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Big Art in Small Spaces


Worth the trip  Karen Koblitzs "Arts & Crafts Still Life with Iris Vase and Pear"
  • Worth the trip Karen Koblitzs "Arts & Crafts Still Life with Iris Vase and Pear"

Kim Sayers-Newlin, whose sometimes quirky, always lively, and often delightful art has graced our community for the last 15 years, has a one-woman show titled Under the Sun, currently on display at the Bridge Gallery.

Over the years, I've seen Sayers-Newlin's work at half a dozen different venues, and, although I've usually liked what I've seen, I didn't have much sense of her as an artist with a coherent, evolving style. The present exhibition, which contains work from the last 15 years, creates a context for her work that inspires a new appreciation. Sayers-Newlin is someone who moves easily and fluidly from one medium to another, exploring common themes whether through monotypes, sculpture or wildly mixed multimedia assemblages.

Start by looking at a monotype, a classically executed abstract from ten years ago. It's elegant, restrained and beautifully composed. Kim's sense of line and color is perfect and complete. It's the kind of piece that you'd love to own, hang above your desk and look at every day. There are several such prints at the show, each delightful, each accomplished and each complete.

So what do you do when you're completely comfortable with your medium? If you're Sayers-Newlin, you move on to different media, to different ways of creating art. Her most recent work consists of complex, whimsical, and inventive assemblages, incorporating unlikely materials to achieve fascinating results.

Inspired by learning that Eros, in Greek mythology, is the son of Chaos, Sayers-Newlin created several works exploring that theme. Chaotic space is, by definition, empty and formless. To Sayers-Newlin, the process of filling that space is as interesting as the end product, the finished piece of art. To that end, she uses materials that have been visibly changed by physical processes; charred sheets of brown paper, a cropped photograph, a handful of fake arrowheads from Hobby Lobby. She delights in using unconventional materials; what seems to be a carefully recreated fragment of a thatched roof turns out to be, in the artist's words, "a big grass mat that you'd buy to hang on the wall for a hula party."

And once you've put all this stuff together, what do you have? Strange, complex, mysterious creations that are difficult to absorb and understand without effort. Sayers-Newlin is trying to show us form emerging from the void, dreams floating out of fire and ashes. Does she succeed? Yes, because she's created some pretty wonderful works of art. And no, because no artist has ever succeeded in that particular task (Michelangelo excepted).

Her "Chaos" series may be dark and ambitious, but Sayers-Newlin is equally at home with art that is as buoyant, high-spirited and cheerful as the artist herself. Consider this simple and wonderful sculpture: a fat cardboard tube that once held a fishing pole, mounted vertically in a bowl filled with plaster of Paris (I think), carefully wrapped with bands of contrasting colored thread, and capped with a tailor's measuring tape.

Once again, she delights in using whatever materials come to hand; as she says in an artist's statement accompanying the exhibition, "Found objects have connotations and history that enrich art symbolically."

The tiny Bridge Gallery is only open on weekends, but appointments can be made to see the work, and your time will be well spent.

Like the Bridge, Colorado College's Coburn Gallery is tiny; a single, medium-sized room. But given that it can draw upon the resources of one of the country's finest small colleges, we shouldn't be surprised that their exhibitions are often very good indeed.

Through April 16, the gallery is featuring On the Wall: A Clay Invitational, presented by the Colorado College Arts and Crafts Program. It's an extraordinarily accomplished show, which is equally extraordinarily uneven. How so?

Every artist represented has clearly achieved technical mastery of the ceramicist's art. They're capable of sculpting, molding and firing clay at a level that most amateurs could never dream of achieving. Some, like Karen Koblitz, appear to have reached unimaginable levels of mastery in their use of glazes, and in precisely controlling their final creation.

Yet the creation of art goes beyond technical competence. A work of art that is not infused with vision and feeling is sterile and unsatisfying. Happily, though, a few of the pieces in the show are both competent and meaningful.

Karen Koblitz is represented in the show by a single work, "Arts & Crafts Still Life with Iris Vase." In her piece, Koblitz pays affectionate homage to the arts & crafts movement of a century ago with what appears to be a perfectly straightforward recreation of a period vase placed on a tile niche surrounded by period tiles. But the vase is only half a vase; it's part of the tile wall. And the forms and proportions are subtly distorted, the glazes are too bright, the design a little more swirly and aggressive than those of the period. It's a clever and witty piece, which reminds us that the past is unknowable, that objects are not as they first appear, and that we don't know what we think we know. Remember the lines from "Casey Jones": The trouble with you is the trouble with me/ we've got two good eyes, and we still can't see? It's worth a trip to the show just to see this single object.

I liked Mary Daly's simple, unpretentious piece. Titled "I am Good at Dreams," it consists of several brown clay niches, faintly resembling cutaway birdhouses, each containing different objects. I noticed broken eggshells, a fragment of a bird's nest, withered leaves from an oak tree, and a wasp's nest. Images of death and decay, or of birth and change, as carefully and subtly arranged as a Morandi still life.

Janet Williams makes shadow boxes, framed and glassed assemblages of ceramic objects that both relate to and comment upon pages from the 1976 edition of the Thomas Register (a sourcebook for industrial machinery), which are glued to the back of the box. A group of fragile, spindled, white ceramic tubes contrasts tellingly with 25-year-old lists of suppliers of industrial valves. The fragile may endure; but something as solid and mundane as a bronze and steel valve survives only as a sheet of yellowed newsprint.

Small galleries, ambitious themes, good art. Who said "ars longa, vita brevis" anyway? I don't know, but go have a look at these two shows.

They'll be gone before the anemones bloom.

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