Longtime CU art instructor Luis Eades's extraordinary paintings at first resemble illustrations in children's science books. His clean, expert representational style is technically flawless and viewer-friendly. But the paintings on display at Foothills Art Center are far from simplified schematics of difficult subjects. Instead, Eades attempts to portray complicated interconnections between history, art and everything else in the universe, all represented by beautifully drawn images that dance in and out of his canvases.

In Eades's trompe l'oeil world, artifacts, fish, butterflies, bulletholes, goddesses, craters on the moon and stuffed dodoes are all facets of the same crystalline viewpoint. Language is especially important, from a graphic standpoint as well as in the highbrow puns that fill his paintings with sedate humor. Both neon signs and neon tropical fish appear. "Artemis" pairs a bust of the goddess--Greek mythology's female equivalent of Mars--with a draftsmanlike rendering of the surface of the planet Mars. Ancient writing backs an Egyptian-style hieroglyphic of a dodo. In the foreground a school of neons floats by, turning the painting into a kind of conceptual fishbowl.

"Man on the Moon" depicts the lunar surface showing through a tiled wall of the Alhambra. The ornate Arabic writing decorating the wall frames an antique bust of a Roman nobleman. Perhaps the clearest link to Eades's Spanish heritage, the work is impressive for its sheer beauty and intricacy. But it also poses a philosophical question. The painting's illusion makes it almost seem as if the wonder of the Alhambra is also on the moon, with the Roman bust (marked "VIR," Latin for "man") backed by lunar craters and starlight. Does this mean that Eades considers reaching the moon a colossal achievement of mankind on par with the construction of the Moorish palace (or vice versa)? Or does Eades's dense imagery hint that technology of this proportion is about to overpower art and humanity, symbolized by the Alhambra's graceful lines? Aside from an accompanying note indicating that mankind is "cratering" just like the moon, Eades leaves the answer unclear--the painting avoids sentimentality in favor of clear-eyed observation.

Eades often calls his paintings "diptychs," and uses opposing heroic images to begin his compositions. These warring forces, as it were, bring multiple levels of meaning with them. "Assyrian Diptych" is the richest document, throwing together standing stones at Avebury, the names carved on Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial Wall, carved Assyrian sphinxes and chariots, an aerial dogfight complete with flak, cuneiform writing and the familiar school of neons. Mankind always has worked at destroying itself, and these paintings sum up the variety and scope of the conflict in rich style.

More dark metaphors about the crumbling of civilization are suggested by an intriguing collaborative installation by Richard Colvin and Katherine Temple. Viewers entering a small, ominously darkened hall at Foothills are greeted by the sound of the sea and actor Rex Bull's tolling recitation of a T.S. Eliot poem. Dimly lit in green from underneath, a group of identical navy-blue sport jackets float in midair. Meant to represent human forms, the empty blazers harmonize with Eliot's frustrated references, on the accompanying soundtrack, to dress and grooming. Bowling balls on the floor echo Eliot's line about squeezing "the universe into a ball" and rolling it "toward some overwhelming question." The heavy spheres also emphasize the orderly lineup of the corporate "suits," similar to bowling pins about to be knocked down.

Opposite these businesslike but disembodied figures, all hell breaks loose. The black wooden forms of chairs and tables, each sawed in half diagonally, hang suspended or assault the walls like neat shrapnel. A dead-on response to the march of corporate power depicted in the installation's other half, this explosion of domestic order brings chaos--and a female perspective--into the gender politics of the piece. The suits might be attacking the furniture, dainty chair legs disastrously fleeing the male onslaught. Though this elegant installation avoids easy solutions, its deceptively simple composition hits a raw nerve, broaching ideas about maleness, power and the banality of daily life.

The sophistication of these works is a pleasure to behold. Cerebral and challenging, this exhilarating group exhibition is one for the books.

Luis Eades, Barbara Kastner, Richard Colvin and Katherine Temple, through May 1 at Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden, 279-3922.

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