Review: Mark Brasuell's Zero Really Adds Up at Spark

Mark Brasuell has been creating abstract paintings for more than twenty years. For most of that time, he exhibited his work at Edge, but just over a year ago, he jumped ship and signed on at Spark, the city's oldest surviving co-op. That's where you'll find Zero, a solo featuring works in acrylic on canvas and acrylic on Mylar, all done in the past year.

Though it's small and snugly installed in Spark's east gallery, Zero is a solid presentation, full of signature Brasuells. On one level, the paintings exemplify classic abstract expressionism; Brasuell is a virtuoso with automatism, so the surfaces are covered with scribbles, smears, drips and runs. But on another level they're conceptual, because they incorporate language codes. Language has long been one of the artist's interests, and he has often inserted words -- sometimes barely legibly -- into his all-over compositions. For these paintings, Brasuell was thinking about the conventions used by spies and the insider language used by doctors.

Brasuell doesn't literally illustrate these communications or spell them out, but he uses them to guide his mark-making. His intention is to express the specific ideas he's addressing abstractly and to have the topic inform -- as opposed to determine -- his brushwork. For example, in the title painting, he's referring to the military's intelligence forces, with the title inspired by the film Zero Dark Thirty. He's built up layers of paint; at one point, he told me, the painting was entirely black, though the finished work is mostly blue. In a nod to hidden messages, he's included elements of Gregg shorthand to stand in for the unknown ciphers used by the government during the search for Osama bin Laden.

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Similar cloak-and-dagger scenarios are evoked by "The Canaries," which refers to the first agents to infiltrate the enemy's turf; "Tradecraft" (pictured), which refers to concealment; and "Dead Drop," about secret places in which to trade information. Other paintings -- such as "Icteric," which comes from the Greek word for jaundice; "Encephalopathy," a condition of the brain; and even "This Broken Thing," a reflection on the artist himself -- were inspired not by espionage, but by Brasuell's recent hospitalization for a serious illness.

A remarkable feature of Brasuell's work is the otherworldly colors he creates by mixing unlikely combinations -- like metallic red over black, which comes out purple. In the case of the Mylar pieces, he uses poured or sprayed water while the acrylic is setting up to break up or blend the shades. When the paint is dry, he draws on top, using pastels that he has cast and ground himself.

Brasuell's impressive Zero runs through February 15 at Spark Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive. For information, call 720-889-2200 or go to sparkgallery.com.

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