Art Review

Review: Solos Inspired by Chemistry, Junk and Geometry at Spark

More than any other Denver co-op, Spark Gallery has held on to its members, some for decades. So it's no surprise to find the two main rooms occupied by shows from a pair of artists who are longtime members and veterans of the alternative scene: In the west gallery, there’s Sue Simon’s Anxiety, and in the east gallery, Barbara Carpenter’s Wabi-Sabi.

Simon started out as a medical illustrator and has long been interested in science. When she began to paint 25 years ago, she applied this interest to fine art by using chemical formulas as taking-off points for her pieces. For the recent body of work that makes up Anxiety, Simon uses concepts from brain chemistry,
physics and genetics that are related to — or illustrate — that jittery state of mind. There are a number of interesting works, but the showstopper is “Uncertainty = Anxiety," an enormous piece with six panels, each with a different color field. Running across the main horizontal panel and bleeding onto the adjacent vertical one is a mathematical formula using large-format, die-cut symbols. 
Wabi-Sabi is made up of photos that Carpenter took at a junkyard on Santa Fe Drive, a place she’s returned to over and over during the past twenty years, creating many separate bodies of photos; this group is just the latest. But she told me this would be her last foray among the rusting cars, trucks and buses since the junkyard is closing, with the land slated to be redeveloped. Carpenter’s signature is the close-up shot of peeling paint and corroded surfaces that reads as abstract. These new photos have a super-slick finish and are done with an infused-aluminum technique in which the pigments are embedded into the sheets of metal instead of being applied on top of them.
As is the tradition at Spark, the members showing — in this case Simon and Carpenter — can invite a third artist to take over the intimate (tiny?) north gallery. That's where Lisa Call's Restructuring: Color and Line is on display. Once a Spark member, Call resigned when she moved to New Zealand a few years ago. The pieces in this show are textiles done in several separate series; in each, Call has created related geometric
abstracts with straight lines running across color fields. The separate elements in each series have been done in a different palette. Although even the large ones are pretty small (they had to come from New Zealand, after all), they are very engaging.

The Simon, Carpenter and Call shows all close on Sunday, May 8. So head to Spark Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive; call 720-889-2200 or go to sparkgallery.com for hours and info. And remember, Spark will be open until 9 p.m. on May 6 for First Friday.
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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