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A nod to the past 

by Sheri Boggs


One of the first things you notice upon visiting the studio of local artist DENAE (who uses only her first name) is how remarkably varied her work is. There are paintings paying homage to the jazz clubs of the Harlem Renaissance, still lifes in the style of the Old Masters and references inspired by everything from Vincent Van Gogh to the aboriginal artists of the Australian outback. Among this heady brew of artistic influences are examples of Denae's latest work -- her Botanical Collection, which shows through November at Europa.


"Art really lends itself well to having a lot of interests," Denae explains. The Botanical Collection is proof positive -- preserved flowers and leaves, old letters, sheet music and exotic stamps, combined with sketches or paintings by Denae suggest a secret history or a deeply personal narrative. Billet Doux, for instance, brings together the silvery braid-like structure of dried artemisia, the watercolor blues of dried hydrangea blossoms, stamps from Czechoslovakia featuring the images of voluptuous art nudes, letters addressed to mysterious men, Denae's sketch of a Rubenesque young woman and sheet music for The Merry Widow Waltz.


"Billet Doux means 'love letters,' " says Denae, gesturing to the different elements of her collage. "I love collecting old letters, and I like how all the letters in this are addressed to men. I wanted to use these gorgeous stamps -- you don't see stamps like this in the United States -- and I did this little sketch up here and thought it would be fun to bring it all together with The Merry Widow Waltz."


Neapolitan Nights is another example of artistic serendipity. Deep blue delphinium blossoms pick up the midnight blue of a Venetian scene; a snippet of the French song "Alouette" keeps company with a stamp of a naked man on the back of a gigantic red horse. Denae buys her stamps and letters from Vintage Postcard and Stamp on Hamilton and finds each one a curious work of art in its own right.


"The stamps from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Russia tend to be really beautiful," says Denae. While many artists struggle to find their inspiration and style in the untried future, Denae finds her muse in the artists and figures of the past.


"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," she says. "There's nothing that hasn't been done left, so for me it feels like passing the torch. So many of the things other painters have explored in their work -- music, sexuality, self-identity -- are what's important to me. So my work is about borrowing from their work, and then adding and expanding on their original statement."





& & & lt;i & The Botanical Collