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Passion, quality unify UCCSs art faculty show

Art exhibitions in Colorado Springs tend to present works that are connected by some unifying theme. Often similarities in style or medium tie the works together. Or there might be consistencies born out of artistic collaboration. There are often commonalities of subject.

The fact that none of the usual threads exist between the individual works in The Biennial Art Faculty Exhibition at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Gallery of Contemporary Art makes this show noteworthy, however. There is a slightly jarring sense of incongruity, in fact, as one wanders through the gallery -- passing, say, from the direct and sometimes overwhelming address of Lenore McKerlie to the relatively pastoral feel of Jean Gumpper's seasonal woodcuts.

Of course, this is exactly the way a university faculty show should be. The diversity of approach and medium in this show speaks volumes about the breadth of education currently available to art students at UCCS. The collection is unified both by the high quality of the art and a pervasive sense of passion among the artists.

There are a number of artists represented whose work is well-known around the area. For example, Dawn Wilde's "Residue" is clearly a part of the water series that's currently on display at the Fine Arts Center. Her other contribution, "Diagram of a Painting," is a playful, installation-type piece featuring a clutter of brushes and cans, slides and soiled rags -- the "detritus" of Wilde's professional life. Above hangs the intriguing pastel "diagram" itself. Amidst a smattering of elemental figures, Wilde has precisely laid out the formula for a successful painting.

Louis Cicotello has three very nice works in the show, all of which deal with a consistent theme in the artist's work: the juxtaposition of high-tech industry and the natural world. In "Pallet," Cicotello presents a collage of rusty-metal-and-lava-rock sculpture with a vibrant green extension cord hooked up to a bright silver lamp adorned with a plastic orange flower. The lamp perches on a ceramic wall shelf that provides a central focus to the piece, while linking, intellectually, the other parts of the puzzle. In "Time Less Time Less Time," Cicotello melds digital prints and dimensional letters into a charismatic statement about the escalating conflict between society and nature.

A fair percentage of the work in the show speaks overtly to the viewer about problems in society and "Empty Chair for Aaren," by Kim Sayers-Newlin, is no exception. Responding to the June 2000 murder of Aaren Dunn, the artist deploys a little girl's pink stenciled chair with the accoutrements of infanticide: blood and a kitchen knife jammed into the fractured seat. A once-festive ribbon and a pair of dangling party shoes painted on the back of the chair enforce the statement that things in the life of a child do not always make sense. "Here sat AD, a small spunky creative 7-year-old girl. She was stabbed to death by her father. ..."

Similarly, the oil works of Lenore McKerlie are confrontational in their communication about our society's consumption of meat. Figures of cattle with raw crimson steak faces in pieces like "The Misunderstanding" and "Old Habits Die Hard" convey McKerlie's alignment with animal rights and vegetarianism.

While faculty members like McKerlie and Sayers-Newlin wear their artistic passion on their sleeves, works from other artists offer messages that are a bit more subtle. Included in this group are a number of works from sculptor and painter Sean O'Meallie. Entries like "Ampersand," "Outboxed Finger Puppets Perform the Numbers One Through Five," and "Two Fingers" are worth a trip to the gallery by themselves.

The majority of O'Meallie's contributions are abstract wood sculptures brightly painted in primary colors. "Ampersand," although predominantly black and white, is representative of the group in its intriguing combination of geometric forms. A catlike figure constructed of bisected ball-shapes sits on a white box with one screened side. Looking past the screen, one sees a solitary knot inside. On the sides of the box, a plus and a minus sign protrude. On the reverse of the box, an oval black plaque displays the word "or," completing the equation. The box stands on four inverted conical shapes with points resting on a broad rectangular base. Between the legs hangs the small ampersand sign for which the piece is named. The offbeat sense of humor evident in O'Meallie's work offers a satisfying counterbalance to his fine graphic skill and innovative discussion of form.

The faculty show is one of the few opportunities for Contemporary Gallery of Art goers to purchase the work they see, and a number of pieces, including selections from O'Meallie and Sayers-Newlin, are quite reasonably priced.

Gallery Director Gerry Riggs' work may be purchased as well. His collection of six outdoor photographs done in iris giclee print proves Riggs is more than just a talented gallery administrator and curator. These black-and-white prints from remote areas of Colorado have a haunting quality not often found in outdoor photography. The advent of digital processes has made it possible for him to produce deeper, more accurate levels of tonality than ever before. "Scanning digitally produces in a few seconds what I really couldn't print before the way I wanted," Riggs said. "Now things come out much more like nature really is."

There is simply not enough space in one review to touch on all the work in this show that merits discussion. There are fine contributions from Zareh Maranian, Jean Jones, Gloria Menzer and Lin Fife, as well as a host of other accomplished UCCS instructors. If we're lucky, the majority of these artists are likely to stay in the area for the next few years, influencing a new generation of local -- as well as national -- artistic talent.

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