Albuquerque artist Ted Laredo did a lot of thinking about Denver as he prepared for Ted Laredo: 93 million miles from the sun, the current holiday show at Michael Warren Contemporary. “Denver is known as the mile high city," he writes in his artist's statement. "I wanted to reference a cosmic measurement between ourselves, the earth, our sun and the universe…it takes about eight minutes for light traveling from the sun to reach earth, and illuminate our world. All of the art works presented here have, at their genesis, a desire for light and color in all its manifestations.”
Laredo’s paintings are superficially minimalist, extremely simple in their compositions. Many are monochromes, and a few done with stripes or other repeated shapes. But his handling of the surfaces — covered with glass microbeads and micaceous iron oxide flakes that, when mixed with the acrylic paints he uses, causes them to glisten and glow — creates too much of a visual punch for doctrinaire minimalism. It also gives the paintings a scabrous surface, and that kind of expressionism isn’t a less-is-more approach, either.
Several of the Laredo pieces represent flattened versions of three-dimensional shapes, including cubes that are turned into six painted squares, laid in an angular arrangement on the wall, or spheres that are cut into those Mercator projection slivers flayed across the panels that viewers mentally assemble into balls. The most impressive of these is “1 cubic foot (pyramid configuration),” in which sixteen one-foot square panels, three-quarters of an inch thick, are stacked into the one cubic foot of the title. Playing with dimensions in an opposing way is “1 inch by 72-foot painting,” in which Laredo paints a 1-inch-by-72-foot strip of canvas rolled into a tight disk with blue acrylic pigments, mixed with the glittery micaceous iron oxide flakes.
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Some of the paintings are mounted out from the walls. They are covered with the shiny stuff catching the light on the front, and on the back that stands away from the wall, glow-in-the-dark paint produces a halo around the paintings...at least when the gallery lights are turned off. In other paintings, color preempts light as the principal subject. For a few, Laredo has derived the colors through analysis of the shades used on other paintings through the history of art, coming up with an average of the tones to use as his own color. In one of these, stripes of different colors are meant to convey the proportion of tints as they appeared on a historic work.
Minimalist works are often based on conceptual formulas, and that’s certainly true for Laredo’s pieces. But by jacking up the visual charge with all of those reflective materials, he comes up with something distinctly different from the usual monochromatic fare. As a result, the show has a contemplative quality, and the paintings are visually engaging at the same time that they have an icy charm.
Ted Laredo: 93 million miles from the sun runs through January 19 at Michael Warren Contemporary, 760 Santa Fe Drive. Call 303-635-6255 or go to michaelwarrencontemporary.com for more information.