Nearly all works of art use color in some way, even if those colors are black and/or white. For some artists, though, colors are key.
That’s certainly true for Sarah Winkler, whose collages and paintings are now on view at K Contemporary in Sarah Winkler — Luminous Mountainous. While these works are definitely depictions of mountains, they are also, improbably enough, color-field abstractions. “I think of myself as an abstract artist,” Winkler told me, and when I pointed out that her pieces were clearly views of the Rockies, she offered a persuasive explanation. Although the receding silhouettes clue the viewer to the subject, Winkler does not employ perspective; instead, to communicate depth, she uses overlapping planes, as the cubists did. The mountains themselves are constructed from non-objective, hard-edged shapes covered in automatist markings.
Winkler, who was born in England, now lives in Evergreen. Before starting one of her paintings, she visits the view she wants to capture. Then, back in her studio, she makes small collages based not on sketches, but on her impressions of the vista that she summons from memory. She produces the paper for them by experimenting with pigment applications, creating all-over patterns on a variety of colored grounds; she then scans the papers and makes digital prints to use in the collages. These are the preliminary studies for the paintings, and a score of them are in the corridor leading back to the main spaces of K Contemporary, where most of Luminous Mountainous is installed. While Winkler’s paintings are the real stars of the show, these studies closely align with the final results, both formally and in terms of their specific palettes. It’s interesting to note how well her chosen shapes and painted textures can be effectively scaled way down in the collages or way up in the paintings.
Winkler’s painting process is completely different from the cutting and pasting required for the collages, though. For the paintings, she pours paint onto a panel and then presses a sheet of Mylar against it, manipulating it with her fingers and producing painterly flourishes without using a brush. After lifting off the Mylar, she goes in with more paint to reinforce the margins of the separate shapes and to cover parts where areas of paint have bled into one another. The paintings in Luminous Mountainous are all depictions of views glimpsed in peculiar light — in particular, that of last year’s eclipse — and the odd glow guided her choice of rich and deep colors. Sometimes these shades glisten, but that quality can also be ascribed to her incorporation of tiny metal flakes and marble dust in some of the paint.
Pretty much all of the paintings here are large, and some are enormous: The multi-panel, billboard-sized “Colorado River Flow” is over twelve feet across. The various shapes splayed across the three panels do not represent a literal landscape, and this is especially true across the bottom, where the elements seem to have been freely associated. Winkler conjures the illusion of the landscape through the tight margins of the various parts, especially across the tops of the compositions, which read like mountain ranges set against the skies. Her repeated use of horizontal elements stacked on top of one another successfully suggests the idea of a scenic view without specifically referring to it. Taking all these attributes into account, I realized that Winkler was right: Her paintings are abstractions and, technically speaking, not actually representations of external reality.
Color and form are also the keystones of The Future Is Liquid, a gorgeous group show at Space Gallery with nary a mountain or anything else recognizable, not even if you squint.
The show starts off with large abstractions by Michael Hedges, with thick bars of paint applied in single strokes by a wide brush loaded with some kind of bright color. Hedges, a Chicago artist, has written that his process involves “great bursts of energy,” and you can see that quality in the paintings, which include a dizzying number of individual marks that have been piled on top of one another, filling the canvas to all four edges. All of the Hedges pieces resonate closely with one another and are intimately interrelated in both their shared palette and their similar composition. This consistency can be partly explained by the fact that Hedges normally works on ten or more paintings at once, presumably applying one color to all the canvases, then another color to all of them, and on and on. No matter how he makes them, though, the results are gorgeous.
Space is so roomy that even though Hedges is given only the entry galleries, his many paintings in The Future Is Liquid would constitute a full-blown solo just about anywhere else in town. Monroe Hodder’s many paintings and works on paper could serve as another solo — but it would be the size of a museum show. Hodder maintained a home and studio in Steamboat Springs for many years and is well known in Denver, where she’s shown her work around town. Although she relocated to New York a few years ago, she’s maintained a local presence through exhibits such as this. Ten years ago, a signature Hodder would have been a stack of horizontal bars that were thickly and heavily painted and then overpainted. A few years ago, she broke with this strict formality and began exploring other directions. Her latest turn is using spattered screens of color floating over heavily worked and multi-colored fields, and the paintings are dazzling. In addition to these large pieces, she’s contributed a grid of 49 works on paper with a separate, single painterly gesture on each that lay out the vocabulary of marks that she’s used on the paintings.
Scattered throughout the galleries are simple linear sculptures by Oregon’s Miguel Edwards. The three-dimensional scribbles are made of welded steel bars, but despite this heavy material, the resulting works have a lightness dominated by open space within the sculptures. Each has been finished in a striking monochrome color such as red, orange or blue. Sort of a cross between a geometric aesthetic and an expressionist one, the Edwards sculptures work beautifully with the Hedges and Hodder paintings.
In the heat of July, these colorful exhibits are the aesthetic equivalents of summer carnivals for the eye.
Sarah Winkler — Luminous Mountainous, through July 28, K Contemporary, 1412 Wazee Street, 303-590-9800, kcontemporaryart.com.
The Future Is Liquid, through August 4, Space Gallery, 400 Santa Fe Drive, 303-993-3321, spacegallery.org.