Image, Technique, Form: Media Mix on Display at Art Center, Durango Herald, August 18, 2006


“On the River,” Sharon Abshagen’s oil of a rowboat. “Ready Made #4,” a sculpture by Bryan Saren. “Beauty and the Beast,” a steel sculpture by Bryan Saren in the foreground, eagle photograph by Claude Steelman, canyon photograph by Marv Poulson and an oil painting by Sharon Abshagen are part of the “Image, Technique, Form” show at the Durango Arts Center.

Certain media do not mix well. A gallery-owner friend of mine follows the aesthetic rule of some museums not to mix photography and painting in the same space. I have to agree.

“Image, Technique, Form” with the work of Brian Saren, Mary Poulson, Claude Steelman and Sharon Abshagen will be on show at the Durango Arts Center 802 East Second Ave. through Aug. 26.

“Image, Technique, Form” at the Barbara Conrad Gallery in the Durango Arts Center would have worked better for me if it were just photography and sculpture. The addition of landscape painting gives the space a disjointed feeling.

I took Bryan Saren’s artist statement seriously. He wrote: “Please enjoy your interaction with the work I have made.” I had some fun spinning the half-moon door to the universe steel sculpture he calls “Rain Caller” ($3,200). I was impressed with the fluidity of motion in the bearings, and I loved the patina on the flat rectangular door shape. The shiny metal orb placed just at center looks too much like a doorknob for me, but the design is balanced.

Saren’s best piece in the show is “Ready Made #4” ($2,520), an elliptical piece of wood, mirrored by a steel outline of the same elliptical shape, while four perpendicular copper pipes reach from the wood into the steel frame. The smooth copper pipe contrasts with the texture of the worn wood. The solid shape is balanced by its sister hollow form – the lines and circles expressing a point, counterpoint, a yin and yang.

Earlier this summer, Saren won a sculpture competition to commemorate Durango’s 125th anniversary. His winning work will be shown in front of City Hall by the end of the year.

Saren’s work is complimented by the photography of Marv Poulson. Poulson captures images of pattern, light and shadow. In “Direction III” ($385) an archival color photo of canyon walls, the image is abstracted and almost seems like a close-up of wood shavings. And in “Blend Column I” ($385) the detailed lines in the canyon walls look like brush strokes of paint. In “Wet Slot Wall I” ($385), Poulson has managed to capture a figure in the reflections of light in the chocolate-colored water of a canyon. An illusion in nature.

I would like to see Saren and Poulson show their images, technique and forms together again.

As for the other photography in the show, let’s just say I am envious of Claude Steelman’s equipment, the camera and lens that captured the tiny little feathers on the head of an eagle in “Eagle Portrait” ($225). I commend the tenacity of wildlife photographers like Steelman who spend hours, days, even weeks waiting for the opportunity to capture the moment an eagle pulls a fish out of the water in “Eagle Catching Fish” ($375). And if it was a lucky shot, I don’t want to know.

Sharon Abshagen has the most work in this show, a total of 22 paintings. Steelman has nine photographs and Poulson 11. Saren has ten sculptures in the exhibit.

I did like “On the River” ($375) a small painting of a rowboat moored to the water’s edge. I particularly liked Abshagen’s brush technique, the cubes of paint in the water balanced by the smooth strokes of the land and sky above and below. The light captured in this image is serene and I particularly liked the bit of red paint at the knot tying the rope to the boat. In this painting Abshagen captures a moment, but also a narrative. There is a story to this boat tied up to the rocks on the river.

The other work of Abshagen’s that evoked emotion for me were her two paintings of dogs: “My Path” ($575) and “Sporty’s Last Stand” (NFS). There is life in these two paintings that is somewhat lacking in Abshagen’s other work. I couldn’t help but think after reading her artist statement that Abshagen is trying too hard to capture the stillness she hopes to reflect in her work.

The show is clean and well lit. All work is hung on center and the open floor space allows for breathing room. Each artist framed her or his work consistently, Poulson used cherry wood, Steelman walnut and Abshagen must have spent a small fortune on her thick, elegant gold frames. The visitors who came through the gallery the day I visited seemed to enjoy the show overall.

But I continue to long for a group show at DAC that feels cohesive. I want to see not only image and technique. I want to see form, the verb: The bringing together of parts to create something more. Leanne Goebel is a freelance arts journalist based in Pagosa Springs






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