Naughty and Nice

It doesn't have what I'd call a seasonal character, but Eye Candy, at Judish Fine Arts, does feel at times like a really wild holiday party. As the title implies, the exhibit is not sharply defined, but comprises things whimsically selected by gallery director Ron Judish according to whether they qualified as visual treats or eye candy.

With this open-ended mandate, the show includes a wide range of work that represents many different styles and techniques. This diversity contributes to the celebratory mood of the show, surely, but that's not what gives the exhibit its raucous flavor; it's the inclusion of erotic art that is scattered throughout, forming a full-fledged leitmotif.

Examples of the hot stuff, such as the homoerotic self-portraits by James Fischer from his "SnapShot" series, start off the sprawling show that spans three of Judish's five gallery spaces. These images are flawlessly composed, cropped color photos of the nude or partly nude Fischer. Some are nearly abstract, such as "SnapShot 06," of Fischer's back, but most are frank in what they depict. Fischer, who lives in Denver, only rarely exhibits his work; I'm sure that's partly because his photos are so out there in that outré X-rated zone.

Even more out there, in the XXX-rated arena, are Michael Ensminger's thirty photos hanging in a grid on the large rear wall beyond the Fischers. Ensminger, also from Denver, is known for the sight-gag photo series that he's done over the past few years. The new Ensmingers in Eye Candy differ from his earlier works partly because they're candid rather than posed. The subjects, nude male sunbathers, didn't know they were being photographed, and Ensminger made sure they wouldn't notice by literally hiding in the bushes to get these juicy shots. Each photo is paired with a sentence or two from a found account of a trip through the Rockies at the turn of the nineteenth century. Ensminger's artful juxtaposition of prose and image is typically inspired and often hilarious.

Not everything in the show has an adults-only character, although some of the more innocent images may appear to be racy, given the context. Two such examples are Gail Wagner's organic, abstract wall sculptures in painted twine hung around the corner from the Ensmingers, and Robert Gratiot's hyper-realist paintings of raw meat and sausages, hung not far from the Wagners. Sea life inspired Wagner's paintings, and Gratiot's are exercises in the meticulously accurate rendering of external reality, but in this show, both take on sexual content that wouldn't otherwise be there.

Sexual content is clearly evident in John Hull's erotic paintings installed near the end of the show. His three paintings capture the prelude to sex, starring a very alluring woman seen nude or in sexy lingerie. Hull's style is brushy and expressive, but at the same time, he presents a believable representation of reality. Typically Hull, the paintings convey a sense of foreboding. But the explicitness of the subject matter strikes me as being unexpected -- though not unwelcome -- from Hull, who has a national reputation as one of Colorado's greatest painters.

Eye Candy is clearly meant for a mature audience, but with all the focus on children this time of year, maybe this kind of grown-up show is just what's needed.

Rated for general audiences are two other shows at Judish, both of which are untitled. Along with the ownership and name change that came in September, Judish reorganized the enormous gallery's interior. In the space immediately adjacent to the last gallery dedicated to Eye Candy is a section labeled "Judish Stable," a strong group show featuring artists represented by Judish. The exhibit lays out the gallery's real strength: placing local masters such as Erick Johnson and Roland Bernier alongside talented emerging artists like Clay Magidson and Michael Chavez.

Another change is the creation of Judish Photography, located in the last of the five galleries. This group show also sports the work of artists represented by Judish, and standouts include pieces by Denver photographers Sarah Timberlake, David Sharpe and Dan Ragland.

Don't miss the meticulously done miniature contact prints by Kevin O'Connell that chronicle a recent trip to France. The jewel-like black-and-white photos, hung in a line along one wall, are gorgeous. O'Connell, another local, is highly regarded and among the city's most respected fine-art photographers. An example of his black-and-white photography is in the photo section of Retrospectacle at the Denver Art Museum. Being part of that show puts O'Connell and the rest of the Colorado artists who made the cut in the same league as the all-time greats. When I ran into him at the preview last month, he was almost giddy.

Eye Candy and the group shows in Judish Stable and Judish Photography -- an over-the-top visual feast -- have been extended through the second week of January.