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"Layers of Existence"
Walker Fine Art, Denver, Colorado
Recommendation by Deborah Ross


Mark Penner-Howell, “Nest,” 2019, acrylic and colored pencil on wood panel, 48 x 60”. Courtesy of Walker Fine Art

Continuing through January 4, 2020

“Layers of Existence” comes at an appropriate time, when all of us are in year-end self-evaluation mode. The exhibition offers a thoughtful mix of six artists who examine the burdens we carry, the identities we struggle with, and the imperative for self-reflection. Among the most contemplative works are the hyperrealistic paintings by Mark Penner-Howell, in which the subjects feel emotionally exposed and vulnerable, yet on the path to transformation. “Nest,” for instance, depicts a young woman pushing against the edges of an oversized nest. The message conveyed is that a nest, or home, can be both comforting and confining. Here, it’s made not only of twigs, but also rebar, yellow caution tape, an orange extension cord, rope and barbed wire. Penner-Howell backgrounds the scene with an astronomical chart, suggesting that the woman might emerge to find expanded horizons.

Also suggesting transformation are the mixed-media works of Sabin Aell, although in this case, the focus is on changing landscapes as we move through life. Aell’s charming “Wanderlust” series consists of metal cutouts placed over collaged photos, where the cutouts subtly reference flora and fauna, especially birds in flight. Gail Folwell’s mixed media works take a more serious tone with evocations of loneliness, stress, conflict and lack of communication. “Can You Hear Me” shows two tiny bronze figurines on either end of a three-foot-long thin wooden plank, one with her back to the other. Farida Hughes explores relationships in vibrant resin-coated paintings that each feature two blurred circular forms overlapping each other to suggest how couples come together despite their differences. And Meagen Svendsen uses ceramic balloons, climbing up the wall yet counterbalanced by small ceramic figures on a string, to serve as a metaphor for uplift and hope.

Rounding out the show are the narrative paintings of Peter Illig, who layers images from pop culture and history, purposely aiming for the kind of odd juxtapositions of ideas that often occur in dreams. “Frontier Psychiatry” combines vintage bombers, a pistol-toting film noir heroine, a somewhat crudely rendered brain and other elements, with one interpretation being nostalgia for simpler times. Still, the anxiety is there, jarringly bringing to mind our current political and social climate — as we wonder whether the new year will turn the tide.

Walker Fine Art

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