Review: Gib Singleton and Earl Biss at the FAC



Although Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center museum director and curator of American art Blake Milteer says that this summer's special exhibitions — solo shows devoted to William Kentridge, Gib Singleton and Earl Biss — are not related, a singular thread does tie them together. Each of these contemporary artists mixes a modern attitude with subjects rooted in the past.

Singletons The Dove is a magnificent anchor at the end of the gallery.
  • Singleton's 'The Dove' is a magnificent anchor at the end of the gallery.

For Kentridge, it's social strife and the ancient process of making sense of the world. (See our full review of William Kentridge: The World is Process here.) Singleton and Biss work with more defined cultures: Christianity and the spirituality of Native American Plains tribes, respectively.

Gib Singleton: Religious Works is the first show to greet visitors on the top floor, where all three shows are located. Singleton's striking bronzes are glorious in the long hallway. Curator of Hispanic and Native American Art Tariana Navas-Nieves' artful arrangement of these 2- to 3-foot-tall works is intimate — you can get right up close to them — but it also capitalizes on their impressive form and curves.

Religious Works brings anyone new to Singleton immediately up to speed on his unique understanding of the Bible. He covers everything from the Four Horsemen to Moses, Noah to the Pieta and the Crucifixion.

Singleton, in fact, is renowned for work that skillfully covers both western and Christian realms; he has works in the Vatican Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Cowboy Hall of Fame and the State of Israel. What's more, he designed the bronze crucifix on the crozier carried by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, and another of his crosses rests beside the Shroud of Turin. The man clearly knows what he's doing.

But even if you aren’t of the Christian faith, you don’t feel left out. Singleton lends a very human vulnerability to his otherwise divine subjects, handling them with an exquisitely balanced mood of drama and humility.

For example, the “Expulsion of Adam and Eve” is portrayed as two intensely willowy characters traipsing out of Eden with only the dreaded apple. Singleton takes this timelessly harrowing subject and reinvents it: Here, Adam holds the apple with Eve. His body arches above hers; their postures are equally burdened. He is protecting her and sharing the blame.

Moving from Singleton into Earl Biss: Between Sky, Earth and Water can feel like a tough transition. The religious fervor of Singleton and the Baroque mood of Kentridge are eons from Biss’ colorful Native American paintings.

An example of Biss bright palette: Warrior Crossing Golden Canyon
  • An example of Biss' bright palette: 'Warrior Crossing Golden Canyon.'

Allow yourself to feel jarred and just keep moving, because Biss’ works are just as rich and deep as those in the previous two galleries. Navas-Nieves also curated this show, drawing many of Biss' works from the Singleton-Biss Museum of Fine Art in Santa Fe, N.M. (Naturally, some of the Singleton works hail from there, too.)

Old-school FAC fans will likely latch on to Biss right away; these are the kind of Southwestern artworks for which the museum is known. I wasn’t really into it until I spent some time with Biss’ large-scale paintings, most notably “War Shields Winter Vision” and “Winter Ponies of the Nez Perce.”

Both paintings provided those wonderful and rare moments in which you find yourself staring for several long minutes at a work, completely absorbed.

Biss works in an admittedly 1980s kind of color palette of hot pinks, cobalts, splashes of turquoise and flecks of white. Yet these two paintings are so affecting because they redefine the memories we have of those colors. Biss' electric scheme speaks to a mythology and sense of magic that inhabits the minds and hearts of his subjects.

Like Singleton, Biss pays tribute to his subjects in a reinvented fashion. This sensibility shows as much a loving touch for the past as it does a devotion to an individual vision. While not immediately apparent as a tie that loosely binds these exhibits, it's one that I choose to believe marks a tender and exciting movement.

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