Pastels seem like an unlikely material for an artist seeking photographic realism, but that's exactly what Riva Sweetrocket uses. Her drawing style is neo-pop, and she gives more than a little tip of the hat to the great artists of the '60s in her work. The large-format drawings displayed in her solo exhibit at the Arvada Center, Testify, are both exquisitely crafted and thoughtfully conceived. At Arvada and elsewhere, Sweetrocket's crisply rendered and imaginatively composed drawings are incredible achievements.
In the mid-twentieth century, a loose-knit group of New Mexico artists embraced the international transcendentalist movement and began putting spiritual references into their paintings. They depicted the sights of the Land of Enchantment with geometric and organic shapes and bright colors. Artist Warren Kelly grew up in Taos and adopted the style of this school. Original + Digital at Pirate: A Contemporary Art Oasis included two of his paintings, which were stunning in their own right, but it was his modern take on the old style -- boldly colored neo-transcendentalist digital prints -- that really made this show stand out.
Good evidence that Spark Galley is a center for ceramics was the microCOSMIC exhibit, a handsome solo devoted to the nature-based abstractions of Katie Martineau-Caron. Seeds, pods, plants and even viruses inspire her sculptures' shapes, and she tries to emulate the colors and textures of the outdoors with her richly toned and multi-dimensional glazes. MicroCOSMIC proved that Martineau-Caron is among the best ceramic artists in town.
Summer Group Exhibition was clearly thrown together at the last minute, but gallery director Robin Rule is such a pro that it was still excellent. Just by pulling stuff from storage, she was able to present a variety pack that rivaled the MCA's biennial. Summer Group Exhibition brought together several generations of Denver artists, from old-timers such as Dale Chisman, Clark Richert and Andy Libertone, who started their careers in the '60s, to newcomers such as Jason Patz, who wasn't even born until the 1980s. Filling the gap were mid-career talents Jeff Starr and Mary Ehrin. This generational inclusiveness was the best part of the show; it demonstrated that Denver's contemporary art world has legs and roots. As does Rule, who closed the Broadway gallery but will be back.
Andy Miller specializes in ambitious installations, but for his show at + Gallery, he opted for geometric wall-hung sculptures. Braille adorned each of the new pieces, and the simple shapes Miller used were meant to be icons expressing the sentiments of the Braille statements, which he translated as relating to the meaning of life. Andy Miller is unquestionably creative and one of the best contemporary artists in the area. It's almost unbelievable that this was his first exhibition in a commercial gallery.
Bryan Andrews and Joe Riche share studio space and both sculpt, but that's where the comparison ends. Andrews carves wood; Riche welds metal. Nonetheless, their work looks great together in their paired solos at the Arvada Center. Andrews's show, Auditioning Gods, continues his "fetem" series of carved wooden sculptures that reconciles folk and modern art. Riche's the good times are killing me is a showcase of his kinetic sculptures.
Husband-and-wife painters Tracy and Sushe Felix have been exhibiting their work in tandem for years, so it was really interesting that the William Havu Gallery scheduled them in separate, back-to-back presentations. They were both influenced by the art history of Colorado and New Mexico, but their styles are very different: Tracy turns the mountains into a Jellystone Park fantasyland, while Sushe uses elements found in the landscape to construct swirling abstractions. Their pieces are great together, but it was nice to see them separately, too.
Politically aware realist painting has been the mainstay of Chicano art for decades. In recent years, however, more and more Mexican-American artists have branched out into what's known as "post-Chicano" art. This switch was the topic of last spring's Leaving Aztlan at Metro State's Center for Visual Art, which was organized by guest curator Kaytie Johnson. In response, George Rivera came up with the idea for Never Leaving Aztlan to discuss the ongoing power of Chicano art. But in the show, as realized at the Museo de las Americas by Patty Ortiz, the post-Chicanos come out on top again.
There were no overt references to the war in Iraq in Iswaswillbe, but there were plenty of things that referred to war in general. The title painting, in particular, was tough to look at: A robust SS officer in full Nazi regalia drapes his arm around a skeleton wearing a prayer shawl. The Singer is in the Mizel Center, a Jewish institution, and artist Geoffrey Laurence is Jewish, but that didn't prevent some from being deeply offended. The chilling anti-war messages in this show were delivered via meticulously done paintings, and, in truth, well-crafted pieces are rare in political art.
The Independence Institute's Jon Caldara isn't in favor of public support for art, believing that it should be left to the private sector. So when he was tipped off that Tsehai Johnson, who had received a grant from the Colorado Council on the Arts, had earlier used dildos as an inspiration for a ceramic installation, Caldara went ballistic. The whole coterie of right-wing talk jocks and assorted Republicans quickly followed. Though Johnson's pieces were shamefully removed from the council's website, she still got the best of her critics: Her installation was beautiful even in the face of the ugliness it generated.

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