Colorado is a regional art center with literally thousands of artists displaying their work in venues around the state that are as varied as coffee shops and museums. Here's a list of ten artists who made a difference with their work last year. It's a wide-ranging group that includes one who's just out of school and another who died 150 years ago, with the rest falling somewhere in between.
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Colin Livingston A conceptual artist, Livingston's stock in trade is neo-pop parody as was shown off in The Big Idea, where he transformed Plus Gallery into a facsimile of a big box retail store. The art itself came in the form of formulaic paintings, unexpectedly prepackaged in display boxes that all but obscured them. With this work and with his earlier efforts, Livingston raises questions about the nature of art, art as a commodity, and the very nature of art collecting. Dale Chisman Though Chisman died in 2008, his work continued to be part of the scene as demonstrated by the strong show in his honor presented at Z Art Department. One of the most important artists to have ever worked in Colorado, Chisman's abstract expressionist-inspired paintings set a high standard. Chisman had a lot of strengths, notably his keen eye for color, and his instinctual sense for asymmetrical yet balanced compositions. Marie Vlasic Showing how it's possible to be old-fashioned and outrageous at the same time are Vlasic's stunningly detailed portraits shown at Walker Fine Art. What's traditional is her style -- realism -- and her medium -- painting -- while the outrageous part involves her subjects -- tattooed and pierced kids posing in the nude. Interestingly, each of these purportedly antithetical elements is essential for Vlasic's success, since it's her ability to accurately portray her models that puts their genitalia and pubic hair front and center in the pictures. Clark Richert 2010 was definitely Richert's year. Not onl y was he feted to a retrospective of sorts at the school where he teaches, the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, but he was one of only two Colorado artists to be included in the official show of Denver's Biennial of the Americas. Richert had his first claim to fame way back in the '60s, when he designed the domes that made up the artist colony Drop City, and he's known today for his complicated geometric abstracts and videos based on advanced mathematical formulas -- just like those domes. Joseph Shaeffer Boulder artist Shaeffer is the only other Coloradoan to make the cut for the main offering of the Biennial of the Americas. He's something of a mad scientist-artist who uses physics and biology as his mediums, delving into everything from magnets to hydroponics to create his futuristic sculptures and installations. The resulting pieces look a little like art, and a lot like the interior of a laboratory. In the Biennial, his massive work was constructed of Pyrex beakers serving as ad hoc greenhouses for the plants within them, bringing a literal interpretation to the Green movement. Linda Fleming A key figure in the state's contemporary art history, Fleming built her studio in Libre in 1968. Her latest work, exhibited at Robischon Gallery, was dominated by monumental sculptures in laser-cut, powder-coated metal that looked like gigantic hybrids of snow flakes and tumbleweeds. The piercing of the metal sheets gave these behemoths an unexpected sense of lightness, making what was missing as important as what was there. Dan Ellier Chapman Though still a student at the time, Chapman's Memory Trips at the now closed Dark Energy Art Space proved that this contemporary realist was ready for prime time. Chapman, who was a protégé of John Hull, has a taste for subjects that's similar to that of his mentor, capturing the gritty life on the city's streets. His characterizations of the people he came across are fresh and credible; incredible was his video portrait made of fallen leaves. For this piece, Chapman used a leaf blower to scatter the features of a man's face, running the video backwards so that the leaves appear to resolve themselves at the end into the finished portrait. Charles Deas What can you say about a painter who shot to fame in his twenties, helping to invent Western art in the early 19th century, and who after an extremely short decade-long career wound up in a mental hospital where he died in his forties? Talk about a storied -- and tragic -- biography. There was a hint about his "mental" problems in the first-ever retrospective of his work at the Denver Art Museum -- he must have been gay. This conclusion is based on his erotic depictions of Indian braves, rendered either as beef-cake warriors or dreamy twinks. In his day, this particular predilection would have been considered insane. The term "once in a lifetime" is often used to describe exhibitions, but since it's been a century and a half since he died, and this DAM show was his first ever, it was clearly applicable in this case. Enrique Chagoya Artists almost never wind up on cable news the way Chagoya did -- nor would many want to. A print he made at Shark's Ink in Lyons was included in a show at the Loveland Museum, where it wound up being shredded by a Christian fundamentalist who had apparently been driven to distraction by the idea that there might have been a blasphemous image of Christ in it. The piece, "The Misadventures of the Romantic Cannibals" is so complex -- based as it is on Meso-American codices -- it's hard to figure out, even when studying it, whether there is such an image in it or not. Christo The international art star known for his sweeping outdoor installations has again chosen Colorado to be the site of one of his remarkable undertakings. A generation ago, he installed a vibrant orange screen across the Rifle Gap in what was called "Valley Curtain," and now he'd like to do "Over the River" along the Arkansas River, a series of fabric canopies that will stretch over the channel. This latter project, being giving a once-over in a show still open at MCA Denver, has not earned an official OK yet. And it's got a lot of opposition, including some environmentalists -- though not others -- and a more shrill chorus of complainers who are nothing other than a bunch of art-haters. Hopefully Christo will vanquish his foes, but he sure could use the help of his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, who was a force to be reckoned with and who'd put those rubes in their places.