The paintings in "Altiplano," Keiko Gonzalez' exhibition at Lisa Kurts, are both abstract and achingly real. Gonzalez, a widely traveled, internationally respected artist, lives and paints in Altiplano, the vast Bolivian plateau flanked on all sides by peaks of the Andes.
Many of Gonzalez' paintings — such as Laja, Patacamaya, and Tren a Oruro — are named for small towns scattered across the Altiplano. One-story buildings at the very bottom of these works look minuscule compared to the imposing Andean peaks that rise above them. In his particularly powerful deep-red monochromes, we feel the passion of the artist as well as Altiplano's rugged terrain as Gonzalez scrapes, scumbles, and gouges palette knives into layer after saturate layer of carmines, burgundies, corals, and brick-reds.
Thick passages of carmine slashed through with burgundy in the 72-by-72-inch pink-ochre painting Calamarca suggest a scarred rock face and the torn flesh of farmers who eke out a living in a beautiful, inhospitable terrain. Dark purples and midnight blues limned in white in Las Animas evoke the sub-zero temperatures and frozen mists of this 14,000-foot-high Andean plateau, where fierce winds make piercing sounds the locals describe as "voices of the ancestors."
At Lisa Kurts through April 30th
Like Keiko Gonzalez' "Altiplano" paintings, some of the most powerful pastels in Kathleen Holder's David Lusk exhibition "Okeanos" are large red monochromes. Rather than conjuring up primal emotion, raw earth, and bruised flesh, Holder's pastels draw us deep into barely discernible syntheses of water, shadow, and light.
The velvety sheen of Holder's mixes of powdered pigments and opalescent minerals create the impression that light is about to break through even her darkest passages — like the lavender-gray twilight in Okeanos II and the iridescent Okeanos V, in which a river rounds a bend beneath a pinpoint of light in a night sky. Four pinpoints of light, aligned horizontally across the center of this midnight-blue painting, conjure up otherworldly or quantum physical systems of communication (something akin, perhaps, to Bell's Theorem) that crosses vast expanses of physical and psychic space.
Holder's dark-red pastels evoke "Okeanos," the Greek term for the cosmic river flowing between our universe and a sulfurous underworld. The pyramidal shape near the top of Okeanos I, the darkest and most iconic work in the show, could be Mount Olympus, the prow of a boat emerging from the mist — Holder's symbol for accessing alternate states of consciousness — or the softly-glowing conical hat of a bishop (or wizard or fool), each radiating its owner's special prowess.
Burgundy shadows at the center of the painting read as dark passages of the underworld or the psyche. Light breaks again at the bottom of Okeanos I — not as reflected light but as inner radiance — as Holder's metaphorically complex mixture of mystery and myth draws us, increment by subtle increment, into the deepest pool of all: the human soul.
At David Lusk through April 24th
What to make of Peter Bowman's exhibition, "Time and Space," also at David Lusk? Bowman's color schemes are unorthodox, his compositions are off-center, his lines of perspective are seriously askew. The centerpiece of his show is a studio table covered with empty paint tubes, mixing pans, palette knives, and what looks like a decade's worth of slathered-on oils.
Is Bowman untrained or primitive or, perhaps, a faux folk artist? None of the above. In one of the most exuberant, inventive shows of his career, Bowman envisions God as a graceful frond that arcs up and into the painting on the wall in Untitled (Orchid). The frond's spring-green tip is about to touch the stem of a brown pear (as rough-hewn as a lump of clay) in an ingenious update of Genesis and the Sistine Ceiling that suggests every act of creation is as powerful as the first.
Why stop there? Like a child, like the Buddha — Bowman sees the world with fresh eyes as he experiments with alternate universes and messes with time and space. In Untitled (Rising Sun), a free-floating pear (Bowman's illusion is unsettlingly convincing) is backdropped by a red sun. Instead of rising above or dropping below the line of horizon, the bright-red disc embeds itself in a bank of snow.