In Search of Art 

Recent discoveries made in three local galleries

Feeling restless, like you might like to get out of the house, jump in the car and go look at some art? Like to go where the lights are bright, the art's all right, and they don't play Christmas carols ad nauseam? Lucky you; three fine shows just opened this past weekend, and they're all more than worth a visit.

First stop: The UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art, located, as you might expect, on the UCCS campus. Director Gerry Riggs has put together an exhibition entitled The University Collects, consisting of works drawn from the collections of faculty and staff.

As a show, it's satisfyingly voyeuristic. It's particularly interesting to see what the artists on the faculty put on their own walls. There are some modest surprises, and some dazzling discoveries.

The late Myron Wood, whose photographs illuminated our region for half-a-century, is a favorite of UCCS collectors. There were half-a-dozen of Wood's beautiful prints on display -- not surprising since, in the last years of his life, several auctions of his prints were held locally in order to defray his medical expenses, and local collectors were able to obtain works by a great American photographer at a fraction of gallery prices. Among living artists, the ubiquitous Sean O'Meallie was the favorite of his peers; Louis Ciccotello, Dawn Wilde, and Jean Gumpper all loaned O'Meallies to the show.

Mathematics professor Alexander Soifer lent two self-portraits by his father, Yuri Soifer. The elder Soifer, born in Russia in 1906, followed his son to Colorado in 1980, where he died a decade later. The portraits -- one painted in 1925, one in 1939 -- are superb, emotionally powerful records of one man's life in a turbulent century. Soifer, the younger, has a number of his father's works; let's hope that he can find a way to share more of them with the public.

Gerry Riggs contributed a piece by one of his teachers, Carol Beesley, now retired from the University of Oklahoma. Titled "Hogback Cut," it's a fine contemporary rendition of I-70 as it crosses the hogback near Golden.

For anyone who collects, or is thinking about collecting, this is the ideal show to visit. Reasonably diverse and quirky, it gives you permission to be eclectic or focused, daring or conservative, scholarly or dumb. And if you can't find anything to like, at least you'll know that you ought to stay away from all art, public or private.

Next stop: The Bridge Gallery, on West Colorado beneath the Colorado Avenue Bridge. The Bridge is the last survivor of what used to be a lively, popular group of downtown galleries that were once clustered in rundown buildings between the railroad tracks and Monument Creek. Alas, the City's two-year reconstruction of the bridge put most of them out of business, and the "Arts District" that the City touts as a centerpiece of our glittering new Confluence Park has largely disappeared.

But if the UCCS collectors' show has given you the urge to hang some contemporary art on your own walls, there are a dozen fine, reasonably-priced works available for sale at the Bridge's The Year 2000 Show, featuring the latest work of member artists through Jan. 23. I particularly like Merr Shearn's "Still Life in a High Wind" and Betty Atherton's "Heart Shift." Atherton's painting is a stone bargain at $150; someone with a good eye and a slim pocketbook ought to snap it up. Ellen O'Brien has a lovely painting titled "200?," and I liked pieces by Pam Chadick and Kim Sayers-Newlin.

But, if there were a best-of-show award, I'd give it to Michael Cellan, whose glowing geometric abstraction, "Evolution 1," would fit very nicely on the wall just above my computer screen. Cellan's work, like the artist himself, is warm, friendly, and accessible. Not the least of his piece's charms is the medium: Crayola wax crayons. For those of us whose artistic careers peaked in third grade, Michael's playfully sophisticated work is both encouraging and affirming.

Last stop: The Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts. A relative newcomer to the local arts scene, this facility is a treasure indeed. Housed in a complex of older buildings in the heart of Palmer Lake, formerly a livery stable and an automobile dealership, the Center includes studio space for artists, and an outstanding exhibition space. Unlike any other such space in our region, this one is big -- I mean, really big -- big enough to accommodate very large pieces of contemporary art.

Appropriately, that's what's on display in the aptly titled BIG show which will be up until January 22. Tri-Lakes is literally the only space where we can see large-scale creations by regional artists displayed as they ought to be. It's our own little MassMoCa, and we ought to be grateful that we have it, and support it accordingly.

Displayed at the BIG show are some wonderful, striking works that simply can't be shown in lesser venues. Rodney Wood's "Waiting Room," which the show's juror, artist Jack Nowacki, judged best-of-show, is a dark and mysterious piece. Imagine a sculptured, seated figure, life size, swathed in gauze bandages, head blindly tilted to the sky, his space defined by black canvas walls, his head surrounded by brass pendulum weights suspended from the ceiling.

Long-time local artists Betty Ross and Dawn Wilde are both represented by big, splashy canvases which show beautifully in the Tri-Lakes space. Ross' "Mt. Princeton in the Snow" is a powerful, mature work from an artist who has been working at her craft for close to four decades. Wilde's "Night Light" is similarly successful. Local collectors will be familiar with both Ross and Wilde, but not, perhaps, with their large-scale works.

Ur-ceramicist Richard Pankratz, whose workshop is just down the street from the Tri-Lakes Center, has a wonderful ceramic sculpture in the show, "En Passant II." It's both technically and aesthetically breathtaking. You can enjoy it as pure form, color, and texture, or you can marvel at Pankratz' mastery over clay, over glazes, and over the kiln.

Three good shows; a lot of good art; some for sale, and some just to look at; and, thankfully, not a single tinny loudspeaker scratching out "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." 'Tis a privilege to live in Colorado Springs at the dawn of the new century.


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