The William Havu Gallery is a go-to place for those interested in seeing work by established artists in the region. Although Havu often showcases people working in Wyoming, New Mexico and Arizona, among other states, Coloradans are frequently front-and-center. And that’s the case with Of Places & Spaces, three interlocking solos dedicated to a trio of significant contemporary artists who all live around here.
Though everything in this visual extravaganza is great, the selection of Sandy Kinnee, a Colorado Springs-based artist with a heavy-duty reputation, was initially surprising. Kinnee emerged in the 1970s, and in the intervening decades became best known as a printmaker. His prints have been shown internationally and are included in an array of prestigious permanent collections, including that of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Though I had heard of Kinnee, I wasn’t super-familiar with his specific oeuvre, and I’m sure that’s true for most of us: He hasn’t exhibited in Denver for over a decade, so we haven’t been able to see for ourselves what he’s been up to. As a result, I was completely unprepared for his recent paintings, which are enormous and spectacular.
Though Kinnee still does works on paper, he began painting on huge swaths of unstretched canvas in 2016, and the Havu show puts the spotlight on these works. They are from Kinnee’s “Stepping Stones Perhaps” series, with the individual paintings distinguished by numbers. Using dusty shades, Kinnee paints simple shapes onto delicately toned color fields. There are organic forms defined by concentric lines; there are circles and half circles, dots and dashes, with these elements often arranged into larger configurations. The color-field backgrounds, which go edge to edge, are sometimes in a single shade; more often, Kinnee uses a series of colors with clearly defined margins between them. The elegant drafting of the shapes that populate the compositions looks to have been done quickly and enthusiastically, with the forms roughly hewn and crudely outlined. So despite the size of these ambitious works, Kinnee preserves a sense for spontaneity.
The shapes and the way Kinnee puts them together give something of a tribal vibe to the pictorial components of these paintings. As it turns out, Kinnee has written that these works were inspired by prehistoric standing stone monuments and cave paintings that the artist has studied and visited repeatedly, particularly sites in France.
Likely because Kinnee’s paintings are so large, the Homare Ikeda section of the show overlaps them in places, though it proceeds by itself as viewers wend their way to the back of the gallery. If Kinnee has kept a low profile in Denver, not so for Ikeda, who is one of the state’s most prominent artists' artists. Born in Japan, Ikeda has lived in Colorado since the 1980s, developing an idiosyncratic style that is very un-Japonesque: Rather than a less-is-more approach, he goes for more is more. Using instinctual moves, Ikeda lays on layer after layer of heavily worked pigment, eradicating or enforcing different pictorial elements as he goes along. He's been known to work on a single painting for several years before being satisfied with the results; while he still does that to some extent, he’s also made an effort to work more quickly.
From Ikeda’s paintings at Havu, it's clear that he still expends an inordinate amount of effort to complete each one to his satisfaction. These are all from his "Haikai" series; according to Ikeda, the Japanese word “haikai” means “on the prowl” or “wondering around.” This idea of traveling, specifically walking, is expressed in the paintings by the meandering bars and stripes that weave through the mass of abstracted elements, evoking plants or undersea life — but not quite.
Ikeda is known for his courageous color contrasts, and some of the paintings are all but garish. Though he hasn't used any particular color formula, he can always perfectly balance the dark and murky hues with the bright and clear ones. Each of the “Haikai” paintings has a subtitle indicating a color, such as “Haikai: Brown” or “Haikai: Green,” but the shades in the subtitles aren't necessarily the predominating colors in the pieces. The Ikeda paintings are supplemented by a nice assortment of his works on paper installed in the space under the mezzanine.
Right now, Kinnee and Ikeda are paired in another show, a direct extension of this one that even shares the same title, Of Places & Spaces. Now on view at the McNichols Building, it includes other Kinnee paintings, including some monumental ones, and old and new work by Ikeda, both paintings and pieces on paper.
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At Havu, the typical practice is to have a sculptor filling the floor space when there are paintings on the walls. For Of Places & Spaces, that sculptor is Patrick Marold, best known for his gigantic installations, often in public spaces. They include the giant “Shadow Array,” a forest of beetle-killed pine tree trunks mounted symmetrically on either side of the RTD tracks leading into Denver International Airport, and meant to change during the day with sunshine and shadows. Marold is one of several artists newly onboard at Havu; his longtime representative, Tina Goodwin Fine Art, closed late last year because of soaring rent at its swanky former location.
The Marolds are older pieces, meant to tease an upcoming show of new works. Like “Shadow Array,” the handful of sculptures included here are made of wood. There’s “Blackened Stack,” a pile of naturalistically carved wooden beams that have been charred to a gorgeous dull black; its minimalist shape gives it a contemporary gloss, and yet it also suggests the Western landscape tradition, like “Shadow Array.” Also playing with conflating minimalism with the landscape are the two carved knots of wood, “Bulb” and “Orb,” which both have roughly spherical shapes left in their natural color.
When I walked through the door of Havu — with those billboard-sized Kinnees and the large Ikedas surrounding me, and the more intimate Marolds at my feet — that first impression took my breath away. Though Marold is a conceptual artist, and Kinnee and Ikeda are taking decidedly separate paths in creating their abstracts, all the pieces come together to create a harmonious convergence of sights and ideas. This is a museum-quality show, shoehorned into a gallery.
Of Places & Spaces, through June 8, Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360, williamhavugallery.com.