Best Salute to a National Park 2016 | Trine Bumiller: 100 Paintings for 100 Years | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

The McNichols Building in Civic Center is undergoing renovation and won't open again until this fall, but one of the last shows there before it closed was decidedly one of the best efforts of the year. Titled Trine Bumiller: 100 Paintings for 100 Years, the show celebrated the centennial of nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. Bumiller was an artist-in-residence there, and the idea came to her of doing 100 paintings to mark each of the park's 100 years. While living in a cabin during the residency, she created sketches of the scenery she encountered; back in her studio, those sketches led to preliminary watercolor studies for the final abstracted takes on nature. All of the paintings were 24 inches tall, but they had nine different widths, ranging from 6 to 48 inches. Each panel was numbered, with their order in the exhibit determined by a random-number generator. Bumiller installed them at the same height around the entire space so that they functioned as an eye-popping painted band wrapped all the way around the top floor of the McNichols. Like the park itself, the result was simply sublime.

Roland Bernier, who worked in abstraction and text-based conceptualism and had been showing his work at many of Denver's top commercial galleries and museums since the 1980s, died last summer. But it was his involvement in the alternative art world as a longtime member of the Spark Gallery co-operative that explains why members there overwhelmingly voted to mount a show to honor his memory. The group gave over all three spaces to The Seen and Unseen: Roland Bernier, an economical survey of his incredible output that was curated by members Sue Simon, Elaine Ricklin and Madeleine Dodge. Among the earlier works were an elegant '80s abstract and a sophisticated pattern painting based on graffiti from the '90s. The show was dominated, however, by his 21st-century pieces, wherein Bernier used words as his principal compositional device. In some, words were spelled out in 3-D letters, while others employed words appropriated from photocopied newsprint. This memorial exhibit only hinted at Bernier's tremendous range, because Spark isn't big enough to accommodate even a single sample of every kind of thing that he did.

John DeAndrea, who grew up on the west side when it was still "Little Italy," became a world-famous artist in the 1970s — fairly unusual for someone in Colorado. DeAndrea's signature style is hyperrealist figural sculpture, and his most famous work — and one of the Denver Art Museum's most popular pieces — is "Linda," an incredibly lifelike reclining nude woman in oil on polyvinyl with human hair. As important as it is, and in spite of the frequent requests that it be out on exhibit, it spends most of its time in a darkened, air-conditioned room because light and heat are slowly destroying it. Every so often, it's taken out of wraps and brought into a dimly lit gallery, as it was for the magical Starring Linda last summer at the DAM. For this show, Modern and Contemporary curator Gwen Chanzit put Linda together with two other DeAndrea sculptures — an older sculptural group and a recent female nude, both of which were perfectly complementary and provided just the right weight for this delightful show.

Michael Burnett, owner of Space Gallery, has a particular interest in contemporary abstraction — and as proof, he's made it the standard fare of the place. Last summer's Beyond the Plane was the third Space exhibit in a row that showed off separate groups of artists from the gallery's deep bench of abstractionists. The venue is so large that those participating were represented by entire bodies of work. There was even a solo that was both a part of and separate from Beyond the Plane, with its own subtitle, Fresh; it featured smudgy paintings by Patricia Aaron that she had done during a residency in Hawaii. Lewis McInnis was another star of this show, his elegant paintings perfectly juxtaposing hard edges with soft margins. The McInnis paintings worked beautifully with super-sophisticated Howard Hersh compositions that incorporated geometric forms. The show was rounded out with constructivist sculptures by Stephen Shachtman, architectonic assemblages by Duane Noblett and expressive paintings by Judy Campbell.

Denver abstract painter Mark Brasuell was the subject of a career survey last winter that included many of his wildly colored paintings as well as a bunch of his large drawings. So many Brasuell creations were crammed into Regis's O'Sullivan Gallery that it was an embarrassment of riches, but crowding was the show's only true shortcoming. Brasuell has been exhibiting his work in Denver since 1988, and since then he's been a major player in the city's alternative scene; he co-founded Edge Gallery with Ken Peterson and was the co-op's president for many years, and he's currently a member of Spark Gallery. For Brasuell, each painting or drawing series is infused with secret narrative content that he essentially paints over. One series might address a death in his family, another the struggle for LGBT rights, but regardless of the topic, there's an overall consistency to just about everything he's done over the past couple of decades.

