"Space," by Dale Chisman, oil on canvas.
"Space," by Dale Chisman, oil on canvas.

Unseasonably Hot

Is it just me, or does it seem like the art world is the midst of high season?

Nearly everywhere there's some exhibit that's worth taking in -- and that's really weird because the season should be shutting down for the summer. Ordinarily, June, July and August are the least important months for art shows, with the most significant exhibits shown in the fall and winter. But that pattern has clearly not manifested itself this time: Instead of kicking back for the dog days, the museums, art centers and galleries are kicking butt.

Just think about it.


Dale Chisman: New Paintings and Bob Koons and Quintin Gonzalez

Dale Chisman: New Paintings
Through June 26, Rule Gallery, 111 Broadway, 303-777-9473

Bob Koons and Quintin Gonzalez
Through June 18, Sandy Carson Gallery, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-8585

The Denver Art Museum is presenting scene Colorado/sin Colorado, made up of selections from the modern and contemporary department's permanent collections. The show, organized by curator Dianne Vanderlip, is a veritable who's who of the state's most prominent artists, including Matt O'Neill, Martha Daniels, Scott Chamberlin, Tracy Felix and Jeff Starr. Some have complained that the work is old, but that's to be expected, because the show highlights pieces acquired during the last quarter-century.

Newer work will be displayed in Repeat Offenders, which is opening next weekend at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture. Put together by Simon Zalkind, it includes recent work by several artists who also appear in the DAM show, such as Roland Bernier and Stephen Batura. But Zalkind hasn't limited himself to established talents, as Vanderlip necessarily did; he's laudably included a smattering of young upstarts, such as Jason Patz. At +Zeile Judish, Emmett Culligan, Colin Livingston and Bruce Price are among the bevy of contemporary artists in State of the Union.

Older regional art is featured in The Painter's Eye at David Cook. This show includes many of the most important artists active in the West during the first half of the twentieth century, including such Colorado masters as tonalist Charles Partridge Adams and modernist Ethel Magafan.

Important group shows aren't the only attractions around. There are also some heavy-duty solos. Bernier is really out there, not only at the DAM and Mizel, but also in a major exhibit at Fresh Art that's set to close on June 4. Phil Bender, who's in the DAM show, just shut down his annual outing at Pirate. Then there's Sushe Felix, also in the DAM show, and Aaron Karp, both of whom are being feted at William Havu, while John Buck and Manuel Neri are ensconced at Robischon. And don't forget the major retrospective dedicated to the late David Rigsby at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art.

See what I mean? And I haven't even gotten around to mentioning that Dale Chisman is the subject of a spectacular show at Rule, and Bob Koons and Quintin Gonzalez are paired in individual exhibits at Sandy Carson -- so that's what I'll talk about now.

It's no exaggeration to say that Dale Chisman is one of the most important painters in the history of Colorado. Though he spent much of his adult life in New York, he was born here in 1943 and grew up in west Denver. He studied with two of the late great ones back in the '60s, Martha Epp and Mary Chenoweth, and because of their influence, his work is steeped in the state's unique mid-century-modernist traditions. Underscoring his place in our region is his 1965 BFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

When Chisman came back from the Big Apple in the mid-'80s, he immediately emerged as an art star and became what could be called the dean of Denver modernists. Chisman has earned his fine reputation by presenting one great show after another -- and he's done it again with the drop-dead-gorgeous Dale Chisman: Recent Paintings, which is currently midway through its run at the Rule Gallery.

The show starts off with a bang: "Cake 2," an oil on canvas, is, to say the least, striking. Chisman has put a group of organic shapes in the middle of a white ground, then obscured them with a loopy red scribble that almost entirely covers the surface of the canvas. Though "Cake 2" looks very different for a Chisman, it's still obviously his. There's the use of automatism, and there's the tremendous skill for instinctively assembling forms in an invariably perfect asymmetrical balance.

"Cake 2" represents one of two kinds of Chisman paintings here. In this first group, they are covered with nets of scribbled paint, suggesting webs, roots and nests -- all things found in nature. Entering the main space, there are other paintings of this type, including the luscious "Cake," an oil on canvas done in a very smart-looking palette dominated by lipstick pink and khaki olive, and "History Part 12," an oil on linen that is the piece in the show most closely related to Chisman's earlier work. In fact, it would look great if it were hanging next to "The Ring," an oil on linen from 1989 currently on display at the DAM.

