Art

HAPPY TRAILS

Eric Zimmer, a relatively new member of the Edge Gallery co-op as well as a relative newcomer to Denver, currently fills Edge's front gallery with an ambitious display of quirky paintings and paper pieces. The paintings are closely interrelated and mostly follow a similar program: Zimmer draws with ink on paper, cuts out those drawings and then incorporates them into the paintings, more or less in the manner of a collage.

Zimmer's sense for fun has him playing with colors that are bright and circuslike--brilliant shades of the primary colors red, yellow and blue that allow him to make references to the basic nature of color and, thus, of painting itself. According to the artist, these are essentially "paintings about paintings."

But they're also autobiographical. Zimmer, who was born and raised in Colorado Springs, lived for many years in New York City. And like so many before him, he sought his fortune and received his training as an artist there. A personal side effect for Zimmer while he was living back East was a total rejection of his Western roots. Now back in Colorado, the prodigal Zimmer has re-embraced his home state.

One of Zimmer's most frequently used images is a reoccurring cowboy, intended as a stand-in for the artist himself. In the delightful yet brooding "Tim on Top," the cowboy rides into the distance on a horse that strides the globe. Hanging off the bottom of the globe is what looks like a fireplace mantel, along with a steaming teapot; the cowboy apparently has had a near-miss with a future in ordered domestic life. The horse represents not just the romance of the West but a mode of escape as well. In "Tim in Trouble," the escape vehicle is a biplane; in "Botanical Twins," it's a runaway train, heading straight up the middle of the painting.

Zimmer's paintings address these personal issues by way of a loosely organized serial format. But though the paintings are organized like a comic strip, they don't really tell a story. That's because key links between the panels are often not there, even when one picture appears to lead to the next.

The culmination of the series is the large diptych "Some New Despot." Although this piece does not incorporate collage elements like all the others, careful trompe l'oeil techniques make it look as if paper has been applied to the painting's surface. The central figure in the piece is a woman dressed as a clown being confronted by a dragon. A separate appended panel reveals an enthroned female Christ with a lamb at her feet. There's also a reclining nun above a grid of old-fashioned rooms reminiscent of a doll's house. On the bottom of one of the panels, a boat sails away. Another narrow escape?

A good part of Zimmer's appeal is his ability to have fun while exploring the tension between contrasts. The pointedly naive pen-and-ink cartoons he incorporates into his larger works are juxtaposed against the more sophisticated paint and clear glazes that create his abstract backgrounds. This positioning allows Zimmer to laugh at art-history issues--representation versus abstraction, say--even while he uses them to illustrate his personal experience.

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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