Art News

Give Thanks for Noteworthy Art Shows at Three Denver Galleries

Installation view of Trey Egan: Visible Levels at K Contemporary.
Installation view of Trey Egan: Visible Levels at K Contemporary. Jordan Spencer, courtesy of K Contemporary
Over the Thanksgiving holidays, you may be looking for things to do with visiting family and friends. But face it, at this late date you're not going to get Monet tickets. Instead, hit up some of the city’s other art attractions that may not be blockbusters but are definitely worth a look.

LoDo's K Contemporary is part of a consortium of galleries that includes Abend Gallery and Gallery 1261, and switches off slaces depending on the exhibit. Right now, Abend is hosting the 29th Annual Holiday Miniatures Show in the large spaces on the first floor, while K Contemporary is currently occupying the second floor, where director Doug Kacena has installed the impressive solo Trey Egan: Visible Layers. In just a few years, K Contemporary has built a reputation as one of the city’s top galleries. Kacena pulled this off so quickly by snagging many of the state’s most-talked-about artists, including Melissa Furness, Suchitra Mattai, Jonathan Saiz, Kevin Sloan, Mario Zoots, Monique Crine, Michael Dowling and, most recently, Andrew Jensdotter. But K also presents the work of artists from outside the area: Trey Egan, for instance, lives and works in Dallas.

Egan is an abstractionist informed by a lot of the classic moves associated with the approach; he has written that “this system of abstraction mostly constructs itself through intuitive actions, combined with an innate awareness of spatial relationships.” He’s essentially an automatist who relies on what he has called the “primal and unconscious” tapping into a felt source within his own psyche. This, of course, is the traditional abstract-expressionist method. But Egan’s paintings look very current, perhaps because of his generous application of juicy, candy-colored marks that resolve into amorphous shapes clustered into funky compositions. Those bright colors dominate these paintings, but Egan also uses a lot of recessive earthy shades for contrast, and to provide the grounds from which the complex shapes rise.

click to enlarge Synesthetic abstracts by Trey Egan at K Contemporary. - JORDAN SPENCER, COURTESY OF K CONTEMPORARY
Synesthetic abstracts by Trey Egan at K Contemporary.
Jordan Spencer, courtesy of K Contemporary
The surface details of these Egans are intriguing, because the artist brings a range of painterly methods together unexpectedly, like fields of flat coats of dull matte pigment laid right next to super-expressionist globs of shiny, high-gloss paints. And there’s all manner of brushwork tactics between these two poles, as well. For Egan, these contrasts in method result from the phenomenon of synesthesia, in which different sensory experiences occur simultaneously. He listens to electronic music while working, and the layering of the sounds guides his automatist painting: The audio experience merges with the visual one in the completed works.

In “Take These Dreams,” a monumental oil on canvas, Egan has taken scores of small, varying shapes and carried them out in an array of colors. The way he’s aggregated the shapes conveys an arching diagonal that runs across the entire picture. With all the different elements and the different ways they're rendered, “Take These Dreams” has so much going on that it's guaranteed to provide fans of painting some interesting and engaging moments. And the rest of the Egans here will do the same.

click to enlarge Geometric paintings by Cassandra Lillard in The Nature of Abstraction. - ROBERT DELANEY
Geometric paintings by Cassandra Lillard in The Nature of Abstraction.
Robert Delaney
In the more intimate environs of the Sandra Phillips Gallery, in the Golden Triangle, the duet The Nature of Abstraction: Tom Linker and Cassandra Lillard brings together two artists educated at the University of Denver, although decades apart. Tom Linker, class of 1967, and Cassandra Lillard, class of 2005, were both included in DU's Vicki Myhren Gallery’s Juried Alumni Exhibition 2019, and they met at the opening. This serendipity led directly to the show at Phillips. But beyond their alma mater, there's little that connects the work of one with the other, and their pieces are displayed separately, with Lillard’s hard-edged paintings in the front and Linker’s atmospheric ones in the back.

Although she was born in Denver, Lillard is now based in Los Angeles, and her paintings have been exhibited on the West Coast and internationally. When she was at DU, she studied with well-known abstract painter Jeffrey Keith. Though there is one exception here, Lillard’s typical approach is to create tightly executed graphic designs using stripes and quadrangles done in evenly applied, strong colors. One of the most striking is “Number Thirty-one,” in which a color progression goes from yellows to reds to blues to greens, with each of the many shades done in crisp, vertical bars. This flattened spectrum is floating on a black ground, and the warm end of the color scale has been partly blocked out by a black square near the top left.

click to enlarge Works on paper by Doug Linker in The Nature of Abstraction. - ROBERT DELANEY
Works on paper by Doug Linker in The Nature of Abstraction.
Robert Delaney
Linker, who was a student of DU’s most famous professor of all time, Vance Kirkland, spent his working years in the applied arts of retail design, but in recent years he’s returned to making fine art. The pieces in this show are mixed-media works on paper, in which Linker uses acrylics, oil sticks and, in some, collage elements. Though all have been similarly conceived, each has its own vocabulary of shapes and specific palette of colors. Linker uses related shapes in compatible shades and fills the dimensions of the picture plane to its limits, pushing the various elements against one another, like the pieces of a puzzle.

Mai Wyn Fine Art, a small and inviting gallery in the heart of the Art District on Santa Fe, is hosting Winter Group Show, highlighting artists represented by Mai Wyn Schantz. The gallery owner is in the show, too: Schantz is known for her Western art with a twist, in which she ably and accurately renders animals or trees, particularly aspens, and sets them against the bare metal of a sheet of stainless steel. Her painterly technique is flawless, and her eye for the perfect level of finish is scrupulous. Here she’s represented by “Early Snow,” which realistically depicts two bluebirds perched on the twigs of a stand of aspens with the sheet of shiny metal serving as the background.

click to enlarge Tommy White's "Full Surrender" at Mai Wyn Fine Art. - ROBERT DELANEY
Tommy White's "Full Surrender" at Mai Wyn Fine Art.
Robert Delaney
Among the other standouts is “Full Surrender,” by Tommy White, which exemplifies the artist's weird and edgy signature style. The bare limbs of a cartoony rendition of a tree seem to grow like plumbing; each is dotted with wormy buds and sports a white crown at the uppermost twigs. The tree creates a red canopy, with birds and butterflies flying around it, and this makes the whole piece more or less symmetrical. The tree's roots that run below in a band along the bottom are also balanced. White’s strange visual language is very compelling, with a look all its own. If I had to put my finger on it, I'd say it's something of a successful cross between the aesthetics of street graffiti and the mood of folk-art signage.

The show also includes tinted beetle-kill tree bark wall hangings by Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, outrageously realistic altered suitcases in cast iron by Rian Kerrane, runny rainbow-hued mountain views by Fawn Atencio, and much more. Making a play for the gift market in the corridor that runs beside the gallery, Schantz is offering small, relatively inexpensive works by each of the artists in the main part of the show.

While the art at K Contemporary, Sandra Phillips and Mai Wyn varies widely, it's all linked by representing some current that’s alive and well in contemporary art at the end of the second decade of the 21st century.

Trey Egan: Visible Layers, extended through December 7, K Contemporary, 1412 Wazee Street, 303-590-9800,

The Nature of Abstraction: Tom Linker and Cassandra Lillard, extended through December 14, Sandra Phillips Gallery, 47 West 11th Avenue, 303-931-2991,

Winter Group Show, through January 11, Mai Wyn Fine Art, 744 Santa Fe Drive, 303-893-4182,
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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