Critical Focus: Ian Fisher. This show, located in the informal Whole Room at MCA Denver, is made up of a group of mostly monumental paintings of the sky. It's the type of thing that has become the artist's signature. Though Fisher begins with photographs of clouds used as studies, the resulting compositions, though photographically accurate in their details, are clearly painted and not mechanical reproductions. Fisher has eliminated any reference to the ground — in essence, freeing the sky element of a classic landscape painting from its moorings — and that provides just enough frisson to give the traditionally painted renditions of clouds a contemporary feel. And though they all share the same formal vocabulary, the palettes of the paintings are diverse, reflecting the different atmospheric conditions each depicts. The show was curated by the MCA's Nora Burnett Abrams, who has laudably been mining the local scene to find subjects for museum shows — as she did with Fisher — and in the process giving them a breakthrough opportunity to promote their talents. Through April 13 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, mcadenver.org.
Emilio Lobato and Emmett Culligan. The main attraction at Havu right now is Emilio Lobato: The Measure of a Man, a major exhibit that comprises more than sixty works (most of them new) and covers the walls on both levels of the gallery. With the preponderance of bright tones in these pieces — as opposed to the dark shades that characterized much of Lobato's oeuvre of the past decade — you'd never guess that they are his attempt to deal with feelings of loss and inadequacy that came about when his wife died recently. That reality explains the artist's liberal use of rulers, yardsticks, tape measures and other devices, which are used to determine length and also nod to the exhibit's subtitle.
Had he measured up? In a sense, Lobato answered the question through his works, neo-modern wall reliefs with constructivist compositions. Emmett Culligan: New Works fills up the main level's open floor space with mostly large sculptures. These new pieces, in metal and stone, are obviously the heirs of the Culligan sculpture sited just outside the front door. Through April 19 at William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360, williamhavugallery.com. Reviewed March 13.
Matthew Christie and Valerie Hammond. Goodwin Fine Art is participating in Mo'Print, the Month of Printmaking (which straddles March and April), by presenting two strong solos that include prints but are not limited to them. In the handsome front space, there's Matthew Christie: Spiritus Arbor (Tree Spirit), featuring recent work by this longtime Colorado printer and painter. Christie's theme is the tree, so it's not surprising to see depictions of twigs used as compositional anchors in the pieces that make up Spiritus Arbor. For Christie, trees express profound dichotomies, including life and death and heaven and earth, as well as a raft of other meanings. The nature theme continues in Valerie Hammond: Print Work, installed in the intimate back spaces. Hammond, who hails from New York, looks at flowers in lithographs, woodcuts, photo-based pieces, and even a watercolor. In a handful, the blossoms are used to carry out the figure. The Christie and Hammond pieces are compatible, sharing a similar quiet appeal. Through April 12 at Goodwin Fine Art, 1255 Delaware Street, 303-573-1255, goodwinfineart.com. Reviewed April 3.
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Open Press. The Month of Printmaking—this year dubbed Mo'Print —is held in even-numbered years in March, and this year it has spilled into April. It alternates with the well-established Month of Photography, which is presented in odd-numbered years. Among the organizers of Mo'Print is Mark Lunning, one of the state's best-known printers. It makes sense, then, that the marquee event would celebrate Lunning's vast achievements — hence the impressive and gigantic Open Press: Celebrating 25 Years of Printmaking. Lunning chose thirty artists who had made deep commitments to Open Press over the years and gave each of them an individual section. And he included another twenty artists whose work is represented in various portfolios he's organized. In addition to being an artisan who executes the work of others, Lunning is an artist himself and included his own work — notably, the prints from his "Urban Garden" series, in which he combines abstractions of plants with simplified structural forms evocative of buildings. It turns out that this accounting of Lunning's output as a master printer also charts the development of contemporary art in greater Denver over the past quarter-century; it's a who's-who of local contemporary painters. Through April 27 at the McNichols Building, 144 West Colfax Avenue, 720-865-4303, artsandvenuesdenver.com. Reviewed March 20.