January 2011 Archives

How Jesus would want to show his paintings

chisman-offering-2006.jpgDale Chisman was a Colorado artist. He graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder, went to New York for a while, and over his 40-year career became known to a lot of people who care about art in Denver, Boulder and the rest of the state. He died recently and there have been a few opportunities to see his work. But the current retrospective at RedLine is how I'd want to see my work if I was a painter like Dale Chisman.

The show is curated by Jennifer Doran Robischon, and more of the retrospective is at Robischon Gallery. Both parts are up from January 13 until February 27, 2011.

You can see (from the small photos I've copied here) that his paintings are colorful and are not Realism. You can't tell how very large and powerful they are. One of the people speaking about his work, Michael Paglia, an art critic for Westword, said he thought 'Butch' as in Macho, was a way to describe how direct and strong these images are. My companion dismissed that expression; he said they had a Presence - nothing so mean as butch - something like stage presence, dramatic and larger than life. Set to demand attention. If you owned one, I can imagine it would take over a living room, and force you to enjoy looking at it, and to find something new and interesting in it, often.

chisman-pink.jpgBut seeing the assemblage - about 50 big, bold paintings - in the space at Redline where the ceiling seems a mile away, I thought, if I was God I'd be happy that this is how they did my church.

The main gallery at Redline is white and new feeling, like the Denver Art Museum's new addition, but with more regular, perdendicular walls. The arrangement of the collection in this space is ultra-pleasantly professional - like a big museum show - only there's no educational crap, nor any audio headsets interfering with the viewing.

The paintings are strong on the white walls, and 'authentic,' as Paglia also said, as we listened to a panel discussion about the work. A debate began between panelists about how materialistic, ethereal or meditative the work was -- something I associate with Abstract Expressionism -- which another speaker, Simon Zalkind mentioned, but was put down because every painting seems to have some kind of a grounded object. You'd never think of a Rothko as having an object in it. So, no, these aren't ether-like like Rothko. But the work, nonetheless could be described as abstract and expressive. And you can look at it for a while - like a flickering candle - and be content.

The grounded objects do say something about how we see things, even though they aren't specific objects. Some elements seem to be in focus, and sometimes they're not. There are no laws followed about focus like 'depth of field' so we don't interpret these paintings like a photograph. To blur or focus is all human decision. Focused can be right next to unfocused, maybe on top of it. The paintings seem to me like a revolving memory with one piece getting the thinker's attention while others are fading. Adam Lerner, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art and the panel moderator, said it another way. He said things seem to be appearing and disappearing. Animation, memory, focus - unsettled contemporary issues about seeing. 

And back to their strength -- either masculine, dramatic or just bigness -- they assert rebellion. Works were divided directly in half. A real design no-no. A mauve pink that never gets much play elsewhere is all over the newer works.  Colors combine in ways you've never seen in Better Homes and Gardens.

Everyone said Chisman was a sweet guy, maybe prone to write late night criticisms to the art editor, and although he was painting in the '80s until his death in 2008 in an abstract tradition that had it's heyday in the 50s, rebellion crept in, and questions of seeing are present.

Someone on the panel said his family was Christian Scientist. It was unlikely that he was practicing that religion - he was a smoker and a drinker I learned in this short discussion. I'd never met him, but a friend of mine verified this, and had also been raised Christian Scientist. Optimism. That what the work has, he said, a distinct sign of a Christian Scientist.
Optimistic, not mean. They do demand attention, but enjoyment is what they demand.

Reminising on Energy Effects

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While the show Energy Effects was up at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver (Jun 16 2010 - Jan 16 2011) I visited it several times. But one night I went with a couple of people and we sat upstairs in the cafe drinking a cocktail.

My friend Karen, whose day job is something techy, thought the show had some down to earth qualities that really would improve the lives (maybe just slightly) of anyone who took the time to look at things in it -- like the Trident rocket or the reproductions of one of the original nuclear fusion devices. She felt that the white cards on the wall describing the pieces has an academic quality that was so high-brow it was almost facetious.

