Review: Three Impressive Solos at Spark Gallery

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Spark Gallery on Santa Fe Drive consists of a pair of mid-sized rooms and one very small one, so the space can get cramped when each area is assigned to a separate exhibit. The crowded feel is exacerbated when the styles of the art in the various exhibits don’t jibe visually. Sad to say, this non-compatibility issue has become common at Spark — and at Denver's other co-ops, too. And that makes the three shows on view at Spark right now all the more notable. Not only is each a visual treat on its own, but while each of the featured artists is promoting a distinctly different approach to art, the three exhibits function beautifully together.

In the west gallery is Annalee Schorr: Pattern Play, highlighting mostly recent pieces by this longtime abstract and conceptual artist. Schorr first began showing her work in the area in the late 1970s, and has been a Spark member since 1985, with yearly exhibits at the co-op since then. Although she does photos and videos, the main current in her work is creating patterns that she employs in non-object paintings and installations. And it’s this pattern work that she presents in this show.

Schorr has conceived of her space at Spark as a single statement, with the wall pieces linked together not only stylistically but also by the installation “Checkmate.” On the floor, she's laid strips of red, black, gray and checkered duct tape in a composition that comprises diagonals of tape set against one another and covers the entire area. It's a simple idea, but it really comes together to make a big statement — and it provides the perfect environment for Schorr's more tightly done paintings, notably the four from her “Cubism” series that dominate the main wall.

In these acrylic-on-Plexiglas paintings — two in black on white, two in white on black — Schorr carries out flattened geometric renderings of intersecting cubes. It’s these cubes, and not Picasso’s cubism, that she's exploring in these works. Adjacent to the “Cubism” paintings is “More Cubes,” a symmetrical shield of interlocking quadrangles done in an array of grays against white. This is the only piece in the show that isn’t new, and though it looks as fresh as everything else, Schorr painted it more than thirty years ago.
Opposite the Schorr show is Kathryn Oberdorfer: Coming Full Circle, with small, easel-sized acrylic-on-canvas paintings, a few with linear accents done with pastels or charcoal. Oberdorfer has written that she sees abstraction as an exercise akin to putting together a puzzle, and that way of thinking is manifested in the compositions that include clearly defined areas of color constrained by lines or linear constructs. Several of the paintings feature an arching or looping line that suggests the idea of enclosure, and it turns out that Oberdorfer used to make ceramic vessels; these paintings have been influenced by those wares. Oberdorfer has a great sense for juxtaposing striking colors, and this strength carries these neo-abstract-expressionist works over the finish line.
The tiny north gallery, which is given over to invited guests of the exhibiting members in the other spaces, is an ambitious enterprise: Heather Doyle-Maier: I Stayed Here on the Ground, in which the artist poetically explores her feelings about having her grown daughter going off on her own for the first time. Heather Doyle-Maier takes as her theme the idea of “leaving the nest,” using feathers as a key material; the feathers are sewn into square gauze bandages, reflecting a mother’s role as the caregiver and protector of the child. The feather and bandage squares are stacked up in rectilinear containers, some overflowing and others only partly filled, with the former marking the experiences from the past and the latter having room for those that will occur in the future.

There's periodically a performance aspect to this exhibit, when Doyle-Maier sits at a table in the gallery, sewing together the feathers and gauze bandages. It's a thoughtful show that’s also engaging.

The Schorr, Oberdorfer and Doyle-Maier solos run through Sunday, November 6, at Spark Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive; call 720-889-2200 or go to sparkgallery.com for more information.

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