Art Review

Review: Wilma Fiori's Bare-Bones Abstracts Rule at Rule

Installation view of Wilma Fiori: Works on Paper.
Installation view of Wilma Fiori: Works on Paper. Courtesy Rule Gallery
Wilma Fiori is in her late eighties and no longer actively working, but her pieces have a very contemporary feel — and that's not the only reason this Colorado artist is interesting. The intimate show Wilma Fiori: Works on Paper, now at Rule Gallery, includes oil and mixed-media paintings on paper that Fiori did between 2002 and 2007. Though not really examples of minimalism, their pared-down character and Fiori’s taste for elemental geometric or pseudo-geometric compositions links these pieces to the famous less-is-more movement.

Fiori’s art career goes back to the early 1950s and her undergraduate days at the now defunct Loretto Heights College, where she studied with Bill Joseph, a realist sculptor. Through most of her career, she was interested in representational imagery, as Joseph was, and she later worked with other noted contemporary realists, including Jerry de la Cruz and Quang Ho.

In the 1980s, Fiori became a curatorial assistant at the Denver Art Museum, working with curator Richard Conn, who oversaw the American Indian art collection at the time. Fiori was struck by the abstraction found in the work of Native Americans, and this inspired her to study abstract painting with the late Dale Chisman at the Art Students League of Denver. Fiori worked with Chisman from 1987 to 2007.

click to enlarge
Wilma Fiori’s oil-on-paper paintings (from left): “Untitled (Red Bars),” “Untitled (Pink on Yellow),”,“Untitled (Yellow on Pink)” and “Untitled (Orange on Blue).”
Courtesy Rule Gallery
There are moments in the Rule show that have a Chisman-like character, such as the freely drawn crossed lines in “X-Files: Yellow on Blue” or the expressively done shapes that are roughly rectilinear in “Untitled (Red Bars).” Despite these superficial similarities, though, Fiori’s approach to composition is much more straightforward than Chisman's was. Not only that, but most of Fiori’s pieces in the Rule show have virtually no relationship to Chisman’s familiar signature style.

The pieces with panels of metal leaf applied to the paper are particularly distinctive and different. In “Untitled (Gold Leaf on Black),” Fiori covers the bottom two-thirds of the picture plane with alternating vertical lines in black against a slightly different shade of black. Running across the top is a wide bar of gold leaf that has a pebbled surface. The margins between the colors, and between the colors and the gold band, are hard-edged. This piece is modest and chaste in character — but with all that rich black, and especially with that luxurious gold band, it’s also kind of glamorous.

Most of these Fiori paintings are very small, and there are only a dozen pieces in the entire show, but somehow the simple little abstracts, behind glass and in elemental frames, completely fill the atmosphere at Rule.

The handsome Wilma Fiori: Works on Paper runs through March 3 at Rule Gallery, 530 Santa Fe Drive. For more information, call 303-800-6776 or go to

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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