So we make a dream catcher - one of those folder paper crafts we all made in grade school where you pick something on the outside, the operator moves the dream catcher and you pick the inside 'fortune' and the operator reads your fortune by opening the flap and reading what's below.sandal_Le_Courtois.pngWard_Shelley.jpgtitan_rocket.png

Our dream catcher contained our version of the  'white card' explanation of the pieces we'd seen. First, we gave each piece an easy to identify title (and then I'll explain what it actually was, and then the 'dream' curation (white card info)

Trip in Desert: A video of a man walking away from the camera by Unknown 2 Me.
The vanishing point is illustrated from life size to dot - illustrating the futility of human effort.

Running of the women: A video of women being groped on a crowded street after a soccer game in a S. American country by I'm not Sure.
Fear of the unknown - when human interaction becomes like corpuscular organisms reducing human feeling to insignificance.

Car/Pointing into a Pond: A life-sized car out in the parking lot balanced on its nose/grill in a pool of water and a photo of this kind of car at the second it hit a body of water by Gonzalo Lebrija
A tribute to ephemeral nature of art -- the ah in ah-ha that means something to us as the non-real producing the real.

Stature of Liberty: a miniature statue in the eye of a needle that we viewed through a microscope by micro-sculptor Willard Wigan.
Belongs in the World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Things as the biggest gift given to the U.S. by a foreign country that we no longer find to be a big country.

Sandals on the wall: series of worn-out, handmade rope sandals used in x years of the artists life by Viviane Le Courtois.
Physical outcome of energy expended in daily life - there is surplus after utility.

Artist's Graphs: beautiful drawings that visually diagram the artist's (Ward Shelley) love life, his view of the history of art, and more.
Vascular 2nd graph of a life begun with deconstruction that became a life of its own.

Particle Accelerator: recreation of a 1930's nuclear fusion device by Jim Sanborn.
The interplay between science and universal destruction is illustrated by the size of a devise compared to a particle.

Titan Rocket: paid for by the U.S. Government built by Lockheed Martin
A merger of science and extreme aesthetics pursues an unjustifiable economic expenditure that is unlikely to directly benefit its tax payers.

Damn nice drawings at the DAM

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Marc Brandenburg
Dec 2010 to Feb. 20, 2011

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MB_vomit.jpg Drawings of a photographic negative done with a great amount of skill and sensitivity to the beauty of graphite laid down on paper. This describes the drawings done by Berlin artist Marc Brandenburg, which are currently on show on the 3rd floor of the Hamilton building of the Denver Art Museum. and will remain on view until February 20, 2011.

We can recognize the imagery although it is a negative - everything that would be white is black and vise-versa - of people or landscapes.

Mostly people. Realistically drawn people I found interesting to look at because of the skill of the drawing, but I didn't feel like a voyeur because they were the negative. Oddly, I felt like I had permission to stare, and not feel I was staring at a human.

Another twist, and probably a benefit, of the negative is that the image of pop singer, Michael Jackson, was very black because he was so light. Some figures were blacker, and must have been whiter in real life.

The drawing of a naked man (photo at right) was cut out of the page and floating in a shadowbox with a black background. Likewise, the drawing of vomit was cut out and lying on a pedestal. A couple of kids came into the space and really liked the drawing. Then their parents read the title -- Vomit -- and everyone said, oooohh, yuck.

Even when the drawings retained the rectangular shape of their paper, they were floating in the frames. Sometimes the paper curled a little and felt like snapshots.

Especially the first one, above. It was long and made up of a series of pieces of paper, not just one page.

The subject of this long drawing was a protest march. The words on the banners were in German and backwards, so it's meaning was insignificant. I could concentrate on the images. The series made a complete 360 degree view of the scene, laid out like a panorama. The series started with people beside the viewer, then people in front , on the other side and back around to the people behind.

The negative rather than positive images made me feel weirdly distance from the scene, but warmly attracted to it because of the soft beauty of the pencil on paper forming shadows and modeling the forms to make them feel round and alive. Drawing is an intimate medium. Really feels like something made by hand.

And being made by hand, the shadows and textures are often done in different ways. And then there are the whites - the untouched paper. I had to remember that they would be black - the blackest black. And my imagination is probably better at making this kind of black than a pencil is at making true, true black. My companion complained that it was boring to have to keep translating these from negative to positive, but as you've read, I kept thinking of reasons why it worked.

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