The William Havu Gallery is one of only a handful of top-tier contemporary venues in Denver. Havu specializes in the work of advanced or mid-career artists, most of whom work in Colorado or the Southwest. Currently, Havu is presenting Amy Metier: Preconceived Notions, which is filled with modernist-derived abstractions by one of the state's most accomplished artists.
This is Metier's first in-town solo in two years, and it fills the entire main level at Havu — not just with her signature paintings, but also with prints featuring experimental compositions that are decidedly unlike those in the paintings; there is also a group of distinctive but thoroughly unexpected little drawings/collages. The works on paper — the prints and the drawings/collages — may indicate a new direction for Metier, since they seem much more non-objective than the paintings.
The paintings are fairly classic Metiers, with references to landscapes or still-life scenes. As usual, the representational elements are sketchy and have been painted over so that the details are essentially obliterated in flourishes of seemingly automatist painterly gestures. Interestingly, though a lot of the brushwork is boldly expressive, there's a delicacy to the finished works — partly because of the colors, and partly because of the fineness of some of the marks.
The prints — in the form of linocuts and monotypes with chine collé — are completely different. They sort of reminded me of Matisse's cut-paper compositions, having that same approach to the mostly hard-edged forms. When I think of Metier, I think of muted or sunny palettes, so the dark and somewhat moody shades she employs in these prints are really unexpected. (The prints were pulled at Open Press by master printer Mark Lunning, whose own prints are currently on the mezzanine at Havu.)
Also indicating a new direction are some extremely small mixed-media works, just six inches square, in which Metier has used a loosely carried out grid of lines to organize the compositions; these are further fleshed out by bits of paper, some of it pre-printed, and by smudges of color. The composition of these pieces is typically dense, as in "Bird Cage #1" (pictured).
The neo-modern character of Metier's work, which riffs on various currents in early-twentieth-century European vanguard art — with a tip of the hat to good old Yankee Doodle Dandy abstract expressionism — means that the exhibit at Havu invariably resonates with the Denver Art Museum's Modern Masters and the Clyfford Still Museum's 1959, which are on view only a few blocks away. Preconceived Notions runs through June 7 at Havu, 1040 Cherokee Street. For more information, call 303-893-2360 or go to williamhavugallery.com.