Review: Rule Gallery's Form & Void Mixes Words and Wire

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Over the years and in its various incarnations, Rule Gallery has mined the rich veins of Colorado art history to showcase the work of established talents while also striking gold by introducing new players to the scene. With its current show, Form & Void, the gallery does both. The exhibit brings together pieces by Jim Johnson, a local pioneer of conceptual art, and works by Vicki Lee Johnston, who began her career as an artist a quarter-century ago but exhibited little until the past few years. The pairing seems odd on the surface, since the artists’ respective oeuvres have nothing in common. Johnson is interested in using text as his principal aesthetic, and his pieces here are mostly charcoal on paper. Johnston, on the other hand, employs repurposed barbed wire and animal bones to make her vaguely narrative three-dimensional works. But after Johnson suggested the combination, Rule co-director Valerie Santerli, the curator of this show, ran with the idea.
The Johnsons typically comprise an amorphous shape in black set against bare white paper. On top of the shape, a simple saying such as “There’s No Time Like the Present” is written out in a commercial-style cursive script in white chalk. The pieces are so tightly done that at first they look like prints — but up close, Johnson’s meticulous handwork becomes apparent, especially at the edges of the shapes, where halos are created as the charcoal marks intersect with the rough surface of the paper. These intriguing drawings line the walls.

On stands and on the floor are the barbed-wire sculptures. Johnston became intrigued with this peculiar ad hoc art material years ago, when she had the opportunity to acquire a bunch after it was removed from a blocked elk path. Though she makes various associations with the wire’s negative impact, she has tamed it here and used it to convey the image of waving grasses, or nests. Her tour-de-force “Full of Broken Bones,” a monumental nest filled with bleached bones, is unforgettable.
Despite the emphatic distinction between the efforts of these two artists, the show has a harmonious flow. The starkness of the individual pieces, as well as their extremely limited palettes (white, accented by black, in Johnson’s case, and brown, sometimes accented by white, in Johnston’s), gives the show an appropriate wintry glow.

Form & Void runs through January 7 at Rule Gallery, in its new location at 530 Santa Fe Drive. Call 303-800-6776 or go to rulegallery.com for more information.

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