Seasonal Winds

Well, it's that time of year again--late summer, when the art world, which is centered in New York, essentially shuts down, with many galleries actually closing for the entire month of August. This hiatus is a response to the stifling heat and high humidity that engulfs the East Coast this time of year. In fact, the exhibition season back East coincides with the academic year, beginning in the fall and ending in the spring, which leaves summer open for vacations. Everyone's off to the Hamptons, or even to wilds of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

But in Denver, with its summertime tourists (among them vacationing New Yorkers) and its more temperate weather, the city's galleries keep those track lights glowing all through the month. And rather than representing a break in the exhibition schedule, August is often a time for shows that are some of the season's most notable.

A summer standard among the ever-changing roster of Denver's commercial galleries over the past twenty years has been the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type of group show. These displays are typically made up of works pulled from on-site storage by artists in a gallery's stable. The results are often unwieldy. But because the exhibits include many different artists working in a wide array of styles under one big tent, viewers are often provided with more than just a glimpse of a chosen gallery's aesthetic philosophy.

Surely it's this type of insight that may be garnered from a pair of group shows now at two of Denver's top galleries. At the William Havu Gallery in the Golden Triangle, there's Landscape x 7 + 2 Upstairs & 3 Outside. At LoDo's Ron Judish Fine Arts, it's Summer Stock.

The title of the Havu show is descriptive. Bill Havu, director of his namesake gallery, has organized Landscape as three shows in one. On the main floor, seven landscape painters are featured; on the mezzanine, there are the works of two still-life painters; outside, in the nascent sculpture garden behind the gallery, three sculptors are shown.

The neat and tidy organization of the exhibit is violated at the entrance, however, where Havu has unfortunately placed a teaser for the upstairs still-life section just to the right of the front door. Ignore this for the time being and proceed to the left, where there are a handful of vibrant landscapes by Boulder painter David Foley.

Like many regional contemporary artists, Foley looks to Colorado's unique and majestic landscape for inspiration and subject matter. But unlike any of his peers, Foley creates credible and easy-to-recognize representational images by the controlled flinging of paint at the canvas à la Jackson Pollock. This imaginative combination of traditional and modern elements is as visually successful as it is thought-provoking.

"Winter's Emanation," an acrylic on canvas, is a close-up look at an aspen grove covered in a light dusting of snow. The expressively painted scene, a riotous field of paint drips and dollops, seems to be a perfect metaphor for the real experience of a carpet of leaves showing through the carpet of snow. Interestingly, Foley uses unexpected colors to play tricks with our optic nerves. To create the overall tones recorded by our eyes, Foley adds specks of unexpected shades that we somehow barely notice. The most striking of these is fire-engine red, a color that wouldn't be seen in nature's palette. Up close, the use of red as a fool-the-eye device is clearly visible in "Autumn Altitude," but just a few feet away, the red disappears and does its duty by sharpening the contrast of the chiefly white and yellow color scheme. Like "Winter's Emanation," "Autumn Altitude" depicts an aspen grove--in this case, in its golden glory in the fall.

Another artist in this show, Californian Peter Holbrook, also creates paintings that look markedly different close up than they do from a short distance. Under intimate examination, Holbrook's surfaces in oil on canvas, such as "Into Bridge Canyon-Bryce" or "Road to Grosvenor Ranch," are lively with smears, squiggles and scribbles. But from a few steps back, his Western mountain scenes fall into view in a kind of hyper-realism, with an almost photographic attention to the particulars of the pictures.

Greg Navratil, a Denver-area artist, also combines a painterly attitude with an interest in conveying a realistic subject. In the back, under the mezzanine, is a wonderful Navratil, an acrylic on canvas called "Rim at Dawn," whose subject is a Colorado cliff at sunrise. The red sandstone walls of the cliff are rendered with thick applications of pigment that look as though they had been done with a knife or a stick instead of a brush. And his palette! Navratil's paintings almost appear to be plugged in and backlighted, they're so luminous.

Bruce Cody, who used to live in the area but now lives in New Mexico, is another standout. His oil paintings, done while Cody was still in Colorado, are charming photo-realistic cityscapes. "West Side Sunday" records the deserted sidewalk in front of the old Oriental Theater on 38th Avenue. "Lodo Ghost" shows a LoDo grain-storage building that burned down shortly after Cody painted it. Originally, the title referred to the fact that the building was abandoned, but it's even more apt now that the place is gone.

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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