Since the wide proliferation of film and photographic images at the beginning of the 20th century, and the dawn of television after World War II, our written language has been gradually married to, and become dependent upon, visual language as a form of mass communication.
It's not surprising, then, that so many visual artists are now work with written language in some form or another. Twentieth-century artists like Larry Rivers, Barbara Krueger, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, Raymond Pettibone and Jenny Holzer all used and examined text prominently in their works -- whether for poetic, political, theoretical or aesthetic ends.
After 10 years of our culture's sordid affair with the Internet, digital cable, digital video and cameras, ad nauseum, the Sangre de Cristo Art Center's latest show, Word, Text and Story, takes a panoramic look at the conversation between written language and contemporary visual art.
As curator Jina Pierce more elegantly put it: "We were looking for innovative storytellers and artists with a unique vision for integrating text into their work."
In the Hoag Gallery through April 27
Using a jigsaw as his typewriter, Denver artist Roland Bernier is a poet of the absurd, purely physical word. Cutting letters and words out of plywood, Bernier uses text the way a child plays with blocks, stacking it obsessive-compulsively, word after word in great slabs and crosses. Though you can easily read the surface words ("PENILE," "ADVICE," "KINDERGARTEN," "MALEDICTIONS"), the words beneath are concealed by the surface and recede into the abstract subtext of texture and bulk. Both infinite possibility and ultimate futility rest side by side in Bernier's works, open books of whatever you want to read into them.
In the Regional Gallery through May 4
With a combination of loose abstraction and photo-realist painting techniques in his series Believe, George Fischer depicts empty clothing, trash, gardening tools, and vegetation while scribbling the word "believe" across the canvas like ants infiltrating a picnic. Though there is undoubtedly a hidden ritual and lament behind the hollow clothes, Fischer is more intent on concealing any kind of blanket intent than he is on confiding. "Know that there are vulgar people everywhere," he scribbled onto his painting "Ziggurat," "Never show half-finished things to people." Empty shells of Eddie Bauer clothing covered in botanical-textbook-looking vegetation suggest T.S. Eliot's "hollow man" and his cure: "believe." Or does the word, like all things, just lose its meaning with repetition.
In the King Gallery through April 20
Though santero Nicholas Herrera's traditionally carved saints are gorgeous, I couldn't resist his poppier, trashier "Nancy Kerrigan w/ Band-Aid," "Lunch Break" (Bill Clinton with two babes), "Love Me Tender" (two young lovers getting bizay in the back of a red Chevy Bel Air), "Death on a Chopper," and "Death on Tractor." Equally brilliant was the hand-carved story of Herrera's own conversion from wayward lowrider to his near-death car crash and run-in with a hippy Jesus to his ultimate resolve to become a santero. The triptych comes complete with lowriders, cops, beer bottles, car wrecks, and intravenous tubes. To call Herrera nave would just be too folksy; his works are masterful, at times political, and above all, fun.
In the 2nd Floor Foyer gallery through May 4
Though many of Lisa Chicoyne's embossed, ceramic tile "stories" suffer from a kind of facile, confessional tone, her wax-covered pieces -- "Secrets Hiding in Red I-V" and "Secrets Hiding in Brown I-V" -- leave just enough mystery to remain alluring. Unassuming and visceral at the same time, the text swimming beneath the wax promises something more than a message -- something sensual and feeling.
Harrison Tu and James Richie
In the 3rd Floor Foyer gallery through May 4
It's always hard to pull off Japanese calligraphy in any way that isn't too quaint, and I was eager to see the collaboration between Harrison Tu and graffiti artist James Richie. Alas, they hadn't yet been able to do their collaboration and I was left to view their respective works. Tu's works went into the quaint category. Richie's graffiti works were gorgeously abstracted panels with muted spray palettes of blues, baby blues, pinks, whites, silvers, and mint greens.
Say What You Like
In the White Gallery through May 12
This salon-style smattering of works spans the art spectrum from Ed Ruscha's "America, Her Best Product" to Dennis Chamberlain's highly charged "Reliquary of an Exemplary Officer" -- a glass bubble full of pink triangles and military decorations sandwiched between a copper pentagon with headlines like "Military Hounds Gays and Lesbians" embossed into the edges.
There are also a number of "not-quites" and definite misses in this gallery, but a few pieces in particular rose well above the rest. Julia Hoerner's minimal, untitled pieces that simply read: "I'll think about you while I smoke this cigarette" (in a smoky font), and "Your own mind will now arise before you in unfamiliar ways" (in a childish hand-script); Ricky Armendariz's routed wood Latino-pop drawings; and Bradley Bowers' ceramic tusk/gourd things covered with ornate script and pathetic little paintings with captions like "Running with a match, the cops had no trouble finding me," and "It involved flowers, music, sunsets and maybe a car chase."