Aspen Chapel Gallery’s 4 Rivers Biennial showcases local artists |

Aspen Chapel Gallery’s 4 Rivers Biennial showcases local artists

Janette Darnauer and her husband Rob Merritt observe Wewer Keohane's, "Breakfast in Japan #2" mixed media piece at the 4 Rivers Biennial opening on Wednesday evening at the Aspen Chapel.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

If You Go …

What: 4 Rivers Biennial Exhibition

Where: Aspen Chapel Galley

When: Through Nov. 26

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As Charmaine Locke and James Surls pored over artist submissions for the 4 Rivers Biennial, they were unsurprised by how many local artists looked to the mountains and nature for their subjects.

But the multitude of perspectives and approaches to depicting the natural world was a revelation.

“The nature themes and our connection with our surrounding environment — I picked up on that,” Locke said Wednesday at the biennial’s opening at the Aspen Chapel Gallery. “But the diversity within that is very curious. You have some that are representative and some that are more ethereal and kind of spacey. That’s the realm of artists that we have here — it’s pretty remarkable.”

Locke and Surls, who are husband and wife and also two of the most acclaimed locally based artists, selected the works for the biennial, which is just the second juried exhibition in the 32-year history of the Chapel Gallery. It also launches a new biennial tradition for Aspen, filling a void left — and sorely felt among local artists — since the end of the Aspen Art Museum’s Roaring Fork Open.

The juried show, which runs through Nov. 26, kicks off a big fall and early winter for the Chapel Gallery, which will celebrate its 200th exhibition — the annual “Small Wonders” show — on Nov. 29.

Submissions were open to all artists living in the Roaring Fork, Frying Pan, Crystal and Colorado river basins. From 71 submissions, Surls and Locke selected pieces by 29 artists.

The show is filled with works by artists who have studied the natural world closely in the hopes of helping viewers see it anew.

The Maroon Bells, for instance, get a fascinating abstracted treatment in a Marisa Dreher work and, a few steps away in the gallery, get a hyper-realistic one in Barbara Shaw’s photograph of the Bells reflecting themselves in Maroon Lake as a gaggle of geese stand watch. Mike Otte looks at the same phenomenon in “Rising Moon,” an oil painting of the moon reflecting itself in a lake.

Amy Beidelman’s watercolor “Fall is in the Air” offers a mountainside in early fall with groves of aspens turning gold and, in a surreal touch, the sky following suit and popping with yellow. Gail Price details the shadows between high-country boulders, and Michael Kinsley captures the intricate texture of Snowmass Canyon cliffs in richly layered oil paint. In two paintings, Linda Loeschen gives us impressionistic takes on a girl standing in one stream and a bear wading through another.

Out of the mountains and among the more abstract pieces in the biennial are Gena Hawkins’ “Pierced Tongue,” a bright and kinetic, graffiti-influenced mixed media piece with a sculpted tongue sticking out playfully at the viewer and two Jocelyn Murray works with subtle swirls of windswept white emerging from backgrounds of pale blues.

Overall, the exhibition is dominated by painting. But it also includes some noteworthy works of sculpture such as John Bozza’s “Stubby Rusty Pencil,” a large piece crafted from wood and rusty cans into a worn-down pencil, and James Moser’s “Little Bang #3,” a steel piece that depicts a rough-hewn interstellar explosion of forms jutting out of a shiny steel ball.

“The range and the number of people that can thrive as artists here, despite the difficulties of being here in this valley — they struggle and yet they push though because they love it so much,” Locke said.

Selecting works for the biennial, Locke said, strengthened her and Surls’ faith in the community of artists here.

“We’re not about to let the visual arts die,” she said. “Some might think, ‘What do we need that for as long as we have our phones?’ But being here and being able to get up close and look at something that someone has made by hand from their imagination, that’s still valuable.”

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