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Road tripping for Art

Photo shows at three Denver galleries

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From the Edith series by Emmet Gowin hanging at the - Colorado Photographic Arts Center.
  • From the Edith series by Emmet Gowin hanging at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center.

It's Saturday. It's a perfect day. And what does that mean? Road trip! Five of us -- Dana, Suzie, Abe, Denise and John -- pile into the x-mobile and head for Denver to look at Art (with a capital "A").

We have a route, an itinerary and a plan: We're going to hit as many contemporary art galleries as humanly possible, and then ... well, we'll see.

We arrive in Denver around 1 p.m., just as Mark Sink is opening the door to Gallery Sink, in the heart of Denver's rapidly gentrifying Highlands district, just across I-25 from LoDo. Sink, whose own work was on display at Phototroph Gallery in Colorado Springs a few weeks ago, is hosting a show of predominantly Springs-area photographers: Elaine Bean, Bill Starr, Kevin Thayer, Atomic Elroy and Carol Dass.

It's good to see their work in Sink's spacious, unpretentious gallery, in a turn-of-the-century brick building that was once a corner market. Some of the work is familiar, some not. All of us love Bean's luminous close-up of a child's face, "Lily Sleeping." Starr's graceful black-and-white nudes confirm, once again, his extraordinary ability to use light and shadow to create what amount to photographic sculptures, images as real and immediate as a John De Andrea figure. Thayer's sophisticated, highly manipulated images, mostly nudes, are nevertheless warm and immediate -- a pleasure to look at. And Dass' work -- deep, serious, and edgy -- is always rewarding. We are all drawn to an intricate composition of dozens of small self-portraits, mostly nudes, titled "Period Piece." Clue: The title's a pun; the work has nothing to do with historical periods.

Shipbreaking, Recycling No. 1 by Edward Burtynsky, - shot in Chittagong, Bangladesh, hanging in Robischon - Gallery, Denver.
  • Shipbreaking, Recycling No. 1 by Edward Burtynsky, shot in Chittagong, Bangladesh, hanging in Robischon Gallery, Denver.

Such a beautiful day, so we decide to walk to the nearby Colorado Photographic Arts Center, in another semi-restored brick commercial building a few blocks from Gallery Sink. The current show consists of photographs by Emmet Gowin and Elijah Gowin, father and son.

Now 63, Emmet Gowin has been recognized as a major American photographer since the late '70s. He's best known for photographs of his family, and, happily, this show includes 20 images of his wife, Edith, taken between 1967 and 1999. It's a moving and beautiful series, hung in chronological order. To see a life recapitulated, to see a beautiful girl become a matron, a mother, then a grandmother is to witness the beauty and power of life itself. And to see this through the loving eyes of a great artist is a delight and a privilege.

Emmet and Edith's son Elijah is himself extraordinarily talented. His work, like his father's, is of and about family, but it's less direct, more subtle and allusive. Take a look at "Great-Grandmother's Bed" from 1998, an ancient iron bed frame suspended in the air, gently draped with flowing white linens -- a fine, elegiac piece.

Time to roll on down 29th, over the bridge, left on Wazee, to Robischon Gallery, for many years one of Denver's most distinguished contemporary art galleries. Far Afield, a wide-ranging show of international contemporary photographers (which, sadly, closes on Saturday) is about as good as any photography show can be. Start with Canadian Edward Burtynsky's work, large-scale renderings of ruined landscapes, the natural world transformed by industry. The images are beautiful, suffused with light, disquieting and tragic. They range from studies of ship breaking in Bangladesh to the ancient quarries of Carrara to the oil fields of California. They're all C-prints, magnificently controlled and developed, brilliant examples of the art of photography.

I could have spent hours with Burtinsky's work, but my fellow road trippers had vanished into another gallery, where I found them marveling over an entirely different show, Configuration, dealing with contemporary approaches to the figure in photography. Departing from his usual work in video, Gary Emrich uses liquid photo emulsion to transfer images upon unexpected objects (in this case, ancient, paint-hardened paintbrushes). They're light, fun, and playful; we especially loved the paired combo of "As in Titian: The Sacred" and "As in Titian: The Profane."

Lily Sleeping by Elaine Bean, hanging at Gallery Sink.
  • Lily Sleeping by Elaine Bean, hanging at Gallery Sink.

But for my money, the showstopper was Denver photographer Eric Schwartz's large-format (approximately 3 feet by 6 feet) color inkjet print "Gauguin's Daughter I." Is it a photograph? A dream made tangible? A vision from the collective unconscious? This strangely beautiful image, two aspects of a beautiful woman in what may be a nun's habit, is haunting, soothing and disturbing.

Returning to the main gallery, I spend time with Richard Pare's photographs of heavy industrial sites. As Pare says "The scale and dignity of industrial forms often present spaces that are thrilling to the senses in their grandeur." His large-scale digital inkjet print, "Moges Power Station, Moscow," chaste and ponderous, perfectly communicates Pare's vision.

Omigod, it's already after 5, and we haven't gone to Rule Gallery to see Rex Ray's new work, or to William Havu Gallery to check out Emilio Lobato ... so we'll just have to go across the street and take advantage of happy hour in a cheerful LoDo bar. Road tripping for Art is a serious endeavor, after all, and after a perfect day, it's never too early to start the evening.

-- John Hazlehurst

capsule

Phototroph: Life Forms That Use Light as Energy Gallery Sink, 2301 W. 30th, Denver Through Dec. 5; Open 1-5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday 303/455-0185

Photographs by Emmet and Elijah Gowin Colorado Photographic Arts Center, 1513 Boulder St., Denver Through Nov. 27; Open noon to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday 303/455-8999

Far Afield and Configuration Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee St., Denver Through Oct. 30; Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday 303/298-7788

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