Despite the many new bars and restaurants cropping up in downtown Colorado Springs, there is little new in the way of cultural edification. The Plantera Group, Inc. (a financial planning firm) is an aberration in the downtown scene. When I learned that the firm has been displaying local art at their south downtown office on a rotating quarterly basis for the last two years, I felt like I'd missed out.
Members of the firm are both art enthusiasts and socially conscious. Every quarter the firm hosts the work of artists selected by Fountain Valley School art director Jeff Brown. Proceeds from the exhibit are donated to a selected nonprofit organization, while the public is free to browse through the building during regular business hours, making the firm a de facto gallery of local art. The proceeds of the current exhibit will benefit Care and Share.
The works of Mary Armour, Lin Fife and Lyle Heckathorn are on display this quarter and provide an eclectic slice of what local artists are doing. Armour's work constitutes the majority of the exhibit and, unlike the works of the other two artists, there doesn't seem to be any unifying thread to her work. Rather, her imagination drifts and wanders in regard to medium, subject matter and technique. In her own words her art is a "mixed bag." In this critic's words, her work can be described as the good, the bad and the ugly.
Working in reverse (to leave the best for last), I'll start with the ugly. "Bless the Children" and "Buddha Calling" are two gaudy and crowded pieces: the former is trite, the latter kitschy. The bad include numerous watercolor landscapes that seem to have been done in a timed competition. The compositions are ambiguous, the colors are basic and the presence of white backgrounds lends an unfinished feel to them.
To be sure, Armour's good pieces were numerous and varied. Her fascination with mixed media is more successful when the compositions are simpler and the exploration of color is subtler, as in the stark "Daddy Killer" and the extremely expressive "Revelation."
The work of Fife is both organic and contemplative, perhaps reflecting her interest and study in indigenous culture. Fife uses a technique called assemblage, which overlaps pre-colored shreds of canvas and gives each work an impressionistic-mosaic feel. She uses this style to figuratively express the sunsets and sunrises she has experienced, shifting from inert blues and purples on the canvas to dramatic reds and oranges in the pieces "Dark Side of the Palm" and "Marika." Three very impressive pieces, "Green Agave," "Santa Rita," and "Blue Agave," are inspired by Arizona desert fauna and demonstrate the technique's effectiveness when dealing with literal subject representations.
The sculptural work of Heckathorn gives the exhibit tactile depth. His carvings in limestone, bronze, alabaster and wood are diminutively elegant and deliberately exact. His marble carving titled "Standing Wave" is a gem of sculpture. The ridges of the spherical piece suggest both static and continual movement.
The opening night and wine tasting featured the usual suspects of the Springs' art scene -- older, affluent and exclusive. Perhaps that is due in part to the steep $20 admission fee, all but guaranteeing the exclusion of riff-raff students, bohemians and young artists. Nonetheless, the cavernous space of the old trolley depot in south downtown is pleasant and seems more fit for an art gallery than for a financial planning firm. But as the generous people of the Plantera Group have it, it serves as both.
Works by Mary Armour, Lin Fife and Lyle Heckathorn
Plantera Group, 517 S. Cascade Ave.
Through Feb. 28, 2004
Open Mon. through Fri., 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.