In northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, various Native American cultures stretching back to antiquity created distinctive works of art. Hundreds of years ago, Latino culture began to flourish in the area, establishing its own set of artistic currents. Finally, a century and a half ago, European-Americans came, and among them were artists who’d been attracted by the scenery and by those pre-existing cultures, and who brought their own aesthetic customs to the area. In the years since, the three distinctive approaches became intertwined — as demonstrated by a knockout duet on the main level at William Havu Gallery, along with a sublime solo on the mezzanine.
The star attraction is Evolution: Emilio Lobato & Virgil Ortiz, which includes not only the individual efforts of Emilio Lobato and Virgil Ortiz, but also a half-dozen works on paper and a remarkable pair of ceramic sculptures that the two did collaboratively. Truth be told, the show is more of a Lobato exhibit with Ortiz additions, as the former, a respected Colorado artist, contributed thirty works, while the latter, a New Mexico master, is represented by just four.
Among the Lobatos are a selection of his recent oil-and-collage-on-panel paintings, most with 3-D elements. Although a few with references to Asia struck me as an entirely separate body of work, most are signature pieces that employ colors and concepts associated with Lobato’s Latino heritage: His family has been in the San Luis Valley for generations. Using stripes, rectangles, circles and squares, in quiet and somber shades and with no literal representations, Lobato somehow successfully conveys his background.
Ortiz also uses his culture as the basis of his art; in his case, it’s the Cochiti Pueblo where he grew up and still lives. A descendant of a renowned family of potters, Ortiz has specialized in fresh takes on traditional Cochiti ceramics. At Havu, he is represented by masks and a figure that tweak the age-old shapes and classic motifs, resulting in pieces that represent completely new archetypal forms. They’re marvelous.
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The cultural exchanges continue upstairs with Jeff Kahm, a single-artist show comprising vaporous paintings that recall both geometric abstraction and Native American weavings. A Plains Cree, Jeff Kahm lives in New Mexico. One remarkable quality of his paintings is that they appear to be glazed, an effect he achieves by applying many layers of clear matte medium over the painted passages.
Both shows run through October 8 at William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street; for additional information, call 303-893-2360 or go to williamhavugallery.com.