Colorado artists star in shows at Gallery T and Havu

For many years, I've abided by a belief — and hit readers over the head with it — that our best local artists represent a collective cultural treasure. They continue to create things that are as interesting and accomplished as anything being done anywhere in the country. I know this because all of the top commercial galleries in town feature Colorado artists, which means I get to see them. Such is the case now at William Havu Gallery and Gallery T.

The main attraction at Havu is Emilio Lobato: De Veras, featuring an eye-dazzling display of recently done paintings that rely on the horizontal line for their visual interest. Lobato's distinguished career dates back several decades, and he is well known for his incredible technical ability, his boundless creativity in relentlessly following one aesthetic path after another, and his staggeringly dedicated work ethic, which results in a dizzying number of artworks. For this show alone, he did nearly fifty new pieces!

Lobato, who studied with the late Mary Chenoweth, combines a modernist pictorial program he inherited from her with references to the history of the Latino experience in the West. He's done this most obviously through his choice of colors, which have a distinctly Hispanic quality to them. As pointed out by Ann Daley, who wrote a brief essay for the luxuriously printed gate-fold card, the color black is extremely important to Lobato; he uses it as a way to set off the other colors he employs, notably dark reds and deep yellows among a limited number of other moody shades. Despite the dark and muted palettes, the paintings (and works on paper) aren't gloomy, but elegant, visually striking and intelligent.

These paintings, and those Lobato's done over the past couple of years, rely on the use of the horizontal line, carried out in parallel pin stripes of different colors. In many of these oil and collage-on-panel paintings, as in "De Un Lado," the pin stripes are organized into secondary compositional elements such as boxes and rectangles. Some, like "Rincón Nuevo," have diagonal patterns as well. In others — "De Veras," for example — the horizontal lines cover the entire surface. It's apparent that Lobato has been inspired by Hispano-American weaving, such as that associated with Chimayo blankets and rugs, but these pieces don't look anything like tapestries, because he avoids any reference to three-dimensionality by applying the paint in utterly flat coats.

Sprinkled throughout the Lobato show are mostly small sculptures that make up the exhibit David Mazza: New Works. Mazza is an emerging artist who has made a name for himself with zigzagging spires of metal, some painted with automotive lacquers and others with their natural material characteristics (typically mild steel or stainless steel) showing through. The only large sculpture here is "Becrux," which is over ten feet tall. On a black, truncated pyramidal base, Mazza has welded linear bars to one another; they take the form of a bolt of lightning. The jagged tower has been painted a stunningly bright red. It's fabulous.

In addition to a selection of other wonderful if smaller sculptures that follow the same approach as "Becrux," Mazza has included two pieces, "Mictlan" and "Paynal" — where does he get these titles? — that indicate a new, more full-bodied approach to form. In these sculptures, he's put together thick, vaguely geometric shapes that are defined by being pierced with openings or hollows. One interesting attribute is how some have been finished with polished surfaces while others have been finished with induced patinas. "Mictlan" and "Paynal" are relatively small tabletop sculptures, but it's easy to imagine them blown up into monumental works. Let's hope somebody commissions Mazza to do some big ones.

Upstairs on the mezzanine at Havu is Dale Chisman 1943-2008, which looks at the artist's works on paper. Though Chisman's paintings have been shown at Rule Gallery for years, Havu has exhibited his prints for just about as long. These monotypes and mixed-media works were commissioned by gallery owner Bill Havu between 1987 and 1997. They're incredible — and, not surprisingly, many have sold during the course of the show. In fact, several are being changed out as collectors take their prizes home and Havu replaces them with others from his stock. Chisman had a special touch with these prints, and they have all the power of his better-known paintings, with big splashes of strong color. But they also have a delicacy that's peculiar to them and markedly different from the effect of the paintings.

Over at the newish Gallery T, owned by Andrew Kalmar and directed by Ron Judish, there's the impressive Emmett Culligan + Robert Delaney + Jeff Wenzel, another exhibit that puts the high beams on the accomplishments of local artists. Judish always puts together first-rate shows, which is why visitors to Gallery T can be forgiven for thinking that they're in a museum instead of a gallery.

Running down the center of the main south space are three large and seemingly heavy Culligan sculptures made of steel, limestone and polished marble. All are from his "Crew" series, first seen last year at the Arvada Center. The series encompasses many different shapes, but the three here are all closely associated; this expresses Culligan's idea of assembling a group of sculptures into a team or crew. Each features a low, cylindrical base on which a rounded cone-like shape rests. The shape suggests that the pieces could move — making them, if not kinetic, then at the very least, seeming as if they could be set in motion at any moment.

Displayed throughout the gallery are Delaney's mobiles and kinetic sculptures. I would love to talk about them, but since I have a personal relationship with the artist, it would be a conflict of interest. As such, I will keep my thoughts on his work to myself.

Among the three artists, Wenzel, an abstract impressionist, has been given the lion's share of the display space. It's hard to pick a favorite because they're all so good. In some, like "Valdez" and "Brahma," Wenzel uses large, clearly defined shapes; in others, he takes an all-over approach, with lots of slashes and small shapes spread somewhat evenly across the picture's surface, as in "Road Runner" and "Steamer."

Wenzel, who has gotten a lot of mileage out of his elaborate and idiosyncratic method, begins by expressively and instinctually painting a large sheet of paper that may or may not have pre-existing printed images on it. He then tears up the paper and reassembles it in a new configuration, then paints it again. By repeating the process ad infinitum, Wenzel is able to conjure up stunningly beautiful abstract paintings.

His tearing and reassembling come right out of his training as a ceramics artist. A student of the great Peter Voulkos, the inventor of abstract-expressionist ceramics, Wenzel works the paper in a manner analogous to how the late Voulkos worked clay.

The presentations at Havu and Gallery T are just a few of the many around town that show off how vibrant and relevant Colorado's contemporary art scene is. The next time someone tries to tell you different, you'll know how incredibly wrong they are.

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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

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