Review: Three Artists Branch Out in Michael Warren Contemporary's Tree Stories

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For Tree Stories, their intelligent group show at Michael Warren Contemporary, gallery co-directors Michael McClung and Warren Campbell have put together what are essentially three interconnected solos. In their discrete spaces, Meredith Nemirov, Jeff Baldus and Gwen Laine all focus on trees — deconstructing them in paintings, sculptures and photos, respectively.
In the space up front, Nemirov, who has shown both here and nationally since the 1980s, presents her distinctive take on tree trunks. Born and raised in New York, Nemirov began as a figurative artist, but after moving to Ridgway, Colorado, she concentrated increasingly on the landscape — in particular, aspen trees, which she has likened to the figure in nature. Although at first glance her imagery seems to be clearly presented, on closer inspection, it’s obvious that the compositions are actually very dense and covered in skeins of lines.
In the area beyond the gallery’s information desk are abstract sculptures by Jeff Baldus, an Iowa artist who casts tree branches and roots in bronze or iron. He finds dead branches with evocative shapes that have often been broken off trees in storms; they’re invariably discovered in places that have personal meaning for Baldus. A couple of the branches here resemble standing figures; he has compared the found twigs to members of his extended family or his circle of friends. Interestingly, the sculptures are naturalistic in appearance but also clearly made of metal instead of wood.

Finally, in the back space, Colorado artist Gwen Laine is represented by two bodies of photographic work. First, there are close-up images of twigs from her “Topography” series. Laine starts with traditional black-and-white photographs and infuses them with monochrome colors, some strong and toned-up, for results that are both elegant and lyrical. In the second group of photos, from her “Beyond This Place” series, Laine avoided digital techniques — all appearances to the contrary. Using a 35mm camera, she shot landscapes, then underexposed the negatives to achieve the rich colors and blurry shapes she wanted. Her work with these two distinct photographic techniques — digital and analog — reveals Laine’s interest in exploring the very nature of the medium. By bringing them together in the tightly defined back gallery, Campbell and McClung created an eye-popping finale for the show.Tree Stories runs through July 16 at Michael Warren Contemporary, 760 Santa Fe Drive. Call 303-667-2447 or go to michaelwarrencontemporary.com for additional details.         

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