Abstract Express

I said it just a few weeks ago: It's hard to believe how many first-rate art shows this season are devoted to that old warhorse, abstract painting.

There's no question that the current positive reappraisal of abstraction -- both of the historic and contemporary type -- is a train that's really going. And it's pulling into the station not only in Denver, but just about everywhere.

Simon Zalkind, director of the Singer Gallery at the Mizel Center, has long been interested in abstraction, particularly the abstract-expressionist wing of the New York School. For the fall opener at the Singer, Zalkind, who hails from the Big Apple, looked to his home town to put together two extremely compatible, strong solo shows.

In the center of the gallery is Milton Resnick: Works on Paper, 1966-2000, which highlights the work of one of the greatest living first-generation proponents of abstract expressionism. Installed around the Resnick show is Michael Rubin: Marks of the Absolute, which features recent paintings by a contemporary artist whose work is clearly inspired, if not influenced, by Resnick's.

Zalkind came up with the idea of putting Resnick and Rubin together after a friend back East introduced him to Rubin's work. His first thought was that there was an affinity between Rubin's paintings and the more famous Resnick ones. That observation was relayed to Rubin, and it turns out that Zalkind was absolutely right: Not only did Rubin look to Resnick for inspiration, but the younger artist had once rented a studio right across the street from the old master, and the two had become friends.

Resnick, who was born in Russia in 1917, came to the United States with his parents when he was five years old. In the 1930s, he studied at the Pratt Institute and the American Artists' School and later was enrolled as a Works Progress Administration artist. After serving in the armed forces in World War II, he returned to New York, where he found himself surrounded by abstract expressionism.

In the late 1940s, Resnick rented a studio on Eighth Street in Manhattan. The area was a hotbed of contemporary art, and many of the most significant artists of the time had studios there. One of them, Hans Hofmann, became Resnick's mentor.

It was with his abstract-expressionist paintings from the 1950s that Resnick gained prominence. His signature style was an all-over abstraction of repeated airy and lyrical brush strokes; they recall the later work of Claude Monet. Over the years, however, his paintings became more and more monochromatic, and that's the type of thing seen in the Singer show.

The Resnicks are hung on both sides of the gallery's diagonal walls. They are small, unframed and held up with pushpins. This is a shockingly informal way to exhibit such things, but according to Zalkind, it was done per Resnick's instructions.

A group of paintings on paper from the 1960s starts the Resnick show. The best are rich and visually juicy, jam-packed with squiggles and smears of color. These '60s pieces are followed by a selection of similar compositions from the 1980s.

On the other side of the walls are more paintings on paper, the "X-Space" series and the "Space" series, both from 2000. These are really different for Resnick, and in each, a pictorial element -- typically the letter X, or a couple of them -- is placed on top of his signature color fields. Also very unusual is a small painting of Resnick and his wife that's almost representational.

Although the Rubins are much larger than the Resnicks -- some of them approach mural size -- they relate perfectly to the latter, as Zalkind knew they would.

"Abraham VI," an acrylic-on-linen diptych, is entirely black, with astoundingly thick, built-up paint. The peaks and valleys of the heavily applied pigment create a wide range of shades, depending on the play of light and shadow. A similar diptych, "Ruth," is done in red and black, but seems at first glance to be entirely red.

All of the Rubin paintings are breathtaking, and it's easy to see why Zalkind plugged them in with the Resnicks. The most profound connection between the two artists is the way they both use color as their principal form.

Homare Ikeda is a well-known Colorado painter who's also interested in the relationship between color and form. But as demonstrated in the self-titled and out-of-this-world Homare Ikeda: Once Up On a Space, at the Carson-Masuoka gallery, Ikeda's odd aesthetic, which is only marginally related to abstract expressionism, is clearly his own.

Ikeda was born on Yoron Island, Japan, near Okinawa. He came to the United States in 1978, living in California before moving to Colorado in the mid-1980s to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder. There he received both his bachelor's and master's degrees in fine arts.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia