Spring is here, and that can mean only one thing in the art world--you can't find a parking space on gallery row in LoDo.
When the Rockies take over Wazee Street, plenty of fans park at the two-hour meters that line the street. They can count on getting a parking ticket by the fifth inning, but the cost of the fine is so modest--$15--that it seems a fair price to many for such convenient on-street parking. During a game, then, all commerce in area shops--galleries included--grinds to a halt. Shouldn't the city be doing something about this?
I lucked out a couple of Saturdays ago (even though I hadn't consulted one of those constitutionally protected baseball programs on sale around the stadium) and got to LoDo several hours before the scheduled game. But before I left the area, I did get to see the tidal wave of fans that regularly engulfs and paralyzes the neighborhood.
However, viewers shouldn't let the crowds keep them from seeking out a couple of quiet experiences in lower downtown that stand in stark contrast to the hubbub on the streets: the exquisitely made frescoes, paintings and collages in Vestige, Symbol, Verse and the delicately detailed installation Intimist, both at the Robischon Gallery.
Vestige, Symbol, Verse brings together the work of three artists, one from the East Coast, one from the West Coast, and one from Southern Colorado. New York City-based Shawn Dulaney is represented by dark and moody frescoes of the landscape and other natural forms. Anne Connell, out of Oregon, shows Italianate oils on panels incorporating built-up gesso and gilding. And from down in Durango comes Mary Ellen Long, who includes collages made from pieces of old books and small assemblages made from wooden cigar boxes.
Dulaney has established a national reputation for her work in the rarely seen fresco method, which is currently undergoing a modest revival among contemporary artists after centuries of dormancy. The fresco is especially associated with Italian art and was typically employed in wall and ceiling decorations. Dulaney instead creates frescoes on small, moveable panels, a less common manifestation of the form.
To make frescoes, artists apply pigments suspended in water to a surface of wet plaster. The watercolors thus merge with the plaster, and the result is a painting that is in--not on--the picture plane. Because the plaster and the watercolors dry quickly, only a small area may be worked by an artist at any one time. This encourages artists like Dulaney to create little works with big strokes.
Dulaney has written that she chose the fresco method to get away from the toxic substances that are the stock and trade of the oil painter. But her past experience with oils obviously still influences her painting style. In the landscape "Dark Clustered Hill," for instance, she has created a landscape highly reminiscent of an oil painting. As the title indicates, the palette is dark, even though pale colors are easier to get in the necessarily slapdash, quick-drying fresco method.
As one may expect owing to the origins of the medium, Dulaney's landscape frescoes pointedly recall ancient Roman and Italian art. So do still-life scenes such as "In Between," which looks as though it came right off a villa wall in Pompeii.
Connell, too, looks to sources and references in Italian art. But the Oregonian's precision oil paintings are very different from the gestural frescoes by Dulaney. Connell, a former Boulder resident, notes in a self-penned annotation that her paintings are "excavated from art history," and the description is an apt one.
In "Dante's Feet," an oil and gold leaf on a gessoed wooden panel, the medieval poet's feet--and the bottom of his tunic--are surrealistically disconnected from the rest of his unseen body. Connell writes that she took the image from Domenico de Michelino's fifteenth-century painting "Dante and the Three Kingdoms of Hell."
All these references to art history, though, don't encourage Connell to produce traditional paintings. Neither does the fact that she relies on traditional Italian painting techniques such as the building up of the panel's surface with layer upon layer of finished gesso or using a wooden panel instead of a canvas. No, Connell's work is thoroughly modern--or is that postmodern?
"Fide Litas" makes the point. The composition is divided in half vertically, in the manner of a diptych. On the left side, carefully painted gold type spells out the word "Fide" above the word "Litas." These words stand out against silver and black forms that recall pennants waving in the breeze. On the right side, a naturalistically rendered human heart, taken from an antique anatomical illustration, is placed in the center of a cross.
The use of typeface as a pictorial element might lend the impression that Connell's work constitutes the "verse" in Vestige, Symbol, Verse. Until, that is, the viewer notices in Robischon's small back space the collages of torn-up books presented by Long, the last of the three artists included in the show.
Long works in Durango and has ties to Southern California, but stylistically her work falls within the confines of the New York School. The influence of Joseph Cornell is easy to see, not only in Long's very Cornellish boxes, but also in her choice of water- and acid-stained papers as collage materials. Long's compositions specifically recall the work of that great master of Manhattan modernism, Robert Motherwell (whose work of this type is thankfully--and coincidentally--now on view at the Denver Art Museum). The five modestly scaled collages Long shows here are all successful. But "Swimmingly," which incorporates a central found image (an old reproduction of a Japanese print) is a genuine standout among them.
Though not a part of Vestige, Symbol, Verse, Lorre Hoffman's installation Intimist, in the Artforms space at Robischon, is entirely compatible with the contemplative mood of the larger exhibit. Lining three walls of the space is a low shelf held up by wall-mounted brackets. On the shelf, which has been painted a sickly green and covered with cursive text executed in pencil, river rocks are set into carved pockets. Larger river rocks are placed on the floor underneath.
Other elements Hoffman uses in this metaphor-filled work include a table whose four drawers have been left partly open to reveal carved-out boat shapes within, along with a pair of rocking chairs. But perhaps the most important of Hoffman's installation elements is her use of empty space; Intimist hugs not only the walls but the floor as well. The artist has placed nothing at eye level.
Both Vestige, Symbol, Verse and Intimist close this weekend. But here's the pitch: Check a Rockies schedule before heading downtown.
Vestige, Symbol, Verse and Intimist, through April 27 at the Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 298-7788.
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