The other style of Chisman's paintings being shown at Rule also features scribbles on top, but the loopy lines are firmly held in check by a boldly colored vertical bar placed to one side. Sometimes Chisman allows the scribbles to run over the bars, as in the marvelous oil-on-canvas "Cross Tide 3," but in other cases, such as the elegant oil-on-canvas "Plane," the bars have been painted on top. In "Space," it's a little of both.

One of the most memorable features of the exhibit is its cohesiveness; all the paintings working beautifully together. If that wasn't enough, another key contributor to the show's success is the incredible palette Chisman embraces, with lots of bright colors set against one another. These colors -- fire-engine red, sunflower yellow, dazzling white and many others -- have a very contemporary, up-to-the-minute feel, as do the paintings themselves.

Dale Chisman at Rule is clearly one of the best shows of the year -- and who'd expect to see something like that in June? Well as I said, it looks like this year, you would.

The Sandy Carson Gallery also has a strong late-spring program installed back to back: In the front space is Bob Koons: paintings, and in the two spaces beyond is Quintin Gonzalez: digital images. Both artists utilize computers in their creative processes, but in very different ways and to very different ends.

Koons studied at Melbourne University in Australia before he earned a BFA from St. Olaf College in Minnesota in 1992. In the late 1990s, he moved to our state, and in 2000, he received an MFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He's only been exhibiting his work in Denver for the past few years.

Doing what he's dubbed "fakescapes," Koons uses computers to digitize and then reduce seventeenth- to nineteenth-century landscape paintings. Many of the original landscapes are done in the romantic style and are thus, according to Koons's ideology, "fake," which is what obviously inspired the series title. But Koons does not present the resulting high-tech landscapes as his finished pieces; instead, he uses them as preparatory studies for works made with the traditional materials used by a landscape painter -- oil paint, brushes, and canvas.

Koons is quite adept with these tools, as he proves with his eye-popping paintings. His surfaces are deliciously smooth, and his color blending is so accomplished, I thought that he had sprayed on the paint -- but he didn't; he applied it the usual way.

The titles are taken from the artists who provided the source material, so "representing Constable 2," for example, is based on a painting by John Constable, while "representing Friedrich" is based on one by Casper David Friedrich. Constable and Friedrich are nineteenth-century romantic painters, and most early Koonses were based on that style. But more recently, he's expanded his horizons to include baroque and impressionism, as "representing Rembrandt" and "representing Monet" respectively demonstrate.

Koons has not done many Western landscapes, but "representing Bierstadt 2" might be one. The color scheme -- with its yellow shades from sunny to mustard set off by dark blue -- makes the scene look very arid, like a depiction of Arizona or New Mexico. But since Koons doesn't cite the specific painting he used, and because the digital process has abstracted the view so much, it's hard to identify the painting as a landscape, let alone where it might be. If he hasn't done any Western landscapes yet, he really should consider doing so.

Koons uses digital media, and that's surely why he's been put together with Quintin Gonzalez, who uses computers to create his portraits.

Gonzalez received a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from Yale University. Since 1999, he's been an assistant professor in the department of visual arts at the University of Colorado at Denver.

Most of the Gonzalez pieces in the show are done with a LightJet printer and Fujicolor Crystal Archive Professional Paper, and they're dynamite. They look like altered photos, but they may be digitized drawings, because, as with Koons's paintings, there's little specific information available about the process other than the fact that it includes "a vocabulary of electronic" gestures. Don't look to his artist statement for any help, though. It's total art-speak, and thus as dense as pea soup.

The portrait images appear to be hallucinatory, and the subjects seem to be moving. The most memorable feature of these portraits is the toned-up colors, which sometimes verge on the iridescent, as in "Ghosts of Time," which includes three portraits assembled in a repetitive group, Warhol style.

In addition to the digital prints, Gonzalez has done a group of mixed-media pieces that combine the computer images with abstract painting. I thought these were great, and they're ridiculously cheap.

Gonzalez hasn't shown very much in town, so take advantage of this rare opportunity.

The Koons and Gonzalez exhibits at Sandy Carson will run for the next few weeks. It's going to be tough to find the time see them -- with Denver currently so uncharacteristically crowded with first-rate shows -- but do it anyway.


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