Review: Mixing Painting and Sculpture Is a Winning Formula for Havu and Walker Galleries

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Bob Knox and Michael Clapper William Havu Gallery 1040 Cherokee Street

Don Quade & Brandon Reese Walker Fine Art 300 West 11th Avenue

Considering the nature of physics as it relates to rooms, it's easy to understand why gallery directors like to pair a painter, whose works can cover the walls, with a sculptor, whose pieces cover the floors. It's like having two places in one, and it clearly works, creating a clever solution to the problem of expensive retail space. The William Havu Gallery and Walker Fine Art, which are less than a block apart in the Golden Triangle neighborhood, frequently take this approach.

Havu is currently presenting simultaneous solos on the gallery's main level, Bob Knox: Real Abstract, which is made up of paintings, and Michael Clapper: Portals, which comprises sculptures. Knox is a New York artist, while Clapper lives and works in Denver.

See also: Review: Hong Seon Jang Goes Over the Moon -- and Under the Desk -- at David B. Smith

Knox, who began his career as an illustrator and gained considerable success in that field, turned to painting about twenty years ago. The paintings in Real Abstract mark various points of the artist's progression in his self-appointed task to reconcile representational imagery -- typically hyperrealism -- with abstraction, particularly non-objective abstraction.

With his highly accomplished technique and the varied and imaginative dichotomies he's conjured up, it's hard to deny that Knox is really on to something in these paintings.

In some, like "Untitled: (On Rubens)," he's done a copy of a Rubens and then almost completely blotted it out with big smears of paint, à la abstract expressionism. In others, such as "Salem," the picture is divided in half, with a photo-realist depiction of a room on the left and a geometric abstraction on the right; the lines of some of the elements on one side match up with those on the other. In the realistic half of "Salem," there's a depiction of a Picasso, its abstracted forms ironically rendered realistically.

In some paintings, those super-accurate renderings of abstracts are the only "abstract" elements, with the rest of the painting being highly realistic. And there are those paintings in which a representational subject is abstracted simply by being out of focus.

Knox's works are pretty strange, but they are also pretty compelling. As I thought about them, I realized that the artist was doing both the representational elements and the abstract ones in exactly the same way -- by meticulously simulating them.

Clapper's sculptures are more clearly in the abstract category, exemplifying a neo-modernist formalism in which simple shapes are used to compose the pieces. Clapper, who has a number of public-art pieces around Colorado, is represented by mostly intimate works in his Portals show.

In the tabletop-sized "Tapio," he's carved two arcing shapes from light-colored limestone, with the larger one resting on the smaller. In "Tickle Me Pink," in white marble with pink travertine, he obliquely makes reference to the female nude in a simple arch.

There are also a couple of larger, garden-sized pieces, and as good as the small ones are, these are even better. For "Within," which is totemic, Clapper has fabricated a simple metal armature as the base that holds a monolith of stone above the floor. The sides of the monolith have been cut away to form ovoid bowls.

The largest Clapper is "66° North," which is fabulous. Here he creates a curved base from dazzling white Yule marble. Inserted into a lip cut into the top of the marble is a large circular open rim made from charred fir, the fire having given the wood a gorgeous black patina. The rim has been placed off one end of the marble so that it balances the piece both aesthetically and structurally, since the bottom of the base, like the top, is curved. This particular selection of Clapper's is diverse, with no one theme dominating, but the charred wood in "66º North" and in some smaller related works struck me as something new for the artist. Then again, he's frequently joined disparate materials in a single piece over the years.

At Walker Fine Art, the featured painter and sculptor have been joined together in a duet rather than a pair of interlocking solos, as at Havu. That duet is Don Quade & Brandon Reese: Unchartered.

Quade, who has been creating abstract paintings for two decades, has developed a recent interest in prints; both types of work are included here. (The prints, which are being exhibited for the first time, were pulled by Mark Lunning at Open Press.)

Quade's signature is to lay down a color field as a background and then accent it with small pictorial elements, some of which are representational and some of which are abstract. In that broad sense, his work could be associated with Knox's. Quade arranges the small elements, both representational and abstract, on the field in what would seem to be a random way -- but the placement is actually guided by his instinctual sense for composition, and the elements cover the picture plane in an all-over way so that our eyes run across the surface, pausing here and there to take in some kind of detail.

There's a decidedly Southwestern mood to these paintings, both in terms of Quade's color choices, which are dominated by subtle and sometimes somber tones like a warm sand or deep red, and the imagery he employs, such as the vegetal references, the references to people, and the simple abstract designs. This aesthetic reflects Quade's Latino upbringing and explains why, in addition to showing his work in his home state of Colorado, he also shows it in New Mexico and Arizona.

Quade's paintings provide the perfect setting for Reese's abstract sculptures, most of which are dominated by ceramic components. Reese, who trained with some of the most important ceramic artists of the last century, most notably Peter Voulkos, lives in Oklahoma, where he teaches ceramics at Oklahoma State University. The ceramic components he makes are technically remarkable, both for their size and their airiness (and therefore precariousness), being made of skeletal and linear elements that are stacked one on top of the other like building blocks, with no adhesive to hold them together.

Though there is no formal relationship to the Quades, the Reese sculptures are finished in similar colors, so they're linked to the paintings on that score alone, and the work of the two artists looks great together. In "Pearl," Reese has built a monumental cage-like dome construction with separate parts made of organized bars and circles that were pieced together to form it. In some, like "Block," the ceramic cages are joined to carved wood, and this combination is very effective, especially since the artist takes completely different approaches to the different materials. (The clay is pierced, the wood is solid.)

With these two galleries just a few doors down and across the street from each other and both presenting shows that are compatible with one another, it makes sense to see the Knox and Clapper shows at Havu at the same time that you take in the work of Quade and Reese at Walker. Together, all four function as one great group show.

Bob Knox and Michael Clapper Through December 6 at the William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360, williamhavugallery.com.

Don Quade & Brandon Reese Through January 10 at Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Ave., #A, 303-355-8955, walkerfineart.com.

Turn the page to see more artwork from these shows.

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