The guys who run Point Gallery, Frank Martinez and Michael Vacchiano, have primarily focused on artists who work in one or another contemporary variant of good old-fashioned realism. That was the case with the drawings and paintings in Michael J. Dowling: Forgotten Scoundrels. Dowling's enigmatic portraits were inspired, at least in broad terms, by Italian old master Caravaggio, an artistic genius and a known rogue. This source of inspiration, both aesthetically solid and ethically disreputable, explains why Dowling's figures were expertly done but had a dark and edgy quality to them, especially in the handling of faces and garments. Dowling grew up in Colorado and studied with John Hull years ago, when Hull taught at the University of Colorado Denver, and the mentor's influence is easy to see in these works. Dowling also spent two years in Italy studying traditional painting techniques, and that is revealed in the work, too, partly explaining his creation of 21st-century works inspired by an artist from the sixteenth. It also neatly explains why he's such an expert at conveying the figure.

Bill Havu, owner of the eponymous William Havu Gallery, and Nick Ryan, the gallery's manager, organized the compelling Roadside Attractions, which included paintings by a quartet of contemporary realists. Well-known Denver artist Rick Dula was given the starring role in the festivities, as well as the lion's share of Havu's expansive spaces. Dula is a photo-realist who's made a career of depicting the built environment, either old industrial buildings in otherwise bucolic settings or urban buildings that are so new, they're not finished yet. The Dulas were supplemented by stylistically similar views of small towns by Lloyd Brown, while the exceptionally traditional-looking vistas in the unadulterated Western landscapes of Jeff Aeling's atmospheric paintings represented a shift in gears from both groups of photo-like works. The show finished upstairs, where expressive and simplified glimpses of contemporary rural life by Lori Buntin were on display, their abstract simplicity distinguishing them from the super-realistic depictions downstairs.

Boulder-area artist Teresa Booth Brown is best known for her non-objective paintings, but for this impressive solo at Ironton, she decided to do something different by presenting her distinct, if conceptually related, drawings. For most of them, she embraced an unusual process unlike ordinary drafting: Instead of making her marks with pencils, she did it with erasers. Brown began with found book pages that she chose based on their appeal to her; she then evenly covered the chosen pages with graphite powder, selectively erasing the graphite to introduce compositional elements. Put all together, the small works made a big impact. Sadly, though, this was one of the last shows at Ironton Gallery, which closed in January, though Ironton's studios remain up and running. Since 2004, artist Jill Hadley Hooper had run Ironton Gallery — with help from her partner, Hugh Graham — and invited some of the area's most interesting artists, such as Brown, to exhibit.

Nicole Banowetz does something kind of odd: She makes installations using inflated forms that have given her an easily recognizable signature. It's not like the medium is completely unknown, but it's safe to say that few artists anywhere work in this way, and in Denver, she's cornered the market. Her unusual approach was most recently displayed in Gentle Infestation at Pirate: Contemporary Art, with a unified installation of gigantic shapes that seemed to be abstract but were in fact representational, based on single-celled sea creatures called Radiolaria. Their complex forms were done in white-colored, plastic-coated fabric, with some elements suspended from the ceiling. In places, tiny white porcelain sculptures were visible through transparent acrylic portholes. These little shapes inspired the show's title, but the whole thing felt like an infestation. Big inflated forms are more likely to be used for holiday decorations than for any kind of art, but it turns out that Banowetz was inspired by such things when she learned to make them for the Museum of Outdoor Arts.

Although technically the pieces in a folk tale by Bryan Andrews were separate works, the artist orchestrated them in such a way that together they resolved into an installation. Andrews has long created pieces, mostly from carved wood, that come out of his own cooked-up set of myths, inspired by his study of the world's spiritual beliefs. For this show, the myth system was based on a metaphorical forest; the arrangement of the pieces was intentional, and began with one representing the courier who carried the tale. Next came three busts looking on from one side and a set of prints facing them, both types of works symbolizing the archetypal characters that played roles in the imaginary myth; it all culminated in a tall spire that marked the imaginary place where the tale had been planted. Andrews had previously taken a several-years hiatus from exhibiting his work in town, and a folk tale by Bryan Andrews marked his return to the scene — but he's now moving away, so in retrospect, it was also his fond farewell.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of