David B. Smith is constantly on the lookout for talented artists across the country who haven’t shown much in Denver. For the small but strong, enigmatically named solo Then Where Sun When There in the front of his eponymous gallery on Wazee Street, Smith has tapped Los Angeles-based artist Emily Joyce, whose work is also included in Aftereffect: Georgia O'Keeffe and Contemporary Painting, now on view at MCA Denver. Her debut at Smith's gallery includes paintings and works on paper that either broadly engage patterning or are covered in actual patterns.
Joyce’s compositions refer to minimalism and geometric abstraction from the ’60s and ’70s, but her execution is much more expressive than was the case with those earlier efforts. The antique-y surface she produces has the appearance of tempera; oddly enough, it lends the works a very current-looking vibe. She creates this through her materials: Joyce often uses Flashe, a matte vinyl paint that she exploits in various ways, most strikingly when she lays on veils of it, allowing the underpainting to be visible.
Her arrangements of the forms she uses, many done in square formats, play with symmetry and asymmetry but still have a fool-the-eye effect, so that they wind up being perfectly balanced. In “Criss-Crossed Columns," for example, a pair of striped rectangles float near the top and bottom, compressing an arrangement of other geometric shapes, including quarter circles and squares of color. These shapes stand out against a recessive ground that has both patterned elements and brushy expressionist passages. Joyce’s palettes are made up of Easter egg pastels, along with black and other dark shades, creating unusual tonal rhythms that are at times less balanced than the compositions themselves.
In addition to these paintings, Joyce shows works on paper in pencil and Flashe from her “Doric Rhyme” group, in which vertical bars of stacked colors, some in half-circular shapes, rise up on the edges of the drawings, some with fields of white in between, others with black.
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In the intimate back gallery is Justine Hill: Bookends. The wall facing the entry has been covered in a rough pattern of spray paint done graffiti-style; on this hang three of Justine Hill’s idiosyncratic abstracts done on shaped panels of heroic complexity. The cuts used to make the shapes of these panels follow the contours of the imagery; in places, there are voids piercing the panels, revealing the wall behind. The abstract forms have been blown up and crudely formed in these works. As a result, the pictorial imagery reads more like a clutch of parodies of painterly marks rather than exemplifying straightforward mark-making.
Hill has written that the paintings “are creatures with their own quirky and complex stories,” but she does not reveal what those stories are. Oddly enough, they don’t appear to be figural at all, but seem to be more landscape-based.
David B. Smith Gallery can always be counted on to present the work of noteworthy artists who should be better known here. That’s surely the case with painters Emily Joyce and Justine Hill. Both shows run through Saturday, March 16, at David B. Smith Gallery, 1543 #A Wazee Street. For more information, call 303-893-4234 or go to davidbsmithgallery.com.