Art Review

Review: Paul Gillis Conjures Up an Enigmatic World Set in Both the Past and the Future

Paul Gillis: Otherwhere/Otherwhen Rule Gallery 3254 Walnut Street

Colorado artist Paul Gillis, though incredibly prolific, has kept a low profile over the past several decades. It's been five years since his last Denver solo, at the Singer Gallery, and a full quarter-century since the one before that, at the Denver Art Museum. That history alone makes Paul Gillis: Otherwhere/Otherwhen, at Rule Gallery, something special.

See also: Review: David Menard Fills Point Gallery With Dark and Poetic Evocations of Cities

Considering the clutch of major paintings on view, which feature Gillis's idiosyncratic approach to subject matter and stylistically refer to underground comix, viewers could be excused for thinking that they were seeing the work of a twenty-something artist. But Gillis is actually in his seventies, and he's been doing similar work for the past fifty years, since he actually was in his twenties.

One thing, though, betrays the fact that Gillis has obviously been at his craft for a long, long time: his incredibly accomplished technique, which took years to perfect. The divisions between the pictorial elements are crisp and sharp, and the pigments have been applied smoothly. Plus, his instinctual sense for color is thoroughly accomplished, with dark, rich shades dominating.

The paintings depict a fictional reality populated by imaginary figures and invented landmarks. The world that Gillis conjures up seems to be set somewhere in outer space, on the surface of some alien planet. In some of the works, architectural elements suggest an ancient culture, as do the indecipherable symbols the artist puts here and there.

But these features are juxtaposed with futuristic elements. In "Pchelovek," for instance, a huge domed structure covered in rows of arched openings is reminiscent of a building from ancient Rome. The construction looms over the picture, while in front of it, a shape that suggests a rocket is about to take off.

In many of the paintings, a robot serves as the key component. These robots have heads that resemble cameras. Often carried out in black or dark blue, they may function as stand-ins for the artist himself, since Gillis is a photographer. In the most recent paintings, the camera -- or at least its lens -- makes an appearance without being associated with a robot, as in "Do You Remember Me," completed earlier this year.

With the premature death of Robin Rule about a year ago, the fate of Rule Gallery was unclear. But it was Rule's wish that it carry on without her. So with the support of her family, longtime associates Valerie Santerli, Rachel Beitz and Hilary Morris are running the reconstituted Rule.

The Gillis show, which runs through December 6, is the latest in a string of credible exhibits presented by the three women.

Rule is located in Hinterland, at 3254 Walnut Street. For more information, call 303-800-6776 or go to rulegallery.com.


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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia