Santa Fe Sampler: Shows That Deconstruct the West, Rethink Books

Monumental diptych by Collin Parson in Interference.EXPAND
Monumental diptych by Collin Parson in Interference.
courtesy Michael Warren Contemporary
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I recently headed to Santa Fe Drive to check out Interference: new works by Collin Parson at Michael Warren Contemporary, but while I was in the neighborhood, I caught a couple of other shows, too.

Collin Parson is a familiar figure in the city’s art scene. The son of Chuck Parson, the acknowledged master of contemporary sculpture in Colorado, Collin is the director of exhibitions at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, and during his tenure there, he's gained a reputation as one of the state’s most influential curators and its greatest champion of local artists. He’s an established artist himself, known for his post-minimalist sculptures and installations that have earned him multiple commissions for works in public places, including “Echoes and Reflections,” unveiled last month in Lakewood's Addenbrooke Park. It’s an outdoor installation of geometric panels in mirrored stainless steel that partly surrounds a remarkable, pre-existing, freestanding fireplace of random stone, all that remains of the 1950s Addenbrooke house; the panels are arranged to reclaim the footprint of the lost dwelling. The piece commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of Lakewood, Parson’s home town.

Installation view of Collin Parson's Interference.EXPAND
Installation view of Collin Parson's Interference.
courtesy Michael Warren Contemporary

Interference opened less than two weeks later, with more than enough recent work to take over the entire front set of spaces. Most of the pieces are variations on a two-level op-art bas-relief that looks like a light box, a frequent form for Parson, but isn't, since the only illumination is the ambient light of the room. For these, Parson has pierced a black screen with a linear composition and then mounted it out from a white field adorned with a composition that’s also black, like the screen. The wide space between the two components, along with the brightness of the white, provides just the right amount of light to reveal the moiré effect he wants, where the overlaid patterns seem to shift as the viewer walks by.

In the largest of the works in the “Interference” series, a diptych measuring twelve feet across, Parson has cleverly and elegantly used the solids for the arrangement on the rear panel produced when he created the voids on the front. In another large diptych, the formal arrangement in front filters a different one behind. A third “Interference” piece explores the moiré effect from a new angle; it's a three-dimensional tower of transparent panels covered with op-y serpentine black lines.

Angela Faris Belt's digitally altered landscape photos.EXPAND
Angela Faris Belt's digitally altered landscape photos.
courtesy Michael Warren Contemporary

In the intimate back gallery at Michael Warren is a tight solo, Entropy: work by Angela Faris Belt, which comprises digitally altered photos by the Colorado artist. Though they're all part of a series and share the same approach and the same subject — the landscape — they differ widely in appearance, largely because of their extremely varied palettes, more than anything else. But the process was not solely Belt's: the AI of her computer incorrectly recovered her lost image files. In “Entropy_5883 (falling rock)," for instance, there is a large, heroic heroic image of a road cut, and then below it, the AI has inserted bands of other images, taken at the same site, depicting the weeds along the road or the road itself. These secondary images are repeated and tiled to form horizontal bars, and there are also added stripes of computer-generated static to further divide the piece. Somehow, despite all of these interventions, the work still functions as a traditional Western landscape, the road cut standing in for the mountains. With “Entropy_43222 (twin trees),” the recovery program added ghostly layers of images, lining them up horizontally, and non-naturalistic shades that are laid over photos via colored filters. Even so, this looks like a Western landscape, too.

Terry Decker's sculptures covered in digital photos.EXPAND
Terry Decker's sculptures covered in digital photos.
Robert Delaney

Up the street at D’art Gallery, the city's newest co-op, longtime Denver artist Terry Decker also uses digital photography to deconstruct the Western landscape in Gems of the West/The Paint Mines. He manipulates photos of the scenes around Calhan’s paint mines until the colors are so toned up they look radioactive. Presented flat in the traditional way, the prints are superbly crafted and eye-catching, but they’re even better when they're used for a pair of three-dimensional pieces. “Quadtych Columns” is made up of four rectilinear solids arranged point-to-point so that all sides are visible. Adhering images to the standing pillars at eye level, Decker creates four distinct landscapes, each one snapping into view as the piece is circumnavigated. For “#2 Tower,” the same subject is sliced and diced in different ways.

The other half of D’art is devoted to Lydia Riegle, a solo of abstract paintings and works on paper by an emerging artist who lives in the foothills. Riegle is interested in experimentation, resulting in rapid development through various approaches to abstraction. Her latest is to combine expressively painted grounds, adding geometric passages on top and thus defining the picture plane. The piece that stood out for me, though, was “Vivacity,” done before these later works. “Vivacity” is covered in swaths of lavender and white partially covering drawn elemental shapes, with the Motherwell blue scribble on top just the right touch.

Slab-built clay vessels by Mary Mackey.EXPAND
Slab-built clay vessels by Mary Mackey.
Robert Delaney

Next door at Spark Gallery, the city’s oldest co-op, abstraction and photography are also on display. Mary Mackey: Mixed Media and Mud fills the east gallery with paintings and ceramics by Mackey, a veteran Denver artist who's been doing abstract paintings for over 25 years. This show includes a couple of her monumental, automatist compositions carried out in collage and paint, dominated by creams, blacks and grays. They are very elegant and closely related to her large, slab-built ceramic vessels, both through their quiet palettes and Mackey's expressive approach to mark-making. Mackey opened Urban Mud, a gallery and ceramics workshop, a few blocks south on Santa Fe this summer. Though she’s painted for decades, she took up clay just three years ago, and everything at Spark was created at her studio there.

Suzi Moore McGregor, a guest artist, is also associated with Urban Mud, but for My World: Real and Imagined, in Spark’s north gallery, she’s presenting not ceramics, but photos, which are her specialty. McGregor has traveled the world capturing exotic people in exotic places, including Africa and Asia. These photos are poetically composed and beautifully colored, with what could be called a classic National Geographic feel — until you notice that she’s altered the shots in computer programs, adding and subtracting parts wherever her imagination leads her.

The second Spark member show, in the west gallery, is Let’s Go Outside, filled with artist books made by Alicia Bailey, one of Colorado’s most renowned proponents of the form. Bailey creates both editioned books and one-off pieces that are more like tiny installations using the vocabulary of bookmaking — binding, leaves, custom covers and boxes — to stretch into something else.

The title piece, “Let’s Go Outside,” an edition of one, is both autobiographical and genealogical. Bailey incorporates reproductions of family photos of outdoor activities, some of which date back to 1901, on “pages” done on thick board, then bound end to end so they line up in a row, instead of flipping like a typical book. This allows the whole thing to fold up and fit into a presentation case. The piece is exquisitely crafted and has the feel of a tiny hidden treasure, as do all the works in this show.

There are important art venues elsewhere in Denver, but there’s nowhere else in the state where you can visit so many impressive exhibition spaces in just a few short blocks as you can on Santa Fe.

Collin Parson and Angela Faris Belt, through November 23, Michael Warren Contemporary, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-635-6255, michaelwarrencontemporary.com.

Lydia Riegel and Terry Decker, through November 10, D’art Gallery, 900 Santa Fe, 720-486-7735, dartgallery.org.

Mary Mackey, Alicia Bailey and Suzi Moore McGregor, through November 17, Spark Gallery, 900 Santa Fe, 720-889-2200, sparkgallery.com

Update: This review has been updated to clarify the production of Angela Faris's Belt's work.

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