Art

IT'S GOT TO BE REAL

While making a good likeness is the consummate goal to most representational artists, some insist that resemblance to the subject and its mood aren't enough. Painting and sculpture at two LoDo galleries find profound meaning in the realistic depiction of ordinary things. At 1/1 Gallery, Jim Alford uses airbrush and collage techniques to confect true-blue skies and sunsets where realism produces a sense of strangeness. Kevin Oehler's sculptures of bronze and painted wood at Robischon Gallery appear to imitate ordinary tools caught in the act of transforming into living trees. Both artists use their rendering skills to introduce original--and sometimes disturbing--ideas.

At Robischon, Oehler's show of freestanding and wall-mounted sculptural works renews the artist's fascination with architecture, humor and natural forms. The central message emerging from these odd, but seemingly real, objects is that nature's power overwhelms all of mankind's artificial constructions. Though the artist's sense of whimsy softens the harshness of his themes, Oehler shows nature as beautiful while somehow monstrous and out of control.

Two signature pieces startle with how "real" they appear; Oehler manipulates this illusion for ironic effect. "Red Vortex" consists of a carved wooden wall plaque with a surreal implement, part shovel and part tree, mounted on the front. Stubby twigs sprouting on the "handle" of the twisted assemblage imply that using the shovel would be painful, if not impossible. "Green Vortex" offers a hand-carved wooden pitchfork that also changes into a tree limb at the handle. The pitchfork's exaggerated size further emphasizes the oddness of such a hybrid. Perhaps Oehler is making the point that agricul-tural tools are clear symbols of man's oneness and dependence on nature, a partnership with disastrous history. Given humanity's destruction of the environment, nature just might take revenge by disabling those tools that man uses to conquer and subdue the land. Though their precise meanings stay ambiguous, both of these sculptures wield compelling power.

The lone bronze work also toys with likeness and illusion. A pair of Dr. Seuss-inspired tree-trunk forms comprises the posts of "Gate I." Access through the gateway is blocked by its absurd narrowness and a series of knife-points arrayed on the inside edges. The threatening, red-spattered non-entryway once again reveals Oehler's preoccupation with the difficulty of interface. In the same way the prickly handles of Oehler's sculptured shovel and pitchfork make interacting with the tools--and with nature--forbidding, "Gate I" makes congress--and progress--impossible.

Across the street at 1/1 Gallery, Jim Alford's airbrushed canvases turn perfectly captured blue skies into kaleidoscopes. Alford takes photographs of the sky in all its myriad hues and cuts them into geometric shapes, arranging them into precise designs. The collage patterns are then enlarged and reproduced exactly using airbrush and acrylics. The resulting paintings reflect architecture and dreams as well as the gorgeous sky. They become optical illusions using perspective and color to trick the eye. Equivalent to viewing several sunsets at once, Alford's windows on the sky satisfy deep longings. "January" suspends a ribbon of sky taken from one photo against a background of a different sky. The unsettling contrast between both sky views is dizzying in its intensity. Abandoning the mind-blowing geometry of many of these cerebral constructs, "Room for Luis" welcomes viewers to a fantastic blue abode with stairs, table and chairs, all made of cloud-bedecked skies. The piece admits an almost feminine perspective to the right-brained perfectionism of Alford's Father Sky-obsessed works.

Viewers who enjoy the technical skill of the best representational art will find Oehler's and Alford's works rewarding and provocative. This art looks like something--and then some.

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Hart Hill