Piling It On 

Artists peel away the layers at UCCS

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The current exhibit at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Gallery of Contemporary Art is one of a number of area shows this spring emphasizing the symbolic aspects of art. Selected Works from the Society of Layerists in Multimedia is an extraordinarily diverse collection of work by artists hailing from across the United States. It is difficult, however, to grasp the significance of the show without an understanding of the society that is behind it. And, frankly, the title of the group is a bit confusing.

While there is certainly a multiplicity of media represented in the current show, and there are a number of pieces that incorporate more than one media, the exhibition is not limited to what we think of as multimedia work. There are oil paintings and textile offerings, for example, unadulterated by any other media.

The term "layerist," however, provides the principal point of confusion because, according to the artists, the view that the materials in these works must be applied in layers is simplistic. As Society president Richard Newman of Bradford, Mass. has pointed out, all artists "construct their works over time," meaning that in one sense virtually all art utilizes the technical process of layering. It would be closer to say that the works in this show reflect layers of metaphoric meaning beyond the initial visual presentation confronting the viewer. Yet, even that explanation would leave deeper aspects of the layerists' message unarticulated.

UCCS instructor Dawn Wilde is the only local artist in the show, and she is well-represented with four pieces. Two of those are particularly evocative mixed-media and canvas selections titled "NY NY," parts one and two. Both are representations of shopping bags rich in symbolic content. "Part One" refers to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with the phrase "Collect someone else's thoughts" across the top and a scattering of symbols including burnt and burning matches on the surface. "Part Two" concentrates on the New York Times and inconsistent headlines from the recent presidential vote count. The two pieces are themselves connected with partially obscured fragments of New York subway maps and a white-and-blue sky background juxtaposed against the darker, natural symbolism of bird feathers and plant matter, challenging the viewer to interpret and reconcile seemingly inconsistent metaphors.

Artist Pat Cox of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. uses unpredictable combinations of found objects to create a sense of resonance in her work. "Shelf Life/ Huddle" is part of a series of a three-dimensional assemblage Cox has been working on for years. Elongated chunks of discarded wood and metal set against a neutral background replace the usual fruit and ceramic pitchers in her metaphoric study of traditional still life. In a companion piece titled "20/20," Cox conglomerates rusted and worn objects into a piece that is reminiscent, yet diametrically opposed to, an eye chart. The effect of her work is an intriguing and lyrical abstraction of life.

Denver artist Karen White contributes a small multimedia piece, a maternal figure ornamented with tiny wire and bead "jewels" surrounded by ceramic waves that seem to represent a cacophony of sound or perhaps the continual surge of domestic challenges. Underneath the beset figure lies a house plan largely obscured by a hazy film of parchment paper. The effect of the piece is an elemental and pensive allegory of feminist thought.

Carolyn Hansen of Parachute, Colo. has two enjoyable and strikingly different three-dimensional works in the show. One of them, "Trapped, Wired and Cubed" features three asexual mannequin figures captured in ebulliently colored cubicles of what may once have been a tableware drawer. Each of the figures seems to be imprisoned by society's perception of work ethic. The center figure is bound in a straightjacket of copper wire emanating from a circuit board at the back of his or her cell. Hansen also contributes an assemblage made of a miniature chest of drawers spilling out torn scraps of paper with the words, "Hidden And buried There Lies Freedom Seeking" on the outside. Words like "facade" decorate the inside of the drawers. Titled "Hidden," this piece appears to explore the intricate and confusing quests that make up modern life.

Richard Newman's "Castle of Dreams" is substantially more charismatic when viewed in person than when seen on the postcard invitation for the exhibit opening. The gothic external structure of the piece is augmented by a densely composed interior featuring 35 chambers of tiny metaphorical content. From seashells to bottle caps to religious iconography, "Castle of Dreams" is an eccentric tribute to the idea of layered meaning and contrasting elements.

Generally, the participants are female professional artists and the art is predominantly abstract. Many of the pieces are for sale and there is a beautiful hardcover book available containing other works from many of the artists together with a variety of essays exploring the Society of Layerists' approach.

This exhibition provides an array of challenges for anyone who is fascinated by art that calls out for interpretation. It should not be missed by those who like to test their skills at discovering a deeper meaning for contemporary artworks.


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