Leon is in the process of transitioning from a commercial gallery, which it’s been for the past seven years, into a nonprofit space. Since Leon has always specialized in edgy fare — often the work of emerging artists that has limited commercial potential — going nonprofit seems a prudent move, particularly because the space presents concerts, poetry readings and performances as well as art shows. The move also frees up co-directors Eric Nord and Eric Dallimore to do whatever they want as curators, without having to bow to the economic pressures of the market.
Leon’s current show, which runs into the new year, is re: mix/Paintings by Cymon Padilla, a spectacular debut solo by a Colorado artist who’s relatively unknown in Denver, though he’s been showing in his home town of Colorado Springs for the better part of the past five years. In these meticulously crafted, pop-surrealist paintings, the artist writes, he mashes up “classical European figurative work with the golden age of Disney, Saturday morning cartoons, pop art and vintage advertising.” At first glance, the pieces look like collages for which Padilla has cut up magazines, art books and comics. But when you examine the compositions more closely, you realize that they’re actually traditionally done oil paintings — which is pretty amazing, when you consider the high level of control that Padilla has over his brushes. According to Nord, Padilla creates virtual collages on computer screens, cutting pieces out of famous or otherwise noteworthy images, then pastes them together in unexpected ways. The results are completely different from any of the initial sources he’s tapped, yet each of the appropriated elements retains its recognizable identity. Preserving the distinctive aspects of these image fragments provides key pictorial information regarding the content and subject matter of the work.
The same is true of everything else in this show. Other paintings also resolve disparate images into a single form. In “Autopoiesis,” for example, Padilla has constructed a figure that’s one part SpongeBob, one part Rodin’s “Thinker” and one part Disney’s Pinocchio. There are a couple of extra classical arms thrown in for good measure, one of which is punching Pinocchio in the face. The whole show is very strong, and though Leon’s new goal aims to eschew the marketplace, Padilla’s stuff looks very sellable.
Laura Phelps Rogers, whose initials inspired the unusual capitalization in its name.
Rogers is a former member of Pirate, where she exhibited her often room-sized installations made of cast-metal elements and old furniture — the former reflecting her sculpture training at the University of Colorado Denver, where she earned a BFA, the latter her twenty-year-plus career as a South Broadway antiques dealer. After closing her shop more than a dozen years ago, she purchased this building on Larimer Street when the neighborhood was run-down and sometimes dangerous. “A lot of people thought I was nuts and tried to talk me out of it,” recalls Rogers. Now, of course, the area is known as a center of hipster culture. “You can’t believe how many people are tourists from out of town who come in to see the gallery. All the travel writers are saying RiNo is the place for art in Denver, and people are listening,” says Rogers.
FooLPRoof also has a separate community gallery in the back, and additional programming includes pop-ups and other art-related happenings. “I want to see if artists can make a space work financially in RiNo,” says Rogers, “coming up with the money to just pay for the space itself, the rent, property taxes and utilities, because I don’t take any salary for myself at this point in exchange for running it.”
The creative approach of Nord and Dallimore at Leon, like that of Rogers at FooLPRoof, could keep galleries going in the brave new world of today’s Denver. Let’s wish them luck.
Cymon Padilla, through January 19, Leon Gallery, 1112 East 17th Avenue, 303-832-1599, leongallery.com.
COLDPLAY, through January 26, FooLPRoof Contemporary Art, 3240 Larimer Street, 303-641-3472,