Collin Parson, exhibition manager for the Arvada Center, has made highlighting Colorado art his prime directive. He did so with his first Art of the State in 2013, and now Art of the State 2016, a free-for-all juried show open to artists across Colorado, is on display in Arvada. From the first round, Parson knew he’d need help to conscientiously sift through all the work that would be submitted, so he tapped two local experts, Gwen Chanzit, curator of modern art at the Denver Art Museum, and Michael Chavez, manager of Denver’s public art program, to join him on the jury. Ultimately, they chose an astounding 148 pieces from nearly 1,500 submissions.
Looking over the inclusions, it’s clear that the three approached their jobs with open minds — because their selections are all over the place. This show encompasses an array of stylistic expressions in every medium imaginable, by an assortment of talents ranging from well-known Colorado artists to some no one has ever heard of, and others whose reputations fall somewhere in between. Despite this visual riot, Art of the State reveals certain things about Colorado art. There is apparently a strong, multifarious representational scene here; abstraction and conceptualism are also flourishing. And there are obviously many accomplished photographers working in this state.
Among the artists employing representation are several hyperrealists who possess the old-fashioned hand-to-eye coordination of the old masters. This is evident in E. Michael Burrows’s “Trick or Treat,” a staggeringly detailed graphite depiction of a biker’s skull-festooned chopper that looks like a photo.
“Who’s Story?,” Tim Main’s portrait of a young man done in graphite powder, pencil and conté crayon, is incredibly well done, as is the more atmospheric “Joan,” a Nathan Abels drawing in charcoal. Monique Crine offers full-color hyperrealism; her luscious oil painting, “Rob (1),” a portrait of a handsome football player, is part of a series on injured athletes that was exhibited at MCA Denver. Rick Dula contributes a technically adept, colorful photorealist view of an old building, while Robert Gratiot’s painting, “Red Truck, Boston,” reveals his expertise at mimicking the appearance of reflections in glass.
Kevin Sloan takes a different tack: Although he shares the hyperrealists’ fanatical interest in detail, his paintings look like parodies of classic realism. Also casting traditional realism in a contemporary light are the nature paintings done by Mai Wyn Schantz on shiny stainless steel. There’s even a realistic sculpture in bronze by Yoshitomo Saito that represents a bent circle of twigs. It’s monumental.
Some artists mash up abstraction with representation. Jason Lee Gimbel contributes a painting of a seated woman in a stylistic hybrid of realism and expressionism. Jan Fordyce’s “Spiral Ripple” has been freely sketched, yet resolves itself into a convincing depiction of swirling water. Ardy Zirakzadeh’s prints may look abstract, but underneath their exuberant lines are landscape scenes; overlapping images of recognizable things lend a similar abstract quality to Susanne Mitchell’s atmospheric painting of an interior.
Among the pop-related efforts is Evan Colbert’s “Hazards,” done in ink on aluminum; this witty, intelligent and well-made piece uses the visual language of universal signage to “warn” of the dangers of being struck by lightning or falling off a bike. Another intelligent piece is “Welcome Valued Customer,” a mixed-medium work on wood by Mark Penner-Howell that depicts an American child in a shopping cart surrounded by Chinese calligraphy. A couple of artists embrace a retro-pop sensibility: Peter Illig’s blindfolded woman and Ryan Rice’s cosmonaut are both 1950s-style close-up portraits. Several more contributions come out of vintage illustrations, including Louis Recchia’s comic-book-cover painting and Rob Watt’s fashion-ad-inspired embroidery.
Though representational art predominates, there’s also a strong abstract component here — and a credible show could be culled from these pieces alone. One of the real standouts in this very strong group is by Jeff Wenzel, who hasn’t shown his work in several years; his “Peg,” covered in torn paper and slashing marks, is magisterial. Taking a similar approach but with very different results are Lili Francuz and Diane Cionni, who both use torn paper to create elegant works. All of these pieces have a breathless, automatist quality, as does Andy Berg’s “Neteraat,” a mixed-media painting that’s one of the best pieces I’ve seen by him. I can say the same for the striking Kelton Osborn work, which comprises intersecting shapes with an added 3-D element.
The color field is key to both Don Quade, who scatters tiny elements against it, and Reed Weimer, who uses it as a ground for his meandering lines. The Weimer piece relates to the all-over micro-line drawing by Charles Livingston. A couple of textile artists, Regina Benson and Gay Lasher, are equally interested in combining linear and expressionist abstraction in their wall pieces. And while Gayla Lemke’s abstract ceramic pole takes a different approach, it also falls into the non-objective category.
A number of the abstractionists refer to geometry. Patricia Aaron contributes a super-colorful painting of vertical bars; Monroe Hodder uses collapsing horizontal bars as her compositional device. Jaime Carrejo’s piece is related to both of these; he employs broken diagonal lines that have been filled in with vaporous colors.
Geometric sculptures are also on display, including two small, exquisite marble forms by Colorado modern master Jerry Wingren; a simple, multi-part metal sculpture by Joshua Goss; and a similarly conceived, if more compactly composed, work by Patrick Marold that lines up vertical metal sheets.
Another striking work with a constructivist feel is Emmett Culligan’s “Rubric No. 5.” To create it, Culligan heated up metal forms and then filled them with compressed air so that the shapes bulge in the middle. More complex formally is the busy clutch of geometric shapes that make up Andrew Libertone’s “Side Effects.”
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Colorado’s scenery has appealed to photographers for well over a century, so it’s no surprise to find many excellent landscape shots in the show. Allen Birnbach’s theatrically lit photo of hay bales is related, at least from a dramatic standpoint, to the operatic views of gathering clouds by David Hamann. There’s also a lyrical snow scene by Heather Diamond, as well as super-graphic-like aerial views of farmland by Evan Anderman. Representing a subtle diversion from these classic landscapes is David Sharpe’s pinhole photo of mountains. Though sharing a Western context with all of these works, the sweet “Next Auction,” by Paul Sisson, captures a small town instead of scenery. And Angela Faris Belt and Andrew Beckham offer photo-based deconstructions of the landscape.
Other artists who aren’t as easy to tie together by either subject or style deserve a shout-out. There are worthy pieces made of found materials, including Phil Bender’s mural of placemats and Michael Brohman’s suspended, scorched pillar. Clear plastic is employed by some artists, most notably in the suspended sheets of painted monofilament by Dylan Gebbia-Richards and in Linda Graham’s conceptually similar lineup of hanging Plexiglas strips serving as a screen. I was particularly impressed by Carla Kappa’s table that is completely covered in tiny scrolls, with a single copy of Mao’s Little Red Book in the center, as well as by Bonny Lhotka’s installation of a grid of UV prints and wooden blocks. Also not to be missed is the goth-storybook rabbit painting by Jill Hadley Hooper.
There is so much going on in Art of the State 2016, it’s hard to take it all in. Then again, since this is a survey, it’s more than enough that the show serves as a snapshot of the Colorado art world at this moment in time.
Art of the State 2016, through March 27, at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada,720-898-7200, arvadacenter.org.