Altering Currents

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One of the more annoying problems with the installation of this show, however, is that Sprick's paintings, as well as those of a few others, are not displayed together.

But Sink is right about this section: The two Spricks do look good in relation to the two side-by-side Hempel paintings that he has hung nearby, "Rescue from Nature" and "Mending Hall."

The first piece, a 1999 oil on canvas, takes up the topic of two young men dressed (to the extent that they are) in contemporary clothing but placed in an antique landscape that recalls the style of the old masters. There's a photographic quality to this painting, though it is not photorealist. Sink, who is a fine-art and commercial photographer, chose the artists in this exhibit with an eye toward those who use photography in their work. Hempel not only employs photography -- as well as art history -- as source material, but he has also created a large body of black-and-white photographs of young men that are finished artworks in their own right.

His other painting, "Mending Hall," an oil on board from 1998, is the kind of thing that made him famous. Above a bucolic landscape, a manor house floats in the sky.

Proceeding through the hallway and narrow gallery beyond, we arrive at another highlight, a large gallery featuring big-time Colorado artists Chuck Forsman and William Stockman.

The Forsman painting, "Feather River," an oil on Masonite from 1992, is part of a series that the Boulder painter has done on the devastating effect that dams have had on the Western landscape. The painting, which bleeds onto the frame, shows a mountaintop in the center of the background. In the foreground are the boulders used for landfill beneath the dam, the mammoth wall of which limits our view. For scale and for narrative purposes, small figures are seen in the mid-ground.

Stockman's gorgeous 1997 oil-on-canvas "The Phenomenology of Birds" is a classic example of the gifted Denver artist's enigmatic approach. In a romantic, if gloomy, landscape, a zaftig woman crouches among a flock of white birds clustered on the ground. In the sky above her head are white line drawings of two mask-like faces placed right on the surface of the picture plane.

Like Sprick's, Stockman's paintings have been scattered around the show, which is really too bad. His small paintings on paper, seen upstairs, look particularly misplaced.

Also in this section are two paintings by Jeff Carpenter, a New York artist who's an old friend of Sink's, and three portraits by Boulder painter Barbara Shark.

In adjacent spaces, but open to one another, are works by two of the most distinguished bad boys in the local contemporary art world -- Matt O'Neill and Jeff Starr. Their placement together is perfect, since these artists are closely associated with one another, and both are apparently interested in a wide variety of styles.

O'Neill is represented by an assortment of works, including examples of his black-and-white cartoons of Picasso paintings based on yearbook photos. Another piece combines surrealist elements with a photo of a retro room from a magazine. Though O'Neill looks to photos for some of his source material, he softens the focus. This smudgy realism is sometimes done in a straightforward and traditional way, as in "Woman on a Yellow Rug," an oil on canvas from 1999.

Starr explores a similar yet distinct array of styles. Among the most impressive are two oil portraits, "Warren Oates," from 1998, and "Gladiator Stephen Boyd," from 1999. Another Starr painting, "Two Musicians," an oil, is related to his only sculpture here, "Replicant Towers," which is made of cast resin and sculpted clay. "Replicant Towers" is billed by the artist as "public art for a new millennium." Both the painting and the sculpture incorporate abstract shapes based loosely on the figure. In the painting, the shapes are seen in a room; in the sculpture, which is a model for a much larger piece, they are encased in tinted resin cylinders.

If O'Neill and Starr may be branded as bad boys, their mentor in misbehavior was surely the much older John Fudge, the Denver painter and teacher who died this past summer. Sink makes it clear that the Fudge paintings here are not meant as a memorial; he had already spoken to Fudge about being in the show only weeks before his death.

Fudge's style is a kind of photorealism with a humorous twist. "Why Am I Here?," an acrylic on canvas from 1992, is a perfect example. A squirrel is perched on a branch before a vividly hued sky. On one level, the painting is mundane, and then we notice that the clouds, the branches, and even the squirrel's tail take the form of a question mark, which refers back to the title.

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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