Art Review

The Rose and the Briar at Singer Gallery

The art world is driven by trends, and some artists spend their careers following one after another. Others develop their own point of view and carry on with it for decades, completely oblivious to anything else. This latter type is exemplified by longtime Denver painter Sandra Wittow. She has definitely done it her way, and despite references to art history — in particular, to Frida Kahlo's style — her work is highly idiosyncratic.

Wittow's unique approach is shown off in The Rose and the Briar, a strange and, in that way, compelling exhibit at the Singer Gallery of the Mizel Arts & Culture Center (350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360,

In the 1980s, Wittow was well known, and her work was exhibited at the Denver Art Museum and acquired for its permanent collection. And as I walked through this 25-year survey at the Mizel, it occurred to me that her work would then have fallen into the art-of-identity category since it's mostly based on her life and experiences. This is most poignantly revealed in "In Memorium," from the early '80s, which records the hole left in her life by the death of one of her sons.

But from the vantage of now, it's apparent that Wittow was actually developing an early form of conceptual realism, as demonstrated by "Innocents Lost," from the end of the '80s. This highly narrative painting also makes the point that Wittow was coming out of pop art, with the repeated images of broken eggs, roses and contrails.

Singer director Simon Zalkind told me that attendance at the show has been strong, and he believes there are a lot of people who still fondly remember Wittow, though she has essentially dropped out during the last ten years. Despite the low public profile, however, she's apparently been busy; "A Late Self-Portrait" (pictured) is brand-new and was created specifically for this show. In it, Wittow depicts herself as a bride who holds paintbrushes in her hand.

The Rose and the Briar closes January 11.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia