Formal Wares

Page 2 of 3

Lang has created abstract sculptures in his signature kiln-fired clay, as well as some similar expressions executed in beautifully patinated bronze. With "Domed Pyrolith," Lang has fashioned a small but weighty-looking clay sculpture. On a thick circular base with a bull-nosed edge is a rounded form composed of three parts--the shaft, the dome and the finial cap; the three elements are unified by surfaces finished with triangular ridges. The piece is stained to a dull, whitish gunmetal finish, which gets thicker where it's caught in the rough surface of the clay. It all resembles a postmodern Jell-O mold.

Clay is the material that made Lang's reputation, but "Domed Pyrolith" and other works are nonetheless very complimentary to his bronzes, which are also a great success. Especially fine are "Coiled Guardian" and its companion in the show, "Draped Guardian." Both are made up of a thick, clunky base on which sits a larger and lighter-colored coiled dome.

Like Lang, Chamberlin is chiefly known for his ceramic sculpture, but he has also long created gorgeous abstract drawings. Examples of both are included here. Though relatively small, Chamberlin's recent wall-hung glazed ceramic sculptures have a monumental quality that is further enhanced by the careful way director Keller has presented them. This is especially true of "Ered" and "Cinnin," which are hung alone on the gallery's large back wall. Both of these reliefs look like animal trophy heads, an effect heightened by the fact that they are hung at eye level. In "Ered," which has been glazed a gorgeous army green, Chamberlin has assembled three thrown and altered clay forms. One of them looks like a stuffed rabbit's head with its ears hanging limply down. It sounds cutesy, but it's actually quite unnerving.

An interesting feature of these pieces is the way Chamberlin refers to the pull of gravity. "Ered" and "Cinnin" seem to droop, which reminds us that the now rigid clay was once fairly fluid. This is a relatively new interest for Chamberlin, whose earlier wall reliefs were always firmly and solidly formed.

Chamberlin's exquisite powdered-pigment drawings incorporate organic shapes that may be human or animal heads--just as in the wall-hung sculptures. But they're profoundly different in style. The artist's confident drawing and his skill at creating densely colored abstract-expressionist grounds are an art world away from his spare monochrome ceramics.

That Carol Keller was able to pull together paintings, sculptures and drawings from five unrelated artists and turn them into a coherent show like Elemental is no small feat. But such efforts come naturally to her--there's almost always a good show at Emmanuel. In the past, however, exhibits were often hard to see because of the gallery's inadequate lighting. Happily, that problem has now been corrected by the installation of new track lights mounted on a frame hung from the ceiling.

Emmanuel isn't the only place that's brighter these days. The hard workers over at Pirate also have been looking up: They've painted their ceiling, which has greatly improved the play of light in the room.

The floor and the walls at Pirate have also recently received a new coat or two, and the whole place now glows, providing the perfect background for an exhibit in the main gallery titled bash, waste, and obfuscate. The show consists of eight large abstract paintings by Cameron Jones and represents a great leap forward for the twenty-something self-taught artist. And they're obviously fresh off the easel--I was almost knocked over by the smell of wet paint and linseed oil.

These paintings are all closely related to one another; Jones says she worked on many of them at the same time, and the result is a high level of consistency--and energy. Jones has painted and repainted these pieces, sometimes changing them considerably in the process. "Soldier," an oil on canvas that was used on the invitations sent out for the exhibit, has been so thoroughly reworked that it now constitutes an entirely new painting.

In each piece, Jones has chosen a detail of a famous artist's work as her taking-off point. Borrowing mostly from paintings by Italian masters such as Tintoretto, Giotto and Paolo Uccello, Jones chooses details pre-selected by the editors of art history books but makes the images her own. Indeed, by the time she's finished, the portions of the classic paintings are unrecognizable. One of the best examples is the oil on canvas "Whore," which, according to Jones, was inspired by Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," the famous scene of prostitutes from 1907 that many see as the starting gun of modernism.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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