Review: Two Solos Are Natural Selections for Michael Warren

“The Margaret Way,” by Allison Stewart, diptych.
“The Margaret Way,” by Allison Stewart, diptych. Courtesy of the artist
The fall opener at Michael Warren Contemporary offers two back-to-back solos, both with work inspired by nature and the natural environment. Skyfaring: New Works by Allison Stewart fills the entire set of spaces up front with recent paintings by Allison Stewart, a New Orleans-based artist who also maintains a studio in Snowmass Village. (More than any other Denver gallery, Michael Warren Contemporary has tapped the rich vein of contemporary talent active in and around Aspen.)

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“Skyfaring," Allison Stewart, installation.
Michael Warren Contemporary
For most of these paintings, Stewart begins with an impression in her mind’s eye of an aerial view of the landscape; she translates this into layered abstractions in which linear elements are juxtaposed with organically derived shapes. In a painting such as “Skyfaring #11,” Stewart crams the composition with an array of abstract passages, including ghostly gray bars indicating roads, dense squiggles for vegetation, meandering strokes suggesting creeks or rivers, and roughly geometric tangles standing in for buildings. Despite all of this, the paintings come across as pure abstractions, and not as literal depictions of landscapes.

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"Moses in the Cradle,” by Heidi Jung, installation.
Michael Warren Contemporary
Abstraction plays a much more limited role in the solo in the back gallery, Travels: New Works by Heidi Jung. Long interested in drawing natural subjects, here Denver-area artist Heidi Jung offers renderings of plants that, despite her impressionistic handling of them — through the use of sumi ink and charcoal on Mylar, then going in with directed erasures to selectively remove parts of the imagery — are still clearly representational.

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“Olive,” by Heidi Jung, sumi ink and charcoal on Mylar.
Michael Warren Contemporary
Jung’s drawings and the name of the show were inspired by trips that she and her husband and fellow artist, David Menard, made after last year’s election to escape the grim reality of a Trump victory. First they spent many months in Mexico, where Jung came upon spiky agave plants that she drew and erased. Then it was a serendipitous trip to Italy, where she encountered the delicate olive trees that she also conveys in drawings.
Jung is great at composition; the agaves are typically seen straight on, while the olive branches have been poetically cropped in their close-ups. Using plants for subject matter is one of the oldest approaches around, but Jung’s smudgy and sketchy renditions have a definite freshness.

Both shows run through October 21 at Michael Warren Contemporary, 760 Santa Fe Drive. Call 303-635-6255 or go to for additional details and gallery hours.

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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