Still life from a different perspective: Liese Chavez's "deadpan girls" at Arts at Denver

There's a whimsical element in Liese Chavez's paintings. A woman is baking a pie, but there's feathers next to the pie, or a woman is holding a pear in her hand, but the pear is a house with a smoking chimney. The single maiden in a seemingly empty rustic house adds a fairy tale element, while the objects the women interact with derive from folk tales, like the blackbird pie. The result combines common still life objects with fantasy, and that's how Chavez takes her still lifes beyond the mundane in the group show, Intimate Views, Interiors and Still Lifes, at Arts at Denver.

"I had two distinct areas of work when I was teaching myself how to paint and draw," she says. "One was sort of cartoon things, almost stick figures. The other was a more realistic artwork that I was trying to develop. Both kind of came together and the pieces I do now are kind of cartoons, and yet I'm trying to create a convincing reality to share.

Sharing with her audience is an important part of Chavez's work. She says she spent a lot of time learning how to tell stories with her artwork -- a quality she thinks is now inseparable from her paintings: "All I want to paint now is narrative artwork," she explains. "If it doesn't tell a story then I'm not excited about it."

Chavez tells subtle stories, though. The "deadpan" look of her characters, the hidden meaning of the objects in her paintings, and the tinted tone, all create a stories that beg interpretation. The details, too, such as the smoking chimney, are such a small part of the composition of a painting that the it leaves you feeling disoriented, which might be explained by what Chavez is trying to do with her work.

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"It's important to share something with the people who are sharing your artwork" says Chavez. "I try to touch on one of the basic things we all share - the loss of magic growing up. I don't care what your sex is or where you come from, there's that moment where you lose that magic you had as a child. And for me, there's a yearning in my heart to explore that feeling."

The "deadpan girls" all look alike in the series at Arts at Denver. Chavez says that makes sense, because she uses the same model for many of her paintings -- first she photographs the model in costume and posing and then paints her. But, says Chavez, a lot of people think the woman resembles her, too.

"Photography has many shortcomings with lighting, or angles, or just distorting features," she explains. "So I correct it to look right, while I paint, and I default to my idea of a basic female figure. That figure probably looks like me, so that's just a part of the correcting."

Chavez says the model's sleepy eyes and elegant figure are probably her most pronounced characteristics, and the reason she uses her often in her pieces. Chavez, who lives in Manitou Springs and just started showing in Denver, plans to continue exploring themes of lost magic. Each painting takes her months to complete, because she uses a multi-layered oil glazing technique, but she's working on getting more pieces together.

"I'm just a guest painter at Arts at Denver now," she says. "But I would love to remain there, if I could. Its wonderful to share an eye with someone. The artwork Paula Colette, the owner, carries has different themes, but it's all quality."

Intimate Views, Interiors and Still Lifes shows now through June 9 at Arts at Denver (1025 South Gaylord Street), Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. For more information, call 303-722-0422, or visit their web page.

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