Review: Ray Tomasso and Regina Benson Create Art With Natural Force

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Artists Ray Tomasso and Regina Benson have been presenting tandem solo shows at Ice Cube for the last few years. This bond didn't develop because the two do similar work, but because they have certain affinities. First, there are the shared themes -- the natural forces in Colorado. Second, each is working in a medium outside the mainstream: Tomasso employs cast paper, while Benson uses dyed and pressed fabric.

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The subject of Tomasso's pieces is Colorado's extreme weather, which explains the title of his current show, Wind & Storm. And in addition to conveying atmospheric events, the artist points out that he actually creates his pieces outside. In his statement, Tomasso writes that his work has withstood "the winds, rain and hail of Colorado" and that the finished products "reflect how such events alter the nature and perceptions of the landscape."

Many of Tomasso's pieces are monumental in scale -- appropriate, considering the meteorological subject matter, which he conveys through simple chunky forms. In "Another Day of Wind & Dust," a six-panel piece that measures more than twelve feet across, Tomasso has constructed an abstraction in which deep cuts and overlapping planes create a wildly active surface, calmed down by the fact that it's a monochrome. Others, such as "Water Rising," are covered in brightly colored passages, including big blocks of sky blue and terra-cotta red.

Benson's installation complements the Tomassos beautifully, and amazingly, she also works outside. For Catching Fire, the artist has constructed a seamless installation called "Monolith." It is made of eleven separate but related rectilinear pillars suspended from the ceiling, each measuring nine feet tall. These rectilinear elements are covered in dyed fabric that has had an all-over pattern of creases permanently impressed into it. Taken together, the pillars are meant to convey the idea of a wildfire. Benson, who lives on the edge of the mountains in Golden, was on the front lines of 2008's Green Mountain fire, which came close to her home and studio.

As the viewer proceeds from the front toward the back, the numbered pillars change in color, which conveys the increasing intensity of the flames as the fire builds. Benson pulls this off by allowing the dark-brownish tones to dominate in the initial pieces. As they progress toward the back, the lighter tones of the orangey flame-colored areas increase until they predominate in the final few. The first two are not internally lighted, but the subsequent ones are, with the last, "Monolith #11," ensconced in its own separate space and completely illuminated.

Wind & Storm and Catching Fire Through October 11 at Ice Cube Gallery, 3320 Walnut Street, 303-292-1822, cecubegallery.com.

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