Art Review

Art Beat

The O'Sullivan Arts Center is just a couple of big rooms in an old, nondescript building on the Regis University campus. But somehow, there's always a good show on display, like the impressive Bill Joseph: A Retrospective, which fills the place now.

Joseph, who has been making art in Denver for over fifty years, is best known as a sculptor. During his illustrious career, he gained many commissions for public monuments and outdoor fountains. In downtown Denver, where there are only a few public works of art, there are two by Joseph: the "Christopher Columbus Memorial," from 1970, which stands in Civic Center Park; and 1975's "Beaumont Fountain," near the intersection of 18th Street and Broadway. Joseph also made a specialty of liturgical commissions, creating candlesticks, crucifixes and tabernacles for dozens of area churches.

The show opens with a monumental earthenware bust, "Van Duzer," from 1952. It is robust and animated, even if it's mostly naturalistic. More conventionalized and abstract is "Rachael," a woman's uplifted head modeled in 1948 but displayed here in a 1999 bronze cast. The patina is a mottled gray and quite beautiful. "Reflections" (above), from 1998, is one of the newer busts and includes an added abstract element that Joseph calls a "shadow." It has a dull golden patina.

Another hot-from-the-forge piece is 1999's "Observer," a seven-foot-tall bronze figural group consisting of a seated man and standing child. It was recently acquired by Regis and is installed in the entry of Carroll Hall, just a short walk across campus from the O'Sullivan.

A revelation of the show is that Joseph is apparently as adept at painting as he is at sculpture. Especially nice are his paintings of the last twenty years; they are representational, with a Picassoid twist. This characteristic is seen in "Couple #1" and "Couple #2," a matching pair of oil paintings from 1977.

Joseph has exhibited his work only a few times in the last twenty years, and that makes this show, which closes on March 2, something extremely rare and very special.

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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