‘New Works’at Shy Rabbit
Regional exhibit highlights new art and new artisits

A gallery-goer explores the works on display at the Shy Rabbit Gallery’s “New Works” exhibit, a collection of paintings, collage and prints. /Photo by Jules Masterjohn

by Jules Masterjohn

Shy Rabbit Contemporary Arts in Pagosa Springs, one of the region’s newest galleries, has inaugurated its expanded exhibition space with the exhibit “New Works,” which displays sculpture, painting, collage and prints. From the playful pattern-oriented, mixed-media works by New Mexico artist Maude Andrade to the surface-rich pieces by local artist Shaun Martin, the show highlights surface, texture and visual movement.

“New Works,” a fitting title for the exhibit, makes reference not only to the latest works presented by artists who have shown previously at the gallery, such as Martin and sculptor Chad Haspels, it also recognizes artists who are new to the gallery, as well as a fresh direction for the gallery itself.

Most notable is the addition of works on paper, specifically prints, to Shy Rabbit’s offerings, including various printmaking techniques from woodcuts and monoprints to lithography and etching.

Though this is a new direction for the gallery, it is a familiar course for Denise Coffee, co-owner of the gallery. For years, she has represented her husband, D. Michael Coffee, successfully placing his monoprints into galleries and other venues across the country. The decision to show print works came out of their past experience as well as a desire to “make our shows a bit more accessible, size-wise and price wise.” The Coffees are diligent in their pursuit of establishing the Shy Rabbit as a contemporary art destination for artists and collectors.

While their walls display works by established printmakers from around the country, including West Coast printmaker Diana Jacobs, Midwest-based artist Michael Barnes and Jean Gumppers from Colorado, the current exhibit gives a healthy percentage of wall space to D. Michael’s monoprints.

In his “Placekeeper” series, each print is titled with a number sequence referencing a specific date such as “Placekeeper 061596-C.” Coffee seems to be ordering, marking or counting, using a language of elemental shapes – O’s, X’s and rectangles. These simple, bold shapes are silhouetted on a rich, velvety black background, with minimal tonal variations described. A swatch of gold leaf floats within the composition. Coffee conceptualizes these prints as his “visual post-it notes,” each recording a snippet of the day that it was created.

Illinois artist Michael Barnes’ subtly toned lithograph, “Incubation,” on display now at the Shy Rabbit Gallery, in Pagosa.

While Coffee’s semiotic imagery is simplified and abstract, Michael Barnes, a newcomer to the Shy Rabbit, uses culturally identifiable objects in juxtapositions that imply narratives. Something is happening in his subtly toned lithograph, “Incubation,” which asks for inquiry and offers no answers. A juicy, exploratory experience for this viewer, I am left wondering what connections exist between the stuffed bird-of-prey figure belted atop a cage that entraps a stone underneath it? The shadow of a piano looms in the background.

Barnes, an associate professor of art and head of printmaking program at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, explains in his artist statement, “While personal meaning is embedded in the imagery, I am particularly fascinated with narratives that evolve naturally from the mind – from the subconscious. I strive to create images that pose psychological dilemmas and create mysteries in which the viewer is challenged to solve and/or interpret.”

Printmaker Jean Gumpper is an artist whose work I find soul-stirring. A visiting associate professor at Colorado College, her woodcuts, like Barnes’ lithographs, investigate the metaphors found by the inquiring mind. In her artist statement she offers, “I respond to landscape as a metaphor for emotions and experiences. Being alone in nature helps me to listen to my intuition and to have the necessary patience to really see. I seek to integrate the memories, sounds and feelings of being in the landscape into the making of a print.”

In her print, “Secrets,” the botanical forms found at the edge of a still pool cast long shadows on the water’s surface, suggesting a boundary of the psyche. What darkness lies below those cool, still waters? Gumpper’s use of a labor-intensive, reductive woodcut process allows for intricate, multicolored layers of minutia that suits her intention of “seeing” accurately the natural world, with all its seen and felt nuances. Her truly gorgeous prints are not to be missed.

For many art appreciators and collectors, Coffee’s elegant compositions will “enhance the environment,” and this is an important function of art. For others, the work by Barnes or Gumpper might “stimulate the intellect and fire the emotions,” perhaps provoking us to deeper and broader understandings of ourselves, of each other and the world. In essence, art of this kind may serve the purpose of moving, not only the artist but viewers alike, along in the evolutionary process of attaining our potential as humans.

Evolution aside, “New Works” is not only a survey of techniques and materials, it considers various modes of artistic expression from visual one-liners to deep queries. When you go to visit the show, notice what images “send you.” Notice what aspects of your being are engaged. Hopefully the eyes, the mind, the heart and the soul will find communion during your viewing. •

New Works is on display through June 23. Gallery hours are Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Shy Rabbit is located at 333 Bastille Drive in Pagosa Springs. For more info call (970) 731-2766 or visit their website at shyrabbit01@aol.com or http: //shyrabbit.blogspot.com

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