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Review: A Trio of Abstract Exhibits Show the Power of Natural Selection

Last month, in writing about the now-closed Harmony Hammond show at RedLine, as well as a group show featuring a trio of artists at Michael Warren Contemporary, I noted not only that painting appears to be back as strong as ever, but also that abstract painting in particular is coming on especially strong. In fact, abstraction in all mediums is suddenly seemingly everywhere, nationally and internationally.

This context provides the backdrop for two interconnected solos at the William Havu Gallery that, taken together, make up one of the great presentations on view right now. I'm talking about Homare Ikeda: Revisit, featuring a tremendous selection of the artist's idiosyncratic abstract paintings, and Nancy Lovendahl: Intercessions, which showcases an array of compelling, nature-based abstract sculptures. See also: The Harmony Hammond Refutes Abstraction as Patriarchal

Ikeda came to Boulder in the 1980s, where he earned a BFA and MFA at the University of Colorado; now in Denver, he is one of our major talents. Born on Yuron Island, Japan, Ikeda immigrated to California first, and then moved to Colorado.

His abstract paintings bear a relationship -- particularly in his lava-like surfaces -- to the neo-expressionism that was in vogue a few decades ago when he first started out. But unlike the doctrinaire neo-expressionists, Ikeda's work is abstract and not based on recognizable imagery, as was the signature of that style. Some might say that abstracted neo-expressionism is nothing other than abstract expressionism, but that's not true in Ikeda's case, and though he owes debts to both sensibilities, his thoroughly original work strikes out on its own path. An interesting feature of Ikeda's paintings is the lack of compositional balance or, more correctly, an off-kilter balance. This also separates him from both the figure/ground setup of neo-expressionism and the all-over-ness of abstract expressionism.

One thing about Ikeda's pieces that has always given me pause is how un-Japanese they are, though the artist himself sees his approach to line as being Asian in origin. I think of Japanese art as being about economically conveying subjects with just a stroke or two of the brush -- as in calligraphy. Ikeda, on the other hand, builds up his pigments to thick mounds, and his more-is-more approach to abstract compositional elements results in a picture plane crammed with shapes that often overlap one another. The show's title, Revisit, refers to this method, with Ikeda adding marks and pigment to paintings over and over, sometimes for years. Also worth noting is a wild and wide-ranging palette that balances dark, muddy tones with bold, bright ones. Keep reading for Michael Paglia's review of Nancy Lovendahl: Intercessions. Though Nancy Lovendahl is doing something entirely different from Ikeda, it's all the more remarkable that her show, Intercessions, works so well with his. Credit for the inspired pairing goes to gallery owner Bill Havu and ace manager Nick Ryan.

Based in Snowmass, Lovendahl has also been an important fixture on the art scene in Colorado since the 1980s, when she moved here from Chicago. She is best known for her major incursions into the landscape, like the four-part installation of cut and found stone called "Earth, Air, Fire and Water," in City of Cuernavaca Park, and the pieces she has on view now outside the Arvada Center. For the show at Havu, she has created scaled-down versions that come from the same place as the monumental installations.

Long enamored of natural materials, in these new pieces Lovendahl pointedly undermines the essential characteristics of the stone. Here, she changes its color in some pieces, inserting passages of unnatural and unexpected shades applied in UV-balanced epoxy resins. She also juxtaposes different types of stone by putting broken and roughly cut hunks of rock together with finely cut and polished stones.

Among the several impressive Lovendahl sculptures is "Intercession 15 (RA)," a pile of rock shards surmounted by a polished orb -- which is compelling and fresh. The same could be said for "Intercession 13 (Yang)," a stack of rectangular cut rocks completely covered in a strong blue epoxy with a flat plane of polished Yule marble piercing the top at a diagonal.

Don't miss "Intercession 12 (Emerald)," which is installed outside; it is a casual stack with a bowl shape at the top, all made of stone which has been accented with the epoxy resins. One meaning of the word "intercession" is "intervention," and I see her use of polishing and coloring as interventions into the stones, making them conceptually linked to her outdoor installations, which intervene into the scenery. Keep reading for Michael Paglia's review of Lisa Kowalski: Black and White.

Yet another first-rate abstract show is on view on the other side of downtown at Ironton Studios and Gallery in RiNo. That would be Lisa Kowalski: Black and White, which is sparely installed and extremely elegant.

Overall, the guiding colors are, as suggested by the title, black and white, though technically there are also lots of different grays. There's a real clarity to Kowalski's lines and bars, which are typically done in black against white with obvious nods to Asian calligraphy and to Franz Kline, who invented his own non-objective style that seems to also originate in calligraphy.

Facing you as you enter is a stunning triptych, "Untitled #148-14," which at fifteen feet across functions as a mural. Fluid black lines are arranged in rough horizontals; the vertical lines, some of which are fairly thick, run effortlessly across a white ground that on close examination reveals painted-out elements below the surface. It's really an eye-dazzler, despite the stripped-down simplicity of the palette and the formal elements -- or rather, because of those features.

Everything in the Kowalski show has been done to a high standard, but I wanted to single out another great painting, "Untitled 147-14," which is more full-bodied, with the black bars filled in with thick coats of a range of gray tones instead of the stark black-to-white contrast seen in most of the others.

Looking at the Kowalskis, you couldn't be blamed for thinking that they are the product of freely applied automatic gestures, but they are actually based on preparatory collages. She tears pictures out of magazines and then arranges them with other bits and passages of color to create the overall composition that she carries out in oil on panels. Interestingly, these collages include representational images from the original pictures, but when she translates them, she turns them into purely non-objective shapes.

This fall season has started out strong, but it's going by fast, with Ikeda and Lovendahl at Havu and Kowalski at Ironton each closing very soon.

See Homare Ikeda: Revisit and Nancy Lovendahl: Intercessions through October 18 at William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street. For more information, call 303-893-2360 or go to williamhavugallery.com.

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See Lisa Kowalski: Black and White through October 18 at Ironton Studios and Gallery, 3636 Chestnut Place. For more information, visit irontonstudios.com.

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