Wrapping up at the Art Gallery at the Denver Performing Arts Center is the “Portraits of Frequency” show containing work from three Denver Artists, Dunn the Signologist, Thomas “Detour” Evans and MSU Denver’s own Cedric Chambers. Each collection is strong on its own but takes a moment to understand why they’re connected within the show. The vastly different media used gives the sense that the show was randomly put together. However, upon closer inspection, the viewer begins to be absorbed into the world of contemporary portraiture.
For various reasons traditional portraiture has fallen out of favor with artists until recently. Connotations of the classist bourgeois use of portraiture to display power and money are connected to the tradition. In response to those connotations, a growing number of artists are looking for alternative avenues for portraying subjects. The work of painters like Kehinde Wiley, Antonia Fernandez and Robert Pruitt, have begun combining the formal elements of portraiture, but with a much more personal flare. Gone are the deeply symbolic images of propaganda a la Louis XIV. Now artists are allowing the subjects to exist on their own without the extra symbolism.
Cedric Chambers’ paintings are created by traditional means: oil on canvas. What makes them special is the surprise element that pervades each. For example, Maya G looks like a classical depiction of an African-American woman until you realize that the hat on her head is actually a ship. It adds a layer of interest that wouldn’t be there in a straightforward portrait. Even his self-portrait is not a perfect representation.
Chambers has a great awareness of how to draw his viewer in to observe every detail. His origami paintings could be looked at for hours to examine every detail. While it’s no surprise that he’s been a professional artist for years, his return to MSU Denver has only encouraged and challenged him.
“I have no idea where I’d be if I didn’t have the support of my professors. They push my limits intellectually and challenge me to try new things,” he said.
The signs of the Signtologist represent the street in multiple ways. Not only are they literally painted-on signs, they generally contain such specific culture references that you need some kind of prior knowledge to properly appreciate them. The portraits are done in a stencil-silhouette motif that are usually found in wheat pastes on the sides of buildings. The history of this technique is rooted in political and social activism and an easy way to produce complex graffiti in a short amount of time. The Signtologist continues this tradition but in a much more colorful and approachable language. Portraits of Diana Ross, Prince and Stevie Wonder are a few of the enjoyable pieces in the show.
What makes the signs so intriguing is the amount of layers that are visible in each. The raised letters of the original sign show through in a slightly lighter black and there are odd color pastes below the silhouette that make the portrait that much more complex.
Almost entirely separate from the above artists is the work of Detour. His paintings have the unique ability to play music. Wait. What? He uses electric paint and embedded speakers that react to the touch of the viewer. While the portraits themselves are beautiful, Detour has really pushed the boundaries of how art is viewed and interacted with. Talking with him and hearing his history, you’ll find out that his excitement for painting, music and the ways his work has created a whole new art experience is something he strives for every day.
“If I pass away tomorrow, I can leave these pieces behind,” he said. Detour can be found doing live art every other Friday (i.e. Sept. 11) at Meadowlark Kitchen.
While the show’s only up until Sept. 12, be sure to check out the artists’ pages and stop by the Art Gallery at the DPAC inside of Backstage Coffee to get one last glimpse of all of these artists together.
Author: Carlos Escamilla
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