Review: Two Spooky Solos Make Magic at Pirate Contemporary Art

“Ruminate II,” digital pigment-print on aluminum by Chrissy Espinoza.EXPAND
“Ruminate II,” digital pigment-print on aluminum by Chrissy Espinoza.
Courtesy of the artist
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Since Pirate moved to its current location in Lakewood's 40 West Arts District last summer, it hasn’t attracted the kind of foot traffic that it did when it was based in the more convenient Navajo Street Art District. But while some Denver-centric souls might suffer nosebleeds were they forced to venture into the suburbs, Pirate is worth the trip: Every show I've seen at the new space has been sensational. Regardless of the low turnout, the Pirates themselves are holding to the high art standards for which the co-op is known.

That's exemplified by two strong solos there now, which accidentally resonate with one another.

In the Associates Space at the front, the elegant, spare Ruminate: New Work by Chrissy Espinoza consists of only five large digital photos, all printed on sheets of aluminum. The metal sheets contribute to the luminous qualities of the photos, which record scenes that were carefully staged by the artist. Each includes a man dressed entirely in black, with his face and head covered. For Espinoza, the disguised figure represents a shadow, which stands in for a negative thought that she’s had about herself and is seeking to escape. Depictions of eggs are subtly inserted in some of the photos; Espinoza explains that in Wiccan thought, eggs have the power to absorb negativity, and they are here to fight the shadows.

"Ruminate IV,” digital pigment-print on aluminum by Chrissy Espinoza.EXPAND
"Ruminate IV,” digital pigment-print on aluminum by Chrissy Espinoza.
Courtesy of the artist

Several of these richly colored photos are visually striking, with great compositions. In “Ruminate II,” the shadow man sits in an illuminated bathtub while holding a stuffed buck’s head; it’s pure theater. Also notable is “Ruminate IV,” in which the man stands over a row of three lighted glass jars; the middle one holds an egg. Each of the photos represents a separate issue, but when I ran into Espinoza at Pirate, she declined to explain what they were, thus kicking up the enigmatic qualities of these already enigmatic images.

Detail of "Matron" (foreground) and "Terms and Conditions," mixed materials by Walter Barton.
Detail of "Matron" (foreground) and "Terms and Conditions," mixed materials by Walter Barton.
Courtesy of the artist

The spirituality underlying the Espinoza show segues perfectly into the solo in the Members Space, Mythos and Logos: Walter Barton. Barton’s figurative sculptures refer to divination, in particular the reading of the Tarot; here he's created new archetypal figures akin to various figures on Tarot cards, but instead of swordsmen and jesters, his symbolic figures are playing more modern roles.

Walter Barton’s “Matron”, “Scholar” and “Grindstone” (left to right), mixed materials.EXPAND
Walter Barton’s “Matron”, “Scholar” and “Grindstone” (left to right), mixed materials.
Courtesy of the artist

Barton uses papier-mâché laid over an armature, which is charmingly modeled into the figures in an approach that is simultaneously naïve and sophisticated, then paints them. The results are nearly life-sized statues meant to illustrate Barton’s own thoughts and feelings. He indicates this by his clever replacement of the heads with recognizable objects, such as a briefcase in “Terms and Conditions” or antlers in “The Scholar,” giving them all a pop-surrealist vibe.

Though these shows are conventionally beautiful, they are also somewhat creepy, offering an early taste of fall and Halloween.

Both the Barton and Espinoza shows run through Sunday, September 9, at Pirate Contemporary Art, 7130 West 16th Avenue in Lakewood. For additional information, call 720-601-0966 or go to pirateartonline.com.

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