A small mouthful  

Lin Fifes small-scale art holds many messages

click to enlarge Desert Reliquary is one of Lin Fifes many pieces in - Ironies.
  • Desert Reliquary is one of Lin Fifes many pieces in Ironies.

Back in 1977, the Fine Arts Center sponsored a nifty little exhibition titled Ten Take Ten: A Ten-Year Retrospective for Ten Prominent Artists of the Southwest. The show included such luminaries as Merrill Mahaffey, Beth Ames Swartz and Ken Williams, as well as a young woman from Lamar, Lin Fife. Her art was fresh, original and provocative, and today, almost 30 years later, it still is.

A group of Fife's small-scale mixed-media constructions, titled Ironies, is currently on display at Commonwheel. Fife, currently professor of visual arts at UCCS, has been making art for nearly 40 years and has achieved an effortless mastery of materials and techniques. She moves fluidly through a bewildering variety of media -- handmade paper, dyed fabric, etched glass and found materials -- and combines them in a series of intensely felt, politically charged, works of art.

"[This work is] motivated by observations of and responses to many things that trouble me: social trends, egoism, aging/illness, suicide, religious fervor and the demise of higher education. ... The truth is, I am just driven to make things with whatever material seems appropriate at the time of my inspiration," says the artist's statement.

Fife is particularly adept in her use of found materials -- burnt matches, broken mirror shards -- not simply whatever material seems appropriate, but whatever material seems most interesting and challenging. Consider the mini-Eiffel Tower (at least, that's what it resembles), a mosaic of glass shards, the base etched with tart, pithy statements. It's beautiful as an object, prickly and hard-edged as work of art -- a frontal attack on the sloppy egocentricity of our time.

Many of her pieces highlight, in different guises, the letter "I", or witty variants thereof, for example, "I-Ness," "The Evil Eye." The latter, mimicking an altarpiece, features a grand, stately letter "I", surmounted by an all-seeing eye.

But egoism is scarcely Fife's sole concern. She makes fun of pop culture's fondness for folded ribbons -- "Support our troops" is the current ribbon message -- by crafting her own multimedia ribbon. Its message: "Support creativity!"

Another series of triptychs incorporates three simple, repetitive messages: "Everyone was listening but no one heard a thing," "Everyone was watching, but no one could see what was happening," "Everyone was talking, but no one said anything." Now there's a good summary of political dialogue in the locust years of the 21st century.

It's easy enough to rant and rave about America in the age of Bush. But it takes a skilled artist to transform polemics into works of art that are both wise and beautiful. In these simple, modestly scaled works, the message is part of the art -- it's not the art itself. Fife, restless and experimental, has been refining her art for decades and it shows. Like her peers along the Front Range, artists such as Sally Elliott, Clark Richert, Sushi and Tracy Felix, and Louis Recchia, her work has deepened and strengthened with time.

Take a look at her show; all of the work is for sale, and the prices ($200-$400) are surprisingly affordable.

-- John Hazlehurst


Ironies by Lin Fife

Commonwheel Artists Co-op, 102 Cañon Ave., Manitou Springs

Runs through March 21

10 a.m.-6 p.m., daily

Call 685-1008 for more info.


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