."
Also helping out a lot is the fact that Walker has been booking known local artists, using their good names to attract visitors. Last time it was Jerry Wingren, a regionally famous sculptor; this time she snagged Bill Vielehr, another noteworthy Colorado sculptor. Vielehr is the anchor for Pursuits of Passion, a two-artist show that pairs his sculptures and bas-relief panels with paintings by Christina Chalmers. This is the first local outing for Chalmers, who is almost entirely unknown in Denver.
Vielehr has been a fixture on the art scene since he graduated in 1969 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Colorado State University, where he also did graduate work. In the past three decades, he's created public projects up and down the Front Range -- most of them in Boulder -- as well as across the country. The three largest sculptures at Walker debuted in an outdoor show in Chicago, while other pieces were first exhibited in Berkeley and Santa Fe.
The Vielehrs immediately catch the eye here, since the Walker's front room is almost entirely given over to them. Around the corner is a group of three small wall-hung pieces done in his characteristic style. Made of cast and fabricated bronze, they are closely related and have the same sophisticated patina of golden brown and verdigris. In a sense, these plaques, like all of Vielehr's wall pieces, are three-dimensional corollaries to abstract paintings. Each has a linear, as opposed to volumetric, composition based on the artist's instinctual sense for free association. Once he finds a pleasing arrangement for his simple forms, he welds them into place.
Even cooler are Vielehr's large, flat, monolithic sculptures, which are bigger versions of the same idea. First up is "Human Glyph Series A," a seven-foot-tall abstracted profile of a figure with alternating smooth and rough surfaces. The flattened form is made of cast and fabricated aluminum, which rests on a sheet of thick aluminum placed directly on the floor. The aluminum was left in its natural state except for a slight polish to clean off the welding soot, giving the gorgeous muted silver a dull sheen.
The largest of these works, also made of aluminum, are twelve-foot-tall versions of the "Glyph Series" sculptures. Each has been given the same title -- "3-D Drawings, Glyph Series" -- which is kind of confusing. They'd really look great in an outdoor setting, but they clearly work well indoors, too.
Interspersed with Vielehr's pieces are the paintings by Chalmers, a New York artist who spends part of each year in Provence. The mixed-media works come from several different series and actually look like the efforts of several different artists. The best of the uneven lot is "The Issue Is Passion, II, No. I & II," a silver-on-silver diptych that incorporates calligraphic lines. Other Chalmers paintings involve the figure, either as silhouettes or as evocations suggested only by clothing. The strongest of these, by far, is "Human Divinity #45," in which an outline of a crouching woman is enveloped by a black landscape.
Honestly, I could take or leave the overly romantic Chalmers paintings. On the other hand, I was pretty taken by the Vielehrs. The chance to see his work in depth is what attracted me to the show in the first place, and when I got there, I wasn't disappointed. You won't be, either.
Fresh Art is another gallery that has made a place for itself in the world of Denver art, but, sadly, it's been for naught: Owner Jeanie King has announced that she's closing up shop and moving to Rhode Island. "I'd like to do another gallery some day," King says. "I'd especially like to open one in Santa Fe." She, of course, means Santa Fe, New Mexico, and not Santa Fe Drive in Denver, which is where Fresh Art is for the time being.
Despite the impending closure, a small sculpture garden was just installed between the sidewalk and the street in front of the main entrance, on 11th Avenue. The Mayor's Office of Economic Development paid for this display as part of the ongoing Santa Fe Drive beautification project. The garden is composed of a group of cast-concrete rectangular forms that serve as both sculpture pedestals and planter boxes. A xeric landscape plan has been laid out for the site, but the plants won't be able to go in until March or April.
The sculpture garden allows the current show, Balance, to begin outside. Bolted onto the concrete rectangles are three incredibly elegant welded-steel sculptures by that young three-dimensional wizard David Mazza. It is work like this that makes me say Mazza is one of the greatest sculptors working in the state today. And the most amazing thing about him is that he's only in his early twenties and just got out of art school a couple of years ago.
The three sculptures -- "Stargazer," "Hathos" and "Nebula" -- look as though they might have come from the same series, but they are each actually from separate ones. In "Stargazer," the oldest of the three, all of the elements are straight; in "Hathos," the newest, most of the elements are curved; and in "Nebula," done in between, there's a mix of the ideas expressed in "Stargazer" and in "Hathos." (I'd also like to mention that Mazza is very good at thinking up titles.)
Some may notice a connection between Mazza's work and that of respected Colorado artist Erick Johnson. That's no coincidence: Johnson was Mazza's mentor, both as his high school art teacher and as his sculpture teacher when he was a student at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. Another important influence for Mazza at RMCAD was an experimental-drawing class taught by Ania Gola-Kumar, in which he created the first of his linear sculptures as three-dimensional drawings.
Inside Fresh Art are lots more Mazzas, including his latest pieces, such as "Bes," a cluster of curved, tubular-steel poles precariously balanced on a pyramidal base and finished in dark gun-metal automotive paint. Formally linked to "Bes" are two downright spectacular pieces, "Telefenet" and "Naunet," both made of brushed stainless tubes on pyramid bases.
Though "Bes," "Telefenet" and "Naunet" appear to be full-sized, they're actually only half-scale models. This fact provides a glimpse into Mazza's utterly serious approach to making sculpture. He begins by building a maquette, then creates the initial model at one-quarter scale. Next come the half-scale pieces, such as those seen here, and, finally, full-sized sculptures like those seen outside. Mazza carries out this elaborate progression to work out the engineering in a practical way, as well as to refine the forms.
Mazza's sculptures are installed throughout the multi-room Fresh Art, both on the floor and on pedestals. Displayed on the walls are paintings by Hugh Daly and Brian Borrello and works on paper by Norah Krogman.
Daly is from Texas but relocated to Denver in 1999, and he's shown at Fresh Art several times since then. His lyrical works have a decorative quality, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. In style, they are essentially '50s abstract-expressionist paintings with retro palettes of sunny tones of creamy yellows, milky pinks, juicy oranges and powdery blues.
Borrello lives in Portland, Oregon, and his paintings, like Daly's, are quite decorative. An interesting aspect of the Borrellos is the unlikely material he uses: motor oil. The oil is a dense black that the artist juxtaposes with the white fields of the canvases. Several of these paintings depict abstractions based on natural forms such as twigs and roots, but the neatest one is a spatter painting of motor-oil dots surrounded by halos of acid-green spray paint.
At the end of the show are a handful of Krogman's "Shadow Series" drawings, in which images are laid over one another, creating vaporous pieces in black on white -- or, maybe more accurately, gray on beige. The Krogmans are nice, but they clash with the rest of the show because they're subtle when everything else is bold. Krogman is a well-known Denver artist who's been keeping a low profile for the past couple of years and is better known for her installations than for her works on paper.
Balance is the second-to-last show slated for Fresh Art, which may become the new location for (+) Zeile/Judish. The closing of the gallery makes Balance something of a sentimental favorite, and you should see Fresh Art before it's gone for good. But the real reason to get over there is to see those spectacular Mazzas. That's why I went.
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