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Review: A Trio of Artists Creates Transmutations at William Havu Gallery

"Taba (Village)," by Michael Clapper, limestone and granite.
"Taba (Village)," by Michael Clapper, limestone and granite.
William Havu Gallery

The current offering at William Havu Gallery, Transmutations, brings together three abstractionists — a sculptor, a painter, and an artist who uses smoke on paper to create drawings — for solo shows that masquerade as a group effort.

Occupying the floor space are sculptures by well-known Denver artist Michael Clapper, whose “Celestial Echo” was prominently displayed outside Havu’s entrance for years. That piece, a slightly slit and folded slab of white marble set on edge, was relocated in October to the lawn of the not-yet opened Kirkland Museum, a few blocks away. At Havu today, the highly experimental Clapper is represented by two large sculptures and three small ones. Stylistically, his work is all over the place; the wood, honeycomb calcite and steel installation “Hope for the Aw-A” is particularly unexpected. This installation comprises a pendulum form suspended from the ceiling so that it hovers over an arching steel plate with water-jet piercings laid on the floor. Much closer in spirit to “Celestial Echo” is the totemic “Taba (Village),” a compressed oval of limestone mounted on a roughly wedge-shaped chunk of granite. It’s spectacular, with a monumentality far beyond its actual size.

Paintings by Ryan Magyar; sculpture by Michael Clapper.
Paintings by Ryan Magyar; sculpture by Michael Clapper.
Wes Magyar

Surrounding the Clappers are paintings by New York artist Ryan Magyar (twin brother of Denver’s Wes Magyar). For these pieces, Magyar is clearly flipping through the playbook of abstract expressionism, but he does it in a fresh, new way, working against type in terms of painterliness. His compositions are crowded with complex shapes filled in with boldly colored, heavily worked grounds. The riotous shapes and shades are tamed by his meticulous surfaces, which are mirror-flat despite being done on stretched linen canvas. Magyar is not forthcoming about the specific techniques he uses to conjure up these intriguing visual effects, but if I had to guess, I would say they must involve the use of squeegees and selective masking. However he pulls it off, the results are really smart.

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Smoke drawing by Dennis Lee Mitchell. Paintings in background by Ryan Magyar.
Smoke drawing by Dennis Lee Mitchell. Paintings in background by Ryan Magyar.
William Havu Gallery

The last of the Transmutations trio is Dennis Lee Mitchell — formerly of Chicago and now based in Alexandria, Virginia — who has made a career of working with torches to stain paper with smoke. Despite what is surely an unwieldy method, Mitchell captures the looping and billowing clouds of haze in mostly circular arrangements that are evocative of flowers.

Transmutations closes on January 6 at Havu, 1040 Cherokee Street. Call 303-893-2360 or go to williamhavugallery.com for information and hours.

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