“Fossicking Sticks” sculptures from Spinifex and salty trails: Judith Grey at Pirate.EXPAND
“Fossicking Sticks” sculptures from Spinifex and salty trails: Judith Grey at Pirate.
Laura Phelps Rogers

Review: Two Pirate Shows Explore House and Garden

In a reversal of the setup at the longtime Navajo Street location, visitors enter the Pirate gallery in Lakewood through the associates’ space, so that the solos by associate members are now the first thing they see. This time that solo is the severely handsome Spinifex and salty trails: Judith Grey, which comprises simple conceptual sculptures that Grey has made of altered found objects or things that have been repurposed. The space has been sparely installed with an irregular rhythm of vertical rod sculptures mounted with handsome hardware brackets attached to the walls; these sculptures are from Grey’s “Fossicking Sticks” series, named after Australian slang for a walking stick that’s used for beach combing. Though Grey lives in Colorado, she's from New Zealand, where spinifex is a coastal grass.

The “fossicking sticks” pointedly reference domesticity, in particular house cleaning, because they’ve been made out of household objects such as mops, brooms, pool nets and brushes. The sculptures retain their familiar appearance, which evokes their intended use; however, Grey undercuts any thoughts of these sculptures fulfilling their original mandates as tools by altering them in such a way as to subvert their usefulness. She haas cut in or in some other way altered the functional head of the device to minimize it, leaving mostly the wooden pole-handle elements, an elegant minimalist form that dominates the entire suite of sculptures.

The tension between the recognizably humble origin of the materials used to make the pieces and the almost Brancusi-like elegance of the simple forms is thoughtfully presented, making this exhibit very compelling.

“Attraction #1”, chair, moss, wire, plastic, from Laura Phelps Rogers: Enchanted at Pirate.EXPAND
“Attraction #1”, chair, moss, wire, plastic, from Laura Phelps Rogers: Enchanted at Pirate.
Laura Phelps Rogers

The theme of domesticity continues in the members' show in the main gallery. In Laura Phelps Rogers: Enchanted, the artist brings in objects that call to mind the outdoors in order to create what could be called a garden room, but also has the gothic quality of a grotto. As in a classical grotto, she uses indoor pieces, such as found antique furniture and architectural elements, that have been rusticated, as though they were meant to live outdoors. And to even further convey the sense of an indoor arcadia, Rogers has distributed bare branches, dried flowers and even fresh flowers around the space.

As you enter, the first vignette that catches your eye is an old armchair, in which the traditional tuck-and-roll upholstery has been covered in dried moss; it looks like a throne sitting in a fairy-tale room in the woods. Alighting on the chair and “flying” around it are oversized, ready-made plastic butterflies. Although this piece is full-sized as it is, Rogers tells me that she can imagine it as a model for a monumental outdoor sculpture, thirty or forty feet tall, and cast in bronze. In fact, Rogers sees many of this show's components serving as models for public-art proposals, even though almost everything is made from an appropriated object that’s already pretty large.

Install view of Laura Phelps Rogers: Enchanted at Pirate.EXPAND
Install view of Laura Phelps Rogers: Enchanted at Pirate.
Laura Phelps Rogers

A good example of this is the old front door, its window panel replaced by a digitally altered view of the sky; Rogers has suspended the door from the ceiling in the middle of the room. A similar concept is carried out in a salvaged double window in which glass panes have been replaced with a digitally printed photo of the almost cloudless sky. For Rogers, the view locates her installation specifically in Colorado: The artist, a Denver native, is pointedly interested in linking her work to the established art traditions of the American West. Using these views of the sky as touchstones, she sees her work as an extension of the depiction of the Western landscape.

The weirdest passage in the installation — and believe me, there are several weird moments in Enchanted — are the rows of cast-iron rabbits that have been dipped in chocolate and are displayed on large rollers on an industrial shelf. As the chocolate ages, it’s getting a whitish tinge to it.

Totally baroque, this show is very different from Grey's, which is utterly simple. Yet the theme of home, in the house or in the garden, links them, at least subliminally. Both are on view through May 6 at Pirate Contemporary Art, 7130 West 16th Avenue, Lakewood, 720-601-0966, pirateartonline.org.

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