How do we see ourselves in relation to the natural world?
 
That’s the theme that Denver’s Robischon Gallery addresses with its latest exhibition, featuring works by four artists.
 
The gallery opened in 1976 and typically organizes concurrent solo shows that all investigate a similar theme, concept or technique. The aim is to provide visitors with a more immersive experience. This way of organizing exhibitions is now a hallmark of the Robischon experience.
 
"This approach is much harder to do successfully than to produce four or five disconnected exhibitions, but we think it’s more satisfying for the visitor," Jennifer Doran, the co-owner of Robischon Gallery, says.
 
Colorado artist and Robischon regular Chuck Forsman has long addressed provocative environmental themes with his large-scale paintings and photography. His current show at the Denver Art Museum prompted the Robischon exhibition. From there, the gallery assembled work by other landscape-based artists, including:
  • Colorado’s David Sharpe, who is recognized regionally for his large-scale, pinhole images of the West; 
  • Elena Dorfman from Los Angeles, known for her conceptually and technically innovative photographs; and
  • Isabelle Hayeur, an internationally exhibited artist from Quebec.

Free and open to the public, the exhibit at Robischon Gallery runs through May 10, 2014.

Colorado Public Radio caught up with Doran to find out more about the gallery’s latest show.

CPR: Robischon’s mission includes embracing the current pluralism in art. What does that mean and why is it important?

Jennifer Doran: Essentially this means that the gallery is interested in recognizing a range of discussions within contemporary art. We haven’t limited the gallery to exclusively showcasing one particular art movement over another. We hope to provide a balanced and insightful glimpse into the expansive and varied dialogue within contemporary art for our artists, our collectors and our audiences in general. In addition to the enjoyment of art, we feel our approach can assist in building stronger collections locally and contribute to increasing the number of committed patrons whose support may benefit the larger Denver visual art community as well. We welcome everyone – those who enjoy looking at art and individuals who are starting to collect as well as those who are established, adventurous collectors. It is also important to state that we take our role as a professional gallery seriously, meaning that we see it as being similar to other galleries nationally in providing a resource which can make a vital difference in building a thriving cultural community.    

CPR: When putting together a show with concurrent solo exhibitions, what do you typically target first – the theme or the artists?

Jennifer Doran: It begins with considering each of the artists on the gallery roster to factor in what is occurring in their studios and careers. It might be that what they are currently working on in the studio begins the discussion for an exhibition or perhaps it is just an idea of what they would like to pursue. The artist’s passion sparks an idea, which in turn relates or echoes something that we have either observed in the broader culture or as an idea being pursued by another artist known to us. If the two artists happen to overlap thematically or relate in approach or concept, then the overall context for the exhibition is determined and further selection is made for the additional two or three artists to show.

CPR: The four solo exhibitions feature works that focus on landscape and the environment. Why explore this theme and what do you hope people will take away from it?

Jennifer Doran: As a gallery residing in the West, we have always explored nature-based art as part of our programming. Landscape, as a category of art, carries with it a great historical significance. And while the gallery isn’t traditional in that sense, subjects surrounding the environment always seem to resonate in Colorado in particular. Interfaced with the history of the West, topics of land use and the powerful elements within nature itself have always inspired unique approaches toward landscape and other art forms, challenging and distinguishing many artists of this region. In this current exhibition, it was our wish to offer the artists’ interpretations of the natural world as they see it and address in some way an aspect of vulnerability, given the major floods and fires of this past year and in years prior. We wanted to recognize and illuminate, from a certain perspective, nature and our relationship to it. But it is important to say that it is not meant to be documentary per se. It is very much about an abstract sensibility as well. 

CPR: How are the four individual solo exhibitions different from one another?

Jennifer Doran: Forsman is the only painter. Questions of land use drive Forsman’s exhibition, titled “Markers.” The artist often positions a lone animal or bird at the foreground of his large, luminous paintings, symbolizing nature as witness to a dramatic landscape imposed upon by recreational use or by industry via a dam, strip mine or the like. Forsman is recognized for challenging the typical or more palatable view of the American West, with its overly romanticized perceptions. Each of Dorfman’s photographs from her “Empire Falling” series begins as an accumulation of the artist’s pieced photographs which then becomes the prototype for the digital image. Utilizing a technique she developed especially for the project, Dorfman reassembles and layers in her process, which in a sense emulates the natural process of stratum on stratum. Through photography, the artist’s sensibility is that of a painter and the resultant series is not only a representation of a quarry’s devastation or pools left after stone removal, but it also serves as a haunting reflection on those touched by the experience of such unique landscapes. Sharpe utilizes handcrafted cameras made from humble oatmeal boxes and utilitarian tea cans to create his ethereal, photographic worlds. For “Waterthread,” Sharpe’s images serve not so much as a record in a historical sense, but rather the artist ponders the water as a vital force – one that builds and dismantles as it moves through the Colorado landscape. The photographs' soft focus, rich pigment and the parabolic view from the pinhole lens provide a template from which to meditate on the river as metaphor – as life-giving and ever-changing. Hayeur's work is featured in a large video projection and is intended to act as a culmination point to the exhibition. The piece explores parallel themes of nature’s beauty and the presence of industry within nature. The viewer is offered an up-close-and-personal look at both. 

CPR: Two of the artists, Forsman and Sharpe, have strong connections to Colorado, while Dorfman is based in Los Angeles and Hayeur from Montreal. Did Robischon intentionally seek this balance?

Jennifer Doran: This has been an important approach for us with regard to exhibitions for many years. The four concurrent solo exhibitions are all by artists whose view of the natural world reflects its irrepressible beauty reframed by a complex condition of change. The Colorado artists bring us directly into our Colorado and regional terrain, whether it’s a distant view from Red Rocks Amphitheatre or neighboring dams, or an intimate inside view of Colorado’s Clear Creek. The other two artists connect us in different ways. Dorfman’s work shows vast, rocky landscapes or pools in strangely beautiful, isolated and, in some cases, abandoned terrains – primarily the sites of what quarries left behind. Hayeur blends pristine and industrial locations, a point of view shaped by her Canadian upbringing.

While there is always a great deal of information to convey about any one artist we show regarding their work and what surrounds and connects them within an exhibition, the overt or subtle connections are always at the forefront of the process. It’s also important to factor in that the experience by each visitor is always personal and unique. This adds a quality to all of our exhibition endeavors which is difficult to measure when considering the impact of a show, yet may be one of the most exciting ingredients to have in the mix.

Robischon Gallery’s current exhibition runs through May 10, 2014. The shows are free and open to the public.