Penelope Caldwell is a great-looking solo in the front room of Space Gallery (765 Santa Fe Drive, 720-904-1088). On the south wall are a couple of large paintings Caldwell did in 2005 when she lived in San Francisco; opposite them are a series of more recent oil-on-paper paintings that she completed after moving to Laramie, Wyoming, a year or so ago.
The earlier paintings (pictured) are expressionistic versions of classic realism. Very traditional is Caldwell's use of high contrast between the luminous handling of the main figure -- a nude woman in both -- and the darkness of just about everything else. Her drafting and technique are loose, with some parts of the compositions being realistic while others are little more than scribbles, smears, and even some drips.
This informal painterly method is carried over into Caldwell's more recent pieces, but the pigments have been applied more sparingly, so that much of the white paper shows through to the surface. I especially liked the way she controlled the paint, with some places showing evidence of masking. Also nice was her leaving in the faint pencil lines that define her subjects.
All of these paintings are unified into a tightly focused group thanks to the freewheeling style, the shared subject of a full-frontal nude, and the beautiful and effective shadowboxes in which they're framed. Despite the topic, they're more confrontational than erotic, as seen in "Lynn and Fifi," in which the subject and her little dog seem to be glaring at us for looking at them.
The Caldwell show, which is really great, is paired with Sky Patterson, a solo featuring a Texas artist who is also interested in the nude figure. Patterson was a protegé of American Indian artist Fritz Scholder, and you can certainly see that influence in these paintings, especially in the rich, dark palettes.
Both Penelope Caldwell and Sky Patterson have been open since the beginning of the month, but a reception for the artists will be held this Friday, February 23, from 6 to 9 p.m. The shows close on March 17.
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