“Medium in the Middle”, Westword

Medium in the Middle

Pard Morrison, Jae Ko and Terry Maker light up the Rule and Robischon galleries

By Michael Paglia, WESTWORD

There’s nothing new about working at the intersection of art mediums, especially pieces that combine aspects of both painting and sculpture. Take, for instance, those bas-reliefs from antiquity. Since they are three-dimensional, they’re technically sculptures, but because they were meant to be viewed from one side only, they’re actually more like paintings. Despite its deep roots in art history, the blending of painting and sculpture is very hot in the world of contemporary art. Several exhibits around town are anchored by examples of these hybrid forms.

For Colorado artist Pard Morrison, whose 50 Ways To Fall In Love is on view at Rule Gallery, sculpture and painting are, respectively, the “body” and “soul” of art. This is more or less the explanation of his elegant style, which he calls “human minimalism.” Exemplars of human minimalism, as carried out by Morrison, reveal a combination of crisp, rectilinear forms with striated and brushy, patinated finishes.

Morrison’s luxurious surfaces are the product of repeatedly baking the colors onto aluminum boxes so that the shades are modulated as opposed to homogenous. The variations within single colors are the product of the brush marks, which permanently preserve the artist’s touch. The precise crafting of the boxes and the super-precise margins that separate the colors are juxtaposed with these softer painterly passages. The contrast is subtle, however, and only apparent on close examination.

The exhibit opens with the freestanding “Love Prayer,” which functions as a wall and creates an entryway into the gallery. But it could also be used as an outdoor installation. “Love Prayer” is made up of eight attenuated vertical forms in patinated aluminum that have been lined up; six are finished in a creamy white, the other two in a deep red. The composition is hieratic, with two white forms on either end and the red ones playing bookends to the two white elements in the center.

The relationship of “Love Prayer” and Morrison’s other pieces to American Indian blankets is undeniable — an observation that becomes more apparent as the show proceeds. But there are other things about Morrison’s style that mark it as being Western in character. For instance, his use of hard edges is something that’s been done in this time zone since the 1930s: Think Raymond Jonson, Emil Bisttram and Charles Bunnell.

This regional character makes sense, because Morrison, who is in his early thirties, was born in Colorado Springs, where he now lives, and was educated at Colorado State University, receiving a BFA in 1997. Although geometric abstractionist David Yust is a longtime fixture in the CSU art department, he and Morrison never crossed paths, since Morrison focused on sculpture while he was in school. Instead, Morrison’s principal early influence was the late Agnes Martin, of Taos, a legendary minimalist painter whose pencil lines on unprimed canvas somehow worked as paintings. His work also relates to that of ultra-minimal sculptor Donald Judd.

Everything in Morrison’s show is so good, it’s hard to identify standouts, but I’ll take a run at it. A number of the pieces are densely composed and vividly colored, including “Good Heart” and “The River,” for which Morrison has stacked up brick-like colored shapes. I also really liked “Someone Picked Up My Pieces And Made This,” in which he has created a stack of horizontal bars across the surface. This majestic piece again brings up the relationship between Morrison’s sensibility and American Indian art.

Rule is definitely the place to see minimalist art, as well as its post- and neo- progeny. And 50 Ways To Fall In Love makes a worthy followup to the just-closed Clark Richert solo with which the gallery launched its fall schedule.

At Robischon Gallery, two presentations also look at art that combines sculpture and painting. In the front space is Jae Ko — New Work, featuring the distinctive and idiosyncratic creations of this Korean-born artist, who lives and works in Washington, D.C. For many years, Ko has worked with an unusual material — rolls of adding-machine tape, which are then saturated with ink or glue — to create sculptural forms that are vaguely organic and thus represent an update of abstract surrealism.

For the pieces at Robischon, Ko used natural shades of red, butternut or black; each shade is used by itself, so the work is always finished in a monochrome. After the papers are dyed, Ko twists and pulls them into the desired shapes. In her older work, she retained the pre-existing circular forms of the tape rolls, but with these newer pieces, she’s gone for softer shapes that she likens to windswept pine trees. The exhibit, which includes wall-mounted and freestanding work, is somber, elegant and contemplative.

This is not the case with Terry Maker — Slice, in the middle space at Robischon, which could be described as cheery, eye-popping and emphatic. For some years now, Maker has been assembling found objects and cutting them with a band saw to expose the hidden surfaces within. The resulting slices, if you will, have the charisma of paintings.

Maker, an important Colorado artist, has been exhibiting her work in the region since receiving an MFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1983. Over that time, she has been wildly experimental in her approaches. Her saw-cut “paintings” are just the latest manifestation of the many roads she’s followed. But every route has broken new ground.

I’ve long had a lot of respect for Maker’s aesthetic courage, but I’ve noticed that being adventurous isn’t always pretty. And coming up with something beautiful hasn’t always been her first interest. However, these new works can hardly be criticized on that score, as they are clearly knockouts. In fact, as I turned the corner out of the Ko exhibit and hit the Maker show, I stopped in my tracks. The pieces, nearly all of them made from old phonograph records or jawbreakers, are completely stunning.

The ones made of dark-colored vinyl records, with little touches of bright color from the remains of the labels, have an atmospheric feel and at first glance are reminiscent of etchings. On closer inspection, though, the surfaces are wild and lively. In particular, the effect of the deep voids between the records makes them obviously sculptures.

Very different are the wildly colored works made of jawbreakers embedded in cast resin, with lots of acid green, day-glo pink and hazmat orange among a rainbow of strong hues. When cut open, the jawbreakers take the form of circles, and Maker accents the picture with them. Some, like the four square panels from the “Jawbreakers” series, are organized into all-over patterns of circles within circles. In others, Maker scatters the circles over the picture, combining them with long-running three-dimensional drips rising off the surface, as in “Drool,” on which white, pink, blue and orange stand out against the sickly green color field that serves as the background. There are four compositions of this type, with each taking an elongated vertical shape. Let me be perfectly clear: Collectively or even individually, these Makers are showstoppers.

Robischon can always be counted on to have something on display that’s worth seeing, and Jae Ko — New Work and Terry Maker — Slice are just the latest evidence of that.