By Ray Mark Rinaldi
Denver Post Fine Arts Critic

POSTED:   09/28/2014 12:01:00 AM MDT

The new West isn't so different from the old West, really. We still marvel at the wildlife while killing it off nearly to extinction; still worship the virgin land while penetrating it deeper than anyone should to get at its riches.

Western art is similar, too, though it is filtered through a hundred-plus years of rapid development and a 21st-century awareness that we screwed some things up along the way. Still, the truest work takes its cues from our amazing scenery, inspired by a landscape both thrilling and threatening.

 

Look even closer — smarter — and you can link in Michael Gadlin's recent set of oversize abstractions currently in the lobby of the 1801 California skyscraper downtown.

1801 gallery

He scavenges those same blackened forests for pieces of charcoal and uses them like paint, marking canvases with raw, dark lines and pools of gray that are incorporated with acrylics and ink into his creations.

There is something miraculous about the works by definition: He resurrects dead things, turning them into lively and infinite explorations of human consciousness, into the "eternality" of art, as he puts it in his statement.

But they also contain a narrative of important events in the West, less direct, though just as journalistic as the cowboy and Indian paintings of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell.

Artist Michael Gadlin's show, "Entice," runs through Nov. 15 in the lobby of the skyscraper 1801 California, the CenturyLink Tower. At right, workers stroll past the artworks in the background of the lobby.

Today's art has a freer hand. Fair to say Gadlin might have seemed a little crazy in Remington's day. He is less concerned with precision and more with fervor and provocation.

Artists' Talk at "Entice" exhibit at 1801

Artists' Talk at "Entice" exhibit at 1801

His canvases have a primitive quality, defined by overlapping lines and incomplete patterns. There is hardly a brush stroke on any of the seven giant canvases in the exhibition: He applies paint with fingers or chopsticks, or scribbles on them with a ballpoint pen.

Surely, there is structure to the madness. Gadlin happens to be talented at drawing, so his lines are amazingly straight and impeccably spaced when he wants them to be. There are no certain objects in the pieces, though his curves and shapes are clearly influenced by figurative skills. They are sensual and, at the same time, art-historical, with subconscious nods to pictorial traditions.

Their logic, and their appeal, comes from the arrangement of things. Scratches and shapes overlap to give his canvases a captivating depth; planes intersect and trade places. They are full of movement and, while they can be rough and assertive in their disregard for order, there is something tasteful about the way things come together; they feel like the work of a graphic designer whose imagination got the best of him.

In contrast, Kaye is a closer kin to the icons of the old-West style. She works like a documentarian recording the current events of her day in the way of legendary painter George Catlin. Her work has the same urgency, though more exactitude. Trees and birds are perfectly represented, but so is light and shadow. Charcoal can be a messy medium, but Kaye's lines have an undisputed crispness to them. Her black marks stand in stark contrast to her pure white backgrounds.

That said, she's not stiff at all, and varied enough to give her "Bleached Pine" a botanical bearing, while the adjacent "Luminous Flux," depicting a raging wildfire, has impressionistic qualities.

Her depictions of furious flames and charred specimens of bark come complete with a cataloging of where each burn took place, how many homes and acres of forests were destroyed. Coloradans are familiar with the sources of her relics: the Hayman Fire, the Waldo Canyon Fire and others that spread smoke and fear for miles around in recent years.

There is a timelessness to her work, a reference to early scientific drawings combined with a contemporary emotiveness, and the kind of obsession that defines art today.

Like Gadlin, Kaye is both proficient and prolific, and motivated to capture the spirit of her age. The pair have advantages over the big names of Western art past — better tools, more time, hindsight. They may have more to say then Remington and Russell, but their drive to say it is just the same.

Ray Mark Rinaldi: 303-954-1540, rrinaldi@denverpost.com or twitter.com/rayrinaldi

FLASH POINT New drawings by Anna Kaye. Through Nov. 1. Sandra Phillips Gallery. 420 W. 12th Ave. Free. 303-573-5969 or thesandraphillipsgallery.com.

ENTICE An exhibit of recent abstract paintings by Michael Gadlin. Through Nov. 14. In the lobby of the 1801 California building, 1801 California St. Free. artsbrookfield.com.

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