Gildar Gallery celebrates the work of Clark Richert

The plucky Gildar Gallery on South Broadway has made a name for itself by promoting young up-and-comers that director Adam Gildar uncovers. But for the current show, running through the holidays, Gildar has tapped Clark Richert, one of the greatest, most accomplished and most heralded artists in the state's history — a set of accolades he's earned by having been at it for more than fifty years.

Since the 1980s, Richert has had an association with longtime Denver art dealer Robin Rule, who served as co-curator for the Gildar show. Richert also has long-term ties to Cydney Payton, the former director of MCA Denver, and she's provided an essay that connects Richert's painterly ideas to his interest in architecture. More than anyone else, Payton zeroes in on architect, engineer and theorist Buckminster Fuller, who is credited with the design of the first geodesic dome. It's easy to argue that Fuller played the principal role in shaping Richert's vision, though other influences came from the worlds of geometry and art.

The Fuller connection is key to Richert's early claim to fame and to Colorado's place in the counterculture movement of the '60s: Richert was one of the founders of the Drop City artist cooperative in southern Colorado. Drop City was what we think of today as a commune, though Richert chafes at the term. It was made up of a group of structures, and although the designs came from Fuller's geodesic domes, the Drop City domes were different in many ways, not the least of which was that they were constructed of recycled materials, notably old car-body parts.

Fast-forward to the present and to the Gildar show, titled Dimension and Symmetry: Clark Richert. The works on view represent something of a survey, as they range in date over the past several years, and while they are all clearly interlinked, they display a diversity of pictorial aims. There are several of the artist's classic grids based on mathematics, along with some that depict three-dimensional abstractions, and in the back there's even a cluster of works rendering the landscape, including a view of Drop City that has been pushed through the sieve of Richert's mathematical formulas in order to create a kind of stilted perspective of the scene.

From my point of view, the very best paintings are the signature ones, which comprise dense patterns, with Richert experimenting with complex five-fold symmetries in some and elaborate non-repeating ones in others. (As I've said before when discussing Richert's paintings, it's lucky there's enough of a visual punch to them that it's unnecessary to understand the equations that have guided the artist's brushes, because I'm sure few do — and I know I don't.)

Among the standouts are "Kepler Relief," in which an overall blue ground is covered with short lines of differing widths in contrasting colors. This creates the illusion of three dimensions, so that some of the elements seem to recede from the picture plane while others appear to stand out from it. The shapes — some five-sided, some ten — are "interrupted" by five-pointed stars hidden in the maze of lines. A couple of the paintings are dizzyingly complex, and your eyes can get lost taking in all the geometric imagery. Notable in this regard is "Quantum Zone," which is almost Escher-like in the way flat forms turn into solid ones as they go across the surface, as well as in the idiosyncratic "S-Quanta," in which the ordinarily meticulous Richert has included a drip and a smear hidden in his orderly pattern.

About a dozen blocks from Gildar, in the elegant Goodwin Fine Art, director Tina Goodwin has installed a pair of solos. Starting in the back, in the west gallery, there's Mark Villarreal: Recent Work. Villarreal, who is based in Boulder, first exhibited in Denver back in the late 1980s, but over the years he's kept a pretty low profile, only rarely showing in town since then. Now, as evidenced by this exhibit, he's back at full strength. I hope this show at Goodwin represents a comeback for him, because he's clearly one of the top abstract painters around.

In his artist statement, Villarreal writes that the forms, compositions and palettes he employed for this latest body of work were the result of his having distilled the experience of painting abstracts over the past 33 years. Taking what he's learned from these previous efforts, he re-evaluated his approach in order to arrive at this latest work. In it, he divides the canvas into roughly rectilinear panels of color to provide grounds for his automatist compositions. Then he goes in and inserts forms and lines, often using ovoid shapes arranged instinctively, placing these elements on top of the multiple grounds. Both the grounds and the forms are filled in with painterly flourishes, and brushmarks and even misses are visible on the surface. Villarreal has a taste for strong, toned-up colors used in complex but relentlessly successful combinations, and the results are striking. The paintings, supplemented by a trio of mixed-media collages, positively glow under the track lights when the entire show is taken in with one look.

Villarreal's paintings have a lot of charisma, making them seem larger than they are. So the big ones look really huge — in particular, the breathtaking "Essex I," a billboard of a painting covered in rough rectangles and wavy ovals and accented by a lot of frenetic scribbling. It's a knockout. I've liked everything I've ever seen by Villarreal, and the work in this show does nothing to change that.

In the east gallery at Goodwin is Mia Mulvey: Flos, made up of mixed-media works that refer to depictions of flowers from seventeenth-century Dutch still-life paintings. The results are very unusual, as Mulvey, a Denver artist, has embraced the most traditional of subjects along with age-old techniques related to ceramics. But she has also brought in the most advanced digital technology, in the form of transmedia, in which three-dimensional digital prints based on drawings are used as part of her sculptures.

Though there are a couple of wall-relief sculptures, most of the show comprises small tabletop pieces depicting vases filled with flowers. In places, the sculptures are made of slab-built or mold-cast clay, which has been glazed and fired, with parts applied that have been made as 3-D prints. The tactile quality of the glazed clay is markedly different from that of the plastics used in the digital prints, and the differing sheens created by each create some added if subtle visual interest to the pieces. And despite all the historicity, the results have a contemporary look, resembling cartoon versions of vases filled with flowers.

It's a busy time of year, but the shows at Gildar and Goodwin are worth making time for.

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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