Culture » Visual Arts

Abstract Angle of Repose

Local artist Lisa Chicoyne's exhibit at the Edge



During the running of the Exquisite Corpse show at the Pikes Peak Community College Downtown Studio this spring, several observers expressed a desire to see the work of Colorado Springs artist Lisa Chicoyne set off in a space of its own. Chicoyne's current exhibition at the Edge Gallery in Denver does just that. Although the current installation is different than her contribution to Exquisite Corpse, it is unmistakably the next step in Chicoyne's development as an artist.

The Edge Gallery in Denver is the kind of minimalist artist co-op that resists the urge to detract from whatever work is inside. Set in a rebounding neighborhood just east of downtown, the main portion of the Edge consists of a deep room divided into two square galleries.

The front gallery is currently occupied by the work of Denver artist Theresa Ducayet Clowes in a show titled Layered Beauty, while the back gallery contains Repose: An Installation by Chicoyne.

Following the artwork of Lisa Chicoyne is like a scenic journey without maps. It is apparent that she intends to challenge viewers and thereby develop their art cartography skills.

"People want to sit back and be entertained," Chicoyne said. "Not all, but a lot of them want to have the work done for them. I don't do that." Instead, the artist tries to leave clues to the meaning of her work scattered through a piece.

Physically, Repose consists of a large centerpiece of biomorphic forms hanging inside a cloth box of black linen stiffened with a transparent wax. On the four surrounding walls, there are smaller, almost tube-shaped black shafts with larger forms hanging inside, some containing three and some limited to a solitary shape. The hanging forms themselves seem to be a cross between an elongated sweet potato and a lumpy Anaheim pepper. The pieces are hung so that they are about the height of a human being with the shrouding increasing the ambiguity of the hanging shapes.

"It's on a human scale because I want the work to meet the viewer in their space," Chicoyne explained. "And it's partially concealed to force them to get up closer."

Clearly resistant to allowing herself to be pigeonholed as a minimalist, Chicoyne counts among her influences a number of women process sculptors with surrealist and minimalist leanings. Interestingly, all of them are American artists who were born in foreign countries. Kikki Smith, born in Nuremberg, Germany; Louise Bourgeois born in Paris, France; and Eva Hesse of Hamburg, Germany all share expatriate status with the Canadian-born Chicoyne.

Chicoyne recognizes that her work borrows from her artistic predecessors, especially the minimalist Hesse. Hesse's 1969 cheesecloth, latex and fiberglass installation, Contingent, is particularly demonstrative of this point. "I think we have the elements of mediation and repetition in common as well as the need to eliminate the unnecessary," Chicoyne said. "I try to use the least amount of visual decoration to express what I'm trying to say."

The result is a hermetic and mysterious allusion to the connection between human psychology and the physical form that sometimes influences it. "In grad school I took every opportunity to study the human figure," she said. "And I've always been interested in psychological relationships. So, at some point it was no longer enough for me to try to copy what I was seeing."

As she has progressed, Chicoyne has incorporated a remarkable purity and directness into her work. Interestingly, this avoidance of excess is enhanced by a feeling of disturbing elemental rawness. "I try to push the envelope to see how far I can go without actually upsetting people." Chicoyne said. "I'm expanding what I'm saying, and I'm still concerned with the internal working of human experience. But I don't feel I have to use the figure to do that anymore." Instead, Chicoyne relies on an increasingly personal inventory of anthropomorphic shapes freighted with sexual allusions.

The individual pieces in Repose seem primarily concerned with the difficulty people have in understanding and staying in touch with their own physicality, playing on the semi-opacity of the cage-like shrouds and the visceral nature of the shapes inside. But Chicoyne insists she doesn't do anything that isn't open to at least two meanings. "For me the intellectual, physical and emotional are all important," she said.

While at the Edge, viewers will be pleased to see that the largely textile and two-dimensional nature of the work of Theresa Ducayet Clowes provides an effective counter balance to the monochromatic sculpture of Chicoyne. Clowes' colorful and much smaller pieces are rich in color and texture, with hand-dyed silks and seed beads interwoven to form abstract landscapes reflective of Colorado's natural beauty. Particularly intriguing are two overlaid pieces with watercolor backings that peer out through a photographically real fabric mask. The effect is dramatic and layered with a depth not often seen in textile work.

In all, the show is one that is well worth the drive, particularly if viewers can avoid Denver's rush-hour traffic. Since the hours at the Edge gallery are limited to Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there will be opportunities to sneak in and out of the city in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, shows change every three weeks at the Edge, so this show will come down after Sunday, July 22. Lisa Chicoyne will be available to discuss her work at the gallery on July 14 and 22.

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