Two respected Denver artists, Dan Ragland and Bill Stockman, offer more reasons to respect them, with new work displayed in separate exhibits at the Grant Gallery.
Most of Ragland's somber, mixed-media pieces started out as Polaroids. Although the original photo images remain fairly true, Ragland enlarges them to mural size through computer imaging, then alters the enlargements using spray fixes, wet and dry pigments, dyes and paints to make additions, and wire brushes and steel-wool pads to make subtractions. Except for two that depict the same female model, all are portraits--often nude ones--of Ragland himself.
Though the enlargements reveal Ragland to be in tip-top, beefcake-worthy physical condition, his aim is not to create male pinups of himself, but rather to explore his own suffering and even his own future death. And if the viewer somehow misses the theme, "Posthumous Self-Portrait" clearly makes the point. This piece is more than just reminiscent of the antique formal portraits of the dead in their coffins; it actually looks like that type of photography that was all the rage in the turn-of-the-century Midwest. Placed off-center in the picture, Ragland is apparently in a state of permanent repose, his eyes closed and his face expressionless. Three large flowers lie on the pillow next to his head. They are as black as shadows and already losing their petals.
Preceding death, there is suffering. In "XOXO," the shirtless Ragland is suspended from a pulley fixed to the ceiling; blurs on either side convey the movement of his flailing arms. Both "Figure With Fan" and "Figure With Chair" capture Ragland mid-leap. The effect is ghostly and creates the suggestion of flames.
In "Balcony," Ragland sits nude in a chair facing the viewer, his eyes crossed and other details of his body covered. All of this inaction takes place on a black-and-white tile floor, a dominant aspect of the foreground's design; an ambiguous view spreads beyond the balcony of the title. Although almost all of Ragland's work here is very good, "Balcony" stands out as one of the most elegantly conceived pieces.
Also very elegant is Bill Stockman's quirky series of small, untitled drawings executed in thick black conte crayon on translucent vellum. In the framing, the vellum has been floated to reveal its margins, underscoring the delicacy of the drawings as objects. Stockman's draftsmanship also reveals a delicate touch. By marking the same line over and over, he creates a tentative quality that stands in contrast to the boldness of his strokes.
Even so, it is difficult to determine what Stockman's getting at in this work. The drawings make little sense in any ordinary way. One depicts a nude man with a huge head and large eyes where his hands and feet should be; another reveals a nude man bending over a severed head. And what about the male nude with bound hands, writhing in ecstasy?
While Ragland and Stockman focus primarily on the nude male figure, neither produces anything that might be considered erotic. The disturbing situations Ragland conjures up, and the bizarre ones Stockman captures, give the viewer little opportunity to ponder the pleasures of the flesh.
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