Though the calendar year starts in January and ends in December, the art calendar starts in September and ends in August. So before the 2011-2012 season gears up, here are a few last gasps of summer — all worth enjoying before they're gone.
At the intimate Sandra Phillips Gallery on Santa Fe Drive, Virginia Maitland: Conversations in Color is dedicated to the longtime Colorado abstractionist. Maitland came of age in the '70s, and, though she has employed a variety of styles, she's best known for her color-field works, in which thin veils of color collide on her canvases. The exhibit's subtitle is an apt one, since Maitland's great strength is as a colorist, and her paintings seem to always comprise large areas of toned-up shades that have been expertly combined into pleasing arrays.
The small solo includes two paintings from the '70s, but everything else was done in the last year or so. Strangely, the earlier works aren't characteristic of her classic approach; rather, these pieces have been heavily painted and are densely composed with labyrinthine bars that look something like printed circuit boards.
As interesting as these older works are, the real attraction is the quartet of color-field compositions. In "Magma Falls," a tilted hourglass shape in a raspberry shade cuts diagonally across the canvas from top right to bottom left. It's surrounded by large passages of dreamy blues in graduated shades; in places, Maitland has painted multiple coats of the same tone, which deepens the color of those shades. Another standout is "Rock Garden," a stack of dropping arcs of various colors arranged vertically. The other two color-field compositions, "Blue Billow" and "Spiral Arms," are also knockouts.
While you're on Santa Fe, cross the street and check out the two good-looking shows at Space Gallery. These exhibits have a nice resonance with Maitland's outing, because the artists on display share a painterly technique, even if they each forged their own individual path to get there. Seeing all three creates an ad hoc group show.
In the main gallery at Space is the duet Dissection & Deregulation: Michael Burnett and Lewis McInnis. The abstract paintings by the two artists work beautifully together, although the respective results have little in common with each other.
The Scottish-born Burnett, who owns Space, is known for his pared-down abstractions. He prefers smooth surfaces with a ground accented by repeated motifs, including lines, either sagging or soaring, and leaf-like shapes. His work strikes a balance between minimalism and patterning. For this new body of paintings, Burnett has looked back at the various approaches he's embraced and combined them into a singular vision. In that sense, they reminded me conceptually of Herbert Bayer's "Anthology" paintings, done at the end of his life, wherein he sampled previous interests and combined them in such a way that new work was created that referenced the older compositions.
In Burnett's five paintings here — which represent the Dissection part of the title, says gallery assistant Meghan Force — there is an exaggeratedly horizontal format; even the two smaller ones are fairly large, being four feet across. The compositions are divided by hard-edged vertical lines. Between the lines, which are unevenly spaced, Burnett has filled in the areas with the different kinds of arrangements he's done over the years. It's amazing to note how consistent he's been over time; the various types of work are thoroughly compatible with each other. Burnett's palette, which tends toward earthy and quiet shades, is also notable, with the different colored grounds lining up wonderfully.
The other half of Dissection & Deregulation is given over to McInnis, who lives in northern Colorado. I first saw his work at Space some years ago and was immediately impressed. Though he shares equal billing with Burnett in this exhibit, he's really the chief attraction — if only because he's showing more than two dozen pieces, plus even more small studies, and thus takes over a good three-quarters of the gallery.
Aside from the studies, some of which are cartoons with representational images on them, most of the work is what McInnis is known for: geometric abstractions that are rendered as blurry and smeary instead of crisp and tight, as is more common with this kind of work. The show includes nearly twenty small works done in gouache on board; in them, McInnis lays out his compositional interests, which involve striking lines and then filling in the area created where they cross with different colors. This is essentially the same formula he uses in the larger oil-on-canvas paintings, but the smaller gouaches have a broader range and are typically more complex formally than their bigger cousins.
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Those oils are fabulous and show off the artist's skill at combining colors and developing pleasing and asymmetrical compositions. These larger paintings adhere to a rigid horizontal/vertical format, unlike the gouaches and studies, which do not. The palettes McInnis employs define each painting, but when you look closely, you find that they all comprise the same shades. McInnis has simply altered the amount of each color he uses, making "Stripper I," for example, take on a tomato-soup red and dusky purple color, while "Realignment 2," which has all the same tones, looks mostly sky blue.
Paired with Dissection & Deregulation is William Stoehr: Masks & Mirrors, a major show of portraits installed in the large, double-height back gallery. Stoehr, who had worked for National Geographic on its worldwide mapping project for most of his career, turned to painting full-time just a few years ago. His works are nominally representational; in this case, he fills the canvases with enormous portraits of women's faces. However, his painterly techniques originate in abstraction, and his lively surfaces are covered in scuffs, rub-outs, smears and runs of pigment. To create his pieces, Stoehr uses charcoal and acrylic paint that he applies — or removes — with everything from brushes and sponges to sandpaper, steel wool, knives and rags.
The resulting paintings are dark and moody, with lots of black and metallic silver, which gives them an unusual luminosity, like moonlight, that's especially noticeable as they catch or absorb the light, depending on the color. The women's faces — one per panel — are cropped close so that their hair, especially on the tops of their heads, is cut out, making the features of their faces the dominant part of the pictures. Apparently, Stoehr begins with a drawing that he then covers with paint. In a few, he goes in again with charcoal in order to clarify the details of the portraits. Taken all together, the show is gorgeous and stopped me in my tracks as I entered the back gallery at Space.
The high temperatures in recent days hardly hint at the seasonal changes to come, but come they will. So before the fall attractions start, cool off in the air-conditioned glory of these shows, the last of the art world's summer treats, at Sandra Phillips and Space.