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Review: Walker Hosts Lively Mix of Abstract and Conceptual Efforts

Brandon Reese sculptures and Roland Bernier paintings at Walker Fine Art.
Brandon Reese sculptures and Roland Bernier paintings at Walker Fine Art.
Dawnelle Reese
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As her first show of 2017, Bobbi Walker has organized a group exhibit with the outlandish title Amalgamated Contemplation at her namesake Walker Fine Art. The five artists included in the show are all exploring abstraction, and a few of them take a conceptual route to do so. In a break from Walker's established exhibition philosophy, there is no featured solo up front this time, as there was with the Mark Penner-Howell show last month. Instead, she has made an effort to give each of the artists a comparable presence in order to create a sense of equilibrium, with no one artist standing out.

Walker told me that this will be her approach going forward — and it makes sense, because it will allow her to promote more artists simultaneously. But despite her best intentions, two artists do emerge as the stars of Amalgamated Contemplation: sculptor Brandon Reese and the late Roland Bernier, a painter and mixed-media artist.

Brandon Reese sculptures and wall plaques.
Brandon Reese sculptures and wall plaques.
Dariya Bryant

Filling the entry space and spilling out through the rest of the gallery are Reese’s rustic sculptures. There are constructions like “Hoop Party,” in which lattice elements made of stoneware are joined together into a beehive shape, as well as stacked totems in wood and stoneware that are reminiscent of little peaked-roof houses.

Though Reese’s three-dimensional creations couldn’t be more different from Bernier’s paintings and works on paper, they look great together. There are three of Bernier’s spectacular all-over abstractions from the 1990s that are covered with marks suggesting writing or graffiti tagging; complex and pictorially sophisticated, these are impressive displays of his technique. Despite being two decades old, they’ve held up beautifully and look cutting-edge new. Of the many periods of Bernier’s stylistic development, I think the paintings and prints of this time represent a high point of his long career.

Roland Bernier painting and prints; Brandon Reese sculptures.
Roland Bernier painting and prints; Brandon Reese sculptures.
Dariya Bryant

In the late ’90s, Bernier abandoned abstraction and turned to word-based conceptualism, which became his signature. The show at Walker includes woodcuts of this sort; they’ve been marked with simply rendered letters and nothing else. There are also a couple of his three-dimensional renditions of the same ideas in Plexiglas, wood and printed paper.

Amalgamated Contemplation also includes Ben Strawn’s airy abstract paintings, some of which incorporate wire “drawings” rising off their surfaces. In the back are a group of aerial photos by Angela Beloian that she has covered with white-colored, web-like digital drawings. In a lot of ways, these altered photos represent an expression of the same concept you see in the artist's more familiar ink-on-wood drawings, but they really look different. The Beloians are paired with sparely composed and intimately scaled abstract monoprints by Kellie Cannon. Cannon's use of simple outlined shapes set against flat grounds reminded me of work of the late Dale Chisman — and that’s definitely a compliment.

Ben Strawn paintings with Brandon Reese sculptures.
Ben Strawn paintings with Brandon Reese sculptures.
Dariya Bryant

Amalgamated Contemplation runs through March 4 at Walker Fine Art; though the official address is 300 West 11th Avenue, #A, the entrance is on Cherokee Street. Call 303-355-8955 or go to walkerfineart.com for hours and other information.

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