Flash Point

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Twentieth Anniversary Celebration brings the group back together for the first time since those days. The exhibit, which took months to prepare, was put together by longtime Spark member Sally Elliott and co-op director Annalee Schorr. "With a lot of help from Andy [Libertone] and Paul [Gillis], who tracked down the founding members," says Schorr. She and Elliott intended to represent each artist with both an older piece and a current one. They achieved their goal in nearly every case.

The show pushes the physical limits of Spark's two-room space and, by necessity, the exhibit has been installed salon-style, with paintings stacked on top of one another. It's hardly ideal, but with more than a dozen included artists, they had no choice.

The first thing viewers see is the 1999 tin and painted-wood sculpture by Libertone, titled "Top End." The title has a retro sound, and that's appropriate, since Libertone refers to early-twentieth-century design, especially the art deco style of the 1920s and 1930s. "Top End" has an architectural presence but also a subtle figural sub-text. Libertone has constructed a tall, vertical assemblage sitting on a pronounced base. Circular shapes and motifs are used at the top and bottom. The circular finial on the top, which is pierced by a round hole, suggests the advertising globes that sat on old gas pumps. This kind of pop cultural reference represents a longtime interest for Libertone.

Hung to the left of "Top End" is Libertone's older piece, "Ringside," made in 1979 of wood, tin and painted tar paper. It's not so different from "Top End," sharing a retro feeling. "Ringside" is an old-fashioned title, as is "Top End." Both refer to art-deco architecture, and as in "Top End," the circle plays an essential role; here it is the center of a diagonal cruciform. Both pieces also display Libertone's accomplished wood joining and his expert painting skills.

The rest of the front gallery reveals the important role that the Criss Cross artists played in early Spark. These painters of geometric abstractions were among the most significant artists working in Colorado during the 1970s. Some, like Criss Cross founder Richert, are still on top.

The pair of Richert paintings, found immediately inside the front entrance, share the singular vision that has informed his work for decades: rectilinear lines and shapes laid down in an arrangement predetermined by mathematical equations. Math also guides the color choices.

On the right is Richert's 1979 "Q-Chord," an acrylic on canvas that is dizzying in its details. The large surface is covered with minuscule colored squares which come together to create an elaborate all-over plaid in progressions of light and dark. At the time, Richert was interested in flat pictorial space with only a minimal sense of spatial depth.

But Richert's flatness would give way over the years to his interest in three dimensional space. Right next to "Q-Chord" is Richert's newer painting, from 1997. It's another monumental acrylic on canvas, titled "1, 1, 1/-1, -1, -1." Here, the artist, still using straight lines but no longer having a flat effect, describes a hypothetical space with straight sides set at 90-degree angles to one another. In "1, 1, 1," and other recent Richert paintings, it's as though the artist has painted a window into an abstract yet physically real world.

Across the room from Richert is another Criss Cross member who joined Spark, Charles DiJulio. The artist, who now lives in New York, sent a recent small smudgy pattern painting, done in 1997 in oil on board, paired with a large gestural pattern painting in acrylic and pencil on canvas from 1976. Both DiJulio paintings are untitled. The older painting is by far the stronger and represents a classic period for DiJulio. On a dove gray ground, DiJulio has drawn a diagonal grid in pencil, and then, using a series of bold colors, applied dashes of paint on top.

Works by Criss Cross artists Richard Kallweit and George Woodman are also nearby. Kallweit is the only artist who is not represented by a new piece, but his old one is a knockout. The large, untitled and undated acrylic on canvas is covered with painted squares set on the diamond, in pointedly intense colors of similar value. It's physically difficult to look at, and given enough time, it will make your eyes water. Woodman, a mentor to the Criss Cross group, is given short shrift here with only a small print to represent his famous patterned compositions of the 1970s. Hung above is an example of his photography, a second career the painter launched in the 1980s after the tragic death of his daughter, Francesca Woodman, herself a recognized photographer. The weak representation of Woodman is the one major flaw in Twentieth Anniversary Celebration.

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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