Geometric abstraction, an international current, has played an outsized role in the modern art of the American West for the past fifty years, maybe longer. Consider the career of Colorado’s Clark Richert, Agnes Martin’s work in New Mexico...you get the idea.
It might have something to do with the hard edges of the mountains set against the sky, or those impossibly flat high plains. Whatever the reason, this type of work has not only held on to its relevance, but it’s currently making a comeback. A strong case for that return is The Connected Edge, at the William Havu Gallery, where a trio of artists — two from New Mexico and one from Wyoming — are showing compositions with strong linear elements.
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The graphic power of the Jeff Kahm paintings strikes you immediately as you walk through the doors. In a number of the pieces, alternating awning-like vertical stripes cover the panels, with Kahm using acrylic glazes and pigments to produce surfaces that look like sheets of painted metal. Kahm is a Plains Cree who teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe; when you know this detail, his otherwise universal approach to picture-making takes on a distinct Native American quality.
Beyond the Kahms and up on the mezzanine are similarly conceived yet definitely distinct striped paintings by Wyoming’s Clay Johnson. Despite their simplicity — nothing other than a stack of horizontal bands — they are also complex, with densely and expressively painted passages. Although Johnson does not intend these paintings to be landscape-based, they look the part anyway.
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New Mexico’s Aaron Karp displays a different sensibility. Still, there’s a clear affinity between his work and that of Kahm and Johnson: their shared interest in meticulous drafting. Karp, who’s been painting since the ’70s, orchestrates a vocabulary of simple shapes, each of which is repeated over and over. These shapes are organized into circles that morph into spheres, layered on several illusionary planes that recede from the viewer.
If you loved the eight interconnected solos now at Robischon, as I did (see the show before it closes March 4), you will certainly enjoy this smart-looking threesome at Havu. For both venues to highlight similar tendencies in contemporary abstraction is a serendipitous convergence.
The Connected Edge, through March 11 at William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street; for more information, call 303-893-2360 or go to williamhavugallery.com.