Hot Shots

The Colorado Photographic Arts Center has its offices and exhibition space in the Highland neighborhood in a rehabbed garage it shares with the Carol Keller Gallery. At first, Keller occupied the main rooms -- converted mechanics' bays -- and the CPAC was in the smaller rooms that had been offices. But last year, the two switched places.

Because the bigger quarters gave the CPAC an opportunity to present larger shows, the board decided to use the expansion as an opportunity to increase its membership, and it cast a wide net to catch fresh talent. "We took out an ad and invited photographers to submit work -- an open call. Anyone could respond, they didn't need to be members," says Lisbeth Neergaard Kohloff, the CPAC's gallery director.

Slides poured in, and a committee reviewed the submissions. They selected a number of artists who would be included in future shows. Then a subcommittee, made up of Kohloff, her husband, R. Skip Kohloff, and Carol Keller, director of the namesake gallery, sorted the chosen artists into groups of three. Color Constructs is the latest in a series of shows highlighting the contemporary Colorado photographers who were discovered through that open call.

The exhibit, which features experimental color photography, leads off with several large abstracts based on flowers by Robert Bridges. A self-taught photographer, Bridges has exhibited his work locally for only the last few years, but his passion for the medium began when he was a child.

It's hard to say exactly how he gets the types of images seen at CPAC. That they are chromogenic prints will lead many to conclude that the fractured forms contained within are the result of digital manipulations done on a computer -- but they're not. Bridges uses natural and artificial light and sheets of glass to produce the images. Knowing this, it appears that what he has done is record the reflections of the flowers in the sheets of glass, and not the flowers themselves.

The effect falls somewhere between impressionism and abstract expressionism -- kind of like Monet meeting Hans Hofmann. This may lead viewers to forget that they're looking at floral photographs -- a craze in fine-art photography during the last decade or so. But Bridges separates his work from other flower photographers by writing in his artist's statement that his interest in flowers is metaphorical. For him, flowers "aptly symbolize...individual lives" in that they follow the same "perennial cycle of birth, death and re-birth." Reading this, we're not surprised to learn that Bridges, who lives in Denver, has formal training in theology.

In "Abstract #1," also dubbed "For Nana," which hangs just inside the main entrance to the gallery, Bridges allows smears of bright yellow and murky purple to peek through a mostly dark background. He uses the same technique and subject in "Abstract #4," around the corner, but the effect is somewhat different with bright red, yellow and white dominating the top half of the photo.

Bridges is a great color-mixer, but he could hardly go wrong with flowers, which are known for their pleasing tones.

Beyond these floral abstractions, in the back space, are two walls covered with hand-tinted photos by Karla Nicholson, who hails from the artsy little town of Basalt, not far from Aspen. Nicholson studied at photography workshops at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village and at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs.

Over the years she has been both a gallery director and an art teacher, and has experimented with a variety of photographic subjects ranging from a body of work that explored the psychological effects of domestic violence to painted landscapes and cityscapes. It is this last topic that we see in this show.

In color and composition, her photos here are all similar to one another. But there are two distinct subjects, and her work may be divided into one group that focuses on European city subjects, mostly Venetian shots, and another that comprises Southwestern landscapes. Her use of pale tints applied in thin washes links these photos to turn-of-the-nineteenth-century postcards, and surely they have been modeled after these classic shots.

The exhibit concludes in the front room with the altered photos and collages by Denver artist Jerry De La Cruz. Born in Denver, De La Cruz graduated from the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in 1973. Like many fine artists, he needed a day job, so he began teaching at a number of local art schools, including his current gig at the Art Students League of Denver, which began in 1987. In 1989, he moved to Pueblo to run his own commercial radio station, but he sold it in 1997 and came back to Denver.

His pieces in Color Constructs are decidedly neo-pop art in flavor, and all come from his "Perceptions" series of portraits. Starting with black-and-white photos, De La Cruz alters the images in the darkroom. He further changes the photos once they are printed by using oil paint to obscure parts of the photos, while emphasizing other areas.

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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

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