To make a sweeping generalization, all art has to do with nature, because it is, at its core, an extension of the human hand, eye or brain. But some artists go further in expressing this underpinning by either literally or figuratively referring to natural processes or settings. This is what links the three extremely disparate solos now on view at Space Gallery. Though each artist takes a highly individual and even idiosyncratic path to arrive at his or her respective ends, all three bring in the laws of nature in some way.
Most of the main front room is given over to the cerebral expressionist pattern paintings in Patterns With Purpose & Labyrinths: New Paintings by Paul Ecke.
To make these paintings, Ecke, who lives in Southern California, uses a boring bit to drill through panels, creating grid-like arrangements of circles. He then paints the insides and fills the space with rounds of painted materials, which are laid in so that the circumferences get smaller toward the surface, creating what look like hardware connections on a battered machine. But the industrial method and quality are offset by the abstract-expressionist grounds on which they are imposed. Cutting through the board and filling the void subliminally convey Ecke's own struggle with illness, which, according to gallery director Michael Burnett, is what these paintings are a response to.
Though the works in this show, taken from his "Patterns With Purpose" series, are fairly coherent and closely related, Ecke does work in a variety of styles, including a kind of neo-pop and a cartoony realism. And, as illustrated by the many paintings in the "Patterns With Purpose" series, he is obviously a workaholic. These Ecke paintings are gorgeous, and, taken together, they command the room.
In the space beyond, there's New Paintings by Ryan Anderson, featuring recent work that shows off a number of different directions this Colorado artist is going. Anderson was originally trained as a ceramicist, even doing a stint at the prestigious Archie Bray Foundation in Montana. But several years ago he turned to painting — or at least what he calls painting — and has adapted a number of ceramic methods to the medium. As a touchstone to the work for which Anderson is known, there's the diminutive "Bombay Moon Revisited," a wall-mounted dome that's covered with circular blobs of paint whose arrangement recalls scales on a reptile's skin. To do it, Anderson adapted the pâte-sur-pâte method from ceramics to lift the paint from a flat surface and apply it to the curved one of the finished piece.
There are also a few all-over abstractions in which Anderson has exploited the fluid quality of the paint and the way it cracks and creates patterns when it dries. To get the paint to do what he wants, Anderson swings the works over his head so that the paint moves and even flies, or, alternately, hits them from the back to create other visual effects.
The most unusual paintings in the show are three that attempt to bridge the gap between hard-edged pattern painting and contemporary realism. In "It's Go Time," Anderson has created what he sees as a hypothetical DNA sequence of colored squares. On top of this pattern, he has imposed a sketchy cartoon of a woman's eyes and what might be smears of lipstick. The result is very strange, which also makes it look very new. One subtle aspect of these paintings are the vertical bars that look printed but are actually the product of Anderson's, in the spirit of Vance Kirkland, having mixed oil and water, which inevitably separate as they dry.
In the dramatic double-height space in the back, New Paintings by Buff Elting brings together paintings of wildfires and clouds that mark something of a new direction for the Boulder-based painter. In the past, Elting has recorded the landscape of Colorado based on views seen from airplanes. In this group of paintings, she is looking up at the sky, not down at the land. And her palette is more naturalistic than it's been in the past, where bright and sometimes unnatural shades were used. The strong pinks and rich blues in these cloud paintings accurately convey the look of the sky at dawn or dusk, even if she has exaggerated the contrasts a little.
Elting began this series with a charcoal drawing of a fire that she had done years ago and that she had kept on display in her home. But recently, the drawing sparked an insight that led her to create this recent body of work. Though Elting easily conveys her subjects — smoke or clouds — there's an abstract aspect to the depiction, which is very expressive, made more so by the many running drips of paint found along the bottom of some of the paintings. This is a very effective device that separates these paintings from the neo-traditional Western realm and puts them firmly in the contemporary-realist camp.
The Elting clouds provide the perfect segue to the impressive Growth & Gravity, at Goodwin Fine Art, which pairs the nature-based bronzes of Denver's Yoshitomo Saito with landscape photos by California's Linda Connor; the two artists are friends.
Saito's work is unusual. He takes things found in nature — roots, branches, rocks — and then casts them in bronze so that their most obscure details are preserved. This leads to hyper-realist renditions based on the original materials. But here's where the interesting part comes in: Although these works are super-realistic, Saito isn't a realist but a conceptual artist, and his pieces look more like abstraction, or even minimalism.
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This aesthetic can be seen in "Riprap," which was partly inspired by a 1959 Beat poem written by Gary Snyder. Saito, who grew up in Japan, was first exposed to the Beats when he read Jack Kerouac's On the Road as a teenager, but he only became aware of Snyder after moving to California. The word "riprap" refers to rocks used to control erosion. The installation "Riprap" was created right after Saito moved to Colorado six years ago as a way of connecting with his new home. He gathered stones and then cast them in bronze, finishing them in a rich brown patina that looks like the color of some rocks. The rocks are arranged in a grid that's three feet high and twenty feet long. I loved it.
Connor is famous for her photographs of sacred places around the world. Her classic work was done in large-format contact prints, but with the bankruptcy of Kodak, the photo-sensitive paper she used is no longer available, so she, like just about everyone else, has switched to digital printing. The Connor photos in Growth & Gravity record the rugged landscape. Some are set in exotic locales like India and Zimbabwe, but most are in the American West, including Colorado. The compositions are classic and recall the work of nineteenth-century photographers. But the presentation is very contemporary, with the photos left unframed and held to the wall by a magnet system, along with a couple that have been printed on gauzy silk and hung from rods with exuberant finials in bronze made by Saito.
Goodwin Fine Art is relatively new, having just celebrated its first anniversary this month, but with shows like Growth & Gravity, it's apparently becoming an important spot that's worth regularly checking out.