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Things look different when you’re sick.

March 11, 2013

Or perhaps it’s better to say the world takes on a different appearance when one is convalescing from illness compared with when one is hale and hearty and striding about.

Good fortune had me catch a powerful cold only after we got a new couch at home. From this comfortable new vantage point, in a slightly altered consciousness, I was able to notice where a window had been covered over in the far wall many years ago.

And behind the couch is the outline of what was probably an opening for French doors into the next room. I noted the exact time that snow began to stick on Saturday afternoon (3:10 p.m.). I detected yet another characteristic sound in the heating system. The artwork on our walls looked different as the days passed.

“Well,” you say. “You’re just sitting there. How could you not notice things?”

Exactly my point. There may be more to one’s state of mind when ill than just quietude, but generally we see differently from a place of quiet. For this reason, I prefer quiet museums and galleries.

On a recent visit to Denver, I returned to the Clyfford Still Museum, which has wonderful galleries for looking at paintings. It’s an excellently designed museum, but it feels a bit like a mausoleum because apparently it will only ever show Clyfford Still’s work.

Still was adamant that an artist’s work should not be displayed beside that of other artist’s. If only the Still Museum could use its space to do just that for other artists, as well, but I don’t think the terms of the bequest allow it. Too bad.

After that, I went to the Arvada Center for Arts and Humanities to see “The Art of the State” show, with many artists’ work displayed side by side. Among the first few pieces to really catch my attention were works by Bea and Mel Strawn. Well, of course, I said to myself.

The show has many forms of art, and many beautiful objects, but two-dimensional work and in particular paintings are most appealing to me. I made a list of Colorado artists to look up.

Until you make it to Arvada, you can see some fine two-dimensional artwork at the library. In Conrad Nelson’s show, she has “returned to mixed media work which is biographical in nature and concomitantly tells a story.”

“The contents for the work include old photographs, text, stamps, past art work, and other images and materials.”

The works in the “Cultural Synthesis” series are made of images, text, and ephemera from different cultures. The stuff of these collages are fascinating, but one must be careful not to get lost only in the fragments. Step back and see the entire composition.

Such works invite microscopic investigation. Sometimes the text is text with content important to the work. Other times, it may provide texture, pattern, color, or value, or as is probably the case, all of that at once.

One can look at the work with some nostalgia for travel, maybe travel a hundred years ago, and examine the details up close, but some look like little paintings from afar. Of course, some paintings look like collages, but let’s just stop there.

While looking at the show, coughing in the empty library after hours, I spotted in one collage a piece of text from an old book that said “… he was seized with a spasmodick asthma


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