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An eclectic gathering of winter shows at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center

click to enlarge Untitled, Elaine Bean
  • Untitled, Elaine Bean

If you feel like moseying down to Pueblo in the next few weeks, the Sangre de Cristo has its usual assemblage of inventive, interesting shows. There's literally something for everyone -- starting with Own Your Own, a Christmas (or winter solstice or Hanukkah -- take your pick, O ye devotees of political correctness) gift gallery. This is one of the best examples of its kind that you'll find, featuring luscious ceramics, sparkling landscapes, and, best of all, baskets full of whimsical picture brooches created by big-dog Denver artist Louis Recchia. An original Recchia (the Denver Art Museum owns a couple) costs more than you can afford; the brooches are yours for a few bucks each. Such a deal!

Next, give an affectionate look to Jerry Simpson's A Flock of Boxes, a marvelous show of 16 shadowboxes, all with wings and legs, filled with found objects, each a seriously demented, wonderful world of its own. In one, for example, dozens of toy plastic dinosaurs clamber over each other, searching for escape, prey or both.

Like Joseph Cornell before him, Simpson, a cheerful, dumpster-diving 62-year-old, has been accumulating, organizing and transforming found materials for a quarter of a century; by all accounts, his house in Denver is as weirdly beautiful as the Watts Towers.

click to enlarge Edward Batemans  Parmigianiano
  • Edward Batemans Parmigianiano

Phototroph Gallery owner Elaine Bean, who has brought the work of so many fine photographers to Colorado Springs, is herself a gifted artist. In her intimately scaled show, Recent Works, Bean exhibits two very different photo series. The first, a dozen and half portraits, aren't really portraits at all. These soft, unfocused, diffused images only suggest their subjects, by the folds of a skirt, an arm's graceful curve, or the slightest suggestion of a body in repose -- dreamy and evanescent, all soft grays and gauzy whites, interesting and subtle.

While I liked Bean's first series just fine, I loved the second series -- photographs of classic neon signs in Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Walsenburg.

Through some digital magic (which, if you're a devoted techie, she would be happy to explain to you), Bean has created moody, atmospheric pieces that perfectly replicate the feeling of a solitary neon sign on a dark, mysterious street. These are not simply works of art, but also important historical records, and affectionate tributes to the nameless artists who created these dazzling night creatures.

Bean, by the way, is an unapologetic defender of digital photographic technology, pointing out that any photograph, even the most traditional, is the product of manipulation. Seems reasonable enough -- art objects ought to be judged by what they are, not by the process used to create them.

click to enlarge Margaret Kasaharas   Yellow (She)
  • Margaret Kasaharas Yellow (She)

Downstairs, the Regional Gallery features the works of Springs artist Margaret Kasahara. Her paintings, which reflect her Japanese-American heritage, manage to be both flamboyant and dignified. Kasahara's still lifes -- of stylized fishes, of shoes and socks -- are as controlled as a sonnet, as exuberant as a good joke told to an appreciative audience. Perfectly composed, painstakingly executed, thoroughly original -- this is art to appreciate, to love, and to live with. It's all for sale and (alas for us!) the prices show that Kasahara is not exactly an obscure, undiscovered artist.

Lenswork: The Art of Seeing, an exhibit in the Hoag Gallery curated by Laura Addison of Santa Fe, is a thoughtful group of works by artists who challenge us to examine the very act of seeing itself.

Steven Sciscenti, for example, constructs and installs works that are neither installations nor art objects. Rather, by incorporating lenses, special lighting and enclosed spatial environments, he invites the viewer to look at objects that are essentially unseeable. Look through the lens -- is that a hand, a recumbent body, a painting, a photograph, a person? Near or far? An object or just light and shadow? As the artist says, in a suitably obscure artist's statement, "Lenses reconstruct/dissimulate/dislocate/disintegrate ... the light slips away, shatters, and moves on ... proving and projecting nothing ... disentangled from the stifling order of things."

Sciscenti might as well be writing about Edward Bateman's extraordinarily beautiful digital compositions, which resemble photographs, but aren't. The "Mirror of Mary [after Caravaggio]" shows a portion of that famous image -- but Mary's mirror has morphed into a lens, itself creating other images, the whole thus created a consistent, logical image, one that apparently conforms with the laws of optics. But look again: Like the rest of Bateman's creations, it makes no sense; the laws to which it conforms are not those of our world.

Bateman, who lives in Salt Lake City, has been working with digital imaging for over a decade. Most of the components of his art have, like the world of The Matrix, "... no tangible existence ... modeled inside the world of a computer ... they are ghosts made of numbers." Indeed. And, since Bateman typically uses and creates images apparently of the past -- a forgotten daguerreotype of a quaintly dressed girl -- his work has a ghostly, elegiac quality.

Colette Hosmer's work is, shall we say, an acquired taste. Like a fine cigar, it's great if you're an aficionado, disgusting if you're not. Hosmer, to quote the press release, "encapsulates preserved animals, each in its own glass globe illuminated by neon." What to make of it? Well, I channeled the spirit of my favorite singer, Britney Spears, who said: "I'm so not into, like, dead frogs in a snow globe! I mean, is that, like, art? Yecccchh!"

Thanks Brit -- I'll send you a nice Recchia pin for Xmas.

  • An eclectic gathering of winter shows at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center

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