Early fall shows are coming thick and fast. One longstanding trend out there again this year is art that's either abstract, or conceptual with a reference to abstraction.
At the swanky-looking Space Gallery, the main stock-in-trade of which is abstraction (owner Michael Burnett is an accomplished abstractionist himself), a trio of painters have been brought together for Stripped Surfaces. The title might make you think that the show is made up of post-minimalism, with the compositions reduced to the nth degree, but you’d be wrong. Instead, these three artists are interested in dense and heavily worked surfaces, and all of them use pentimenti so that some of their imagery on the lower levels has been masked by passages on the upper ones.
Stripped Surfaces starts off with paintings by John Wood, which have been handsomely installed in the entry space. The compositions showcase strong, slashing brushstrokes offset by dense scribbles, clusters of runs and fringes of drips, all done in bright palettes dominated by reddish-orange, a shade for which Wood has had a lifelong attraction. “I’ve been infatuated with orange for most of my life…it has become a magical color for me,” Wood explains in his artist statement.
The bold colors that Wood uses are the polar opposite of the dark and tightly organized paintings by Bill Snider, which are covered in pseudo writing of geometric symbols laid in lines of imaginary text. The surfaces are really complex, with an almost antique look and a range of colors underneath bleeding through to the top coats. Snider has said that he’s been equally inspired by tribal art and graffiti.
The third artist in Stripped Surfaces is Paul Ecke, who has long been interested in geometric abstraction; the pieces at Space qualify, but just barely. Ecke has created collages of vertically stacked horizontal lines of comic-book pages, on top of which he has painted stripes. The comic images make these paintings more complicated visually than his earlier work, but Ecke points out in his statement that all of his paintings, not just these mixed-media pieces, are about “lines of communication, repetitive patterns and thought sequencing,” just as comic books are.
Though the abstracts in the group show at Walker Fine Art are more referential than those at Space, the two exhibits are pretty compatible. There's a key difference, though: The artists at Space are fairly non-objective (Ecke’s comic strips and all), while those at Walker are overtly referencing nature, as indicated by the exhibit’s title, Organic Subtleties.
The show starts off strong with wall-mounted installations made of multi-colored window screening that’s been woven, bent and twisted into lyrical shapes suggesting plants, flowers or maybe even sea creatures. They're by Atticus Adams, who refers to himself as a “metal fiber artist.” That might seem a pairing of opposites, since metal is hard and fiber is soft, but I see what he means: The screening, though made of metal, is so finely woven that it acts like fabric. These pieces are sensational.
The atmospheric color fields by Chris Richter have a completely different appeal. Richter's process, which can be partly discerned by looking at the finished pieces, involves painting layer on layer on layer of monochrome grounds that are perfectly flat against the underlying panels, owing to the fine sanding he does between coats. Formally, these are post-minimal, with a contrasting tone with blurry edges revealed in sets of stripes set either vertically or horizontally, with their colors seeming to peek out from the dominant shade of the surrounding field.
Several artists play with floral imagery in their works, including the spattered yet still realistic images of plants and flowers in Cara Enteles's paintings. Brian Comber contributes vaporous watercolors of blossoms. Doug Haeussner has created intriguing deconstructed digital photos that look like paintings of branches. Finally, there are the multi-panel acrylic and paper pieces by Karin Schminke, which are tremendous. Schminke covers the panels edge to edge with dense patterns of lines evocative of vines. They are individually carried out in neutral shades of brown, gold, gray and black. She presents them in sets of two, three and even four, with each of the prints different in imagery and colors.
In the solo Lauri Lynnxe Murphy: We Were Here, which starts out at Mai Wyn Fine Art and finishes up across the street at ReCreative Denver, the reference to nature is pushed much further, and that’s because Murphy employs actual natural processes and materials to make her work. Murphy has shown in a range of venues in the area over the past quarter-century; she's also been an outspoken supporter of artists, though sadly, some of the causes she’s championed, such as live/work spaces for artists and better outreach by the city to local artists, have not come to pass. But her work is also an example of her activism, and the pieces in We Were Here concern the environment.
The works at Mai Wyn are mostly small, though there is a large floor piece made up of found tree trunks and an abandoned wasp nest; Murphy has hung multi-colored pompons on cords from the tree. The natural parts are accented by the tinted cloth, giving the whole thing a distinctive Murphy touch. The pompons refer back to her textile-heavy pieces from the 1990s, while the wasp nest connects directly to the work she did a few years ago in Ohio.
At that time, Murphy began working with snails, having them crawl across sheets of paper and leave behind trails of slime. She then cut out the trails, which look like all-over scribbles, and mounted them on backing paper. Mai Wyn features a handsome lineup of these on dazzling-white paper with the trails colored black; larger ones are on display at ReCreative.
Murphy's most recent pursuit is collaborating with bees. Using apiary techniques, she encourages bees to create combs according to designs she’s conceived. These combs, which are sometimes colored with natural dyes so as not to endanger the bees, hang or are otherwise attached to twigs, both in the form of small sculptures or bas-reliefs. I was amazed at how well the snail wall pieces worked with the intimate tabletop honeycomb sculptures.
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Both Mai Wyn and ReCreative show many of these small, three-dimensional honeycomb pieces, with a few behind glass or under glass domes — a smart idea considering how fragile they must be. ReCreative also has some pieces that are fragments of rotted logs that have been delicately colored, the pigment only sticking to certain parts of the wood, which is very effective. They have been hung together vertically on the tall end wall of the beautiful space.
Despite the bifurcation of the exhibit that itself involves three separate series, We Were Here is extremely coherent. Unlike the artists at Space and Walker, who come to abstraction from the standpoint of formalism, Murphy gets there conceptually, with abstraction simply being the inevitable outcome of her methods.
Stripped Surfaces, through September 28, Space Gallery, 400 Santa Fe Drive, 303-993-3321, spacegallery.org
Organic Subtleties, through November 2, Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Avenue, #A, 303-355-8955, walkerfineart.com
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, through September 28, Mai Wyn Fine Art, 744 Santa Fe Drive, 303-893-4182, maiwyn.com, and ReCreative Denver, 765 Santa Fe Drive 720-638-3128, recreativedenver.org