Best Magic-Realist Show 2015 | Frank Sampson | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Frank Sampson: New Paintings highlighted recent efforts by the well-known eighty-something Boulder artist, who, despite the rise of abstraction and conceptualism, has devoted his entire output to figurative painting. But his approach to his depictions of people, animals and birds has been anything but traditional, instead falling into the magic-realist camp. Sampson has created an oddball body of work that's one part storybook and one part dream — with some of those dreams being nightmares. There are weird hybrids of animals with human qualities, and frequent appearances by scary-looking jesters and clowns. Set in Old Masterish surroundings, these characters are either whimsical and childlike or ominous and threatening. It might not be possible to teach an old painter new tricks, but it's also impossible to keep one like Sampson down.

The new Point Gallery, the brainchild of co-directors Frank Martinez and Michael Vacchiano, specializes in contemporary representational art. And that was the subject of David Menard: Urban Grotesque. To create his pieces, the artist began by scanning photos — both his and those of others — and then used Photoshop to combine different images into single ones. The resulting computer files, which were titanic in size, were printed, then attached to boards and sealed in resin. The results were prints that read like paintings, with Menard being particularly adept at capturing atmospheric effects. Most strikingly, he used photos to push representational imagery to its abstract breaking point.

One of Denver's most outrageous sculptors was the author of a surprisingly somber show, Michael Brohman: Horizons. The standout, "Borders," was made of salvaged twelve-foot-long boards that Brohman stacked up in order to reveal the ghosts of lines from the lathe strips that were once attached to them, and from the joints between the boards, which also formed lines. These stripes represent prison uniforms and even bars to Brohman. On top of the stack, Brohman installed a monumental bronze element that comprised scores of simple armless human figures that face the viewer but seem to be held in place as though behind a fence. The piece is meant to refer to imprisonment and evoke the Holocaust, the deportation of immigrant children across the southern border, and other events in history. With this show, Brohman has taken a new, more contemplative tack.

The Arvada Center

The Arvada Center's Collin Parson and Kristen Bueb have put together one great exhibit after another, but their finest effort to date has been the combination of shows that included Unbound: Sculpture in the Fields, for which they tapped the expertise of Cynthia Madden Leitner of the Museum of Outdoor Art. Not only is it a cogent survey of some of the top abstract and conceptual sculptors active in Colorado, but it also marks the artistic activation of a formerly empty lot next to the center — which appears to be the perfect space for giant sculptures. The works will remain there through September.

Longtime Colorado artist Emilio Lobato spent the last few years caring for his terminally ill wife, Darlene Sisneros, who ultimately died. Afterward, sadness over her loss was combined with doubts about whether or not he had done enough to help her. The result of these contemplations was Emilio Lobato: The Measure of a Man, a spectacular solo comprising some sixty works. Taking a literal approach to the show's title, many of the pieces incorporated measuring devices, such as yardsticks and rulers. While the signature pieces subliminally conveyed the fact that the artist was healing from his grief, the dark palettes of the last few years were eventually replaced by vivid color schemes, as if Lobato was lightening his spirits by brightening up his art.

Readers' choice: Lauri Lynnxe Murphy

The swanky new neo-modernist building that houses Michael Burnett's Space Gallery provides the ideal setting for the kind of neo-modernist abstraction that is the venue's mainstay. For the ambitious Natural Surroundings, Burnett invited ten artists from Colorado and elsewhere, most of whom did paintings that employed encaustic, a paint made by mixing pigments with wax, resulting in a viscous substance that may be applied in extremely thick layers. When dried, the encaustic is translucent, and that quality, combined with the material's thickness, lent these paintings a rich and intriguing three-dimensionality.

Readers' choice: Momentum, Space Gallery

Conceptual art is usually more about thought than beauty. Not so for Dmitri Obergfell, who creates credible idea-pieces that are also gorgeous. On an intellectual plane, all of the offerings in Yinfinity: New Works by Dmitri Obergfell at Gildar Gallery were based on ancient or familiar symbols like the yin-yang circle, or the double profile of a bust of Janus. What made them beautiful was the artist's use of a custom-car finish called interference paint which, once applied in a mirror-smooth layer, caused the pieces to actually change color as viewers passed by them. It was a tremendously cool effect.

Wes Magyar

When longtime Denver art dealer Robin Rule died last year, a trio of faithful assistants — Valerie Santerli, Rachel Beitz and Hillary Morris — decided to resurrect her namesake gallery and carry on her legacy. The new Rule Gallery, inside Hinterland, is small and informal, but it meets the minimal requirements for an exhibition space for first-rate art. One of the earliest shows there was Joseph Coniff (in parenthesis), an elegant affair made up of the artist's chic-looking post-minimal paintings. Though his color choices were unnatural, the paintings conceptually evoked landscapes, as each was divided into three broad horizontal bars that easily stood in for foregrounds, mid-grounds and backgrounds. This was in spite of the fact that the Coniffs were utterly flat, with no illusion of depth whatsoever. Because of the high quality of its presentations, the new Rule is a worthy successor to the old one.

Courtesy Michael Warren Contemporary

The art of New Mexico and Colorado has been intimately intertwined for a century — an affair that continued with Layered Perspectives at Michael Warren Contemporary. The show focused on three abstract artists: Angela Berkson of New Mexico and Teresa Booth Brown and Stanley Bell, both from Colorado. Curator Mike McClung presented each artist in depth. Berkson employed arrow shapes mounted on the wall that were potentially kinetic, since they could be spun. The Browns — updated versions of classic abstract expressionism done in exaggerated horizontal formats — were sublime. Bell embraced a more-is-more approach, covering the surfaces of his paintings with as many visual flourishes as possible and then inserting little toy figurines here and there. Each artist staked out a different abstract territory, and the resulting combination economically expressed how persistent an interest in abstraction is here in the West.

Best Show That Was Both Retro and Contemporary

Angela Beloian

For Angela Beloian: In Technicolor, the Boulder-based artist created a body of sharp-looking paintings and screen prints that riffed on minimalism, abstract surrealism, psychedelic art and op art simultaneously. Using flowing hard-edged lines, Beloian created interlocking shapes that are filled in by shifting shades of color that overlap. And what marvelous colors she used. The relationship between them suggested the illusion of light and shadow, lending these utterly simple compositions an unexpected three-dimensionality. The Beloians looked very 1960s-'70s retro, like they had come right off the set of a Star Trek episode. But if the artist's aesthetic sensibility recalls the past, her methods are thoroughly up to date: Her preliminary studies were done on her iPhone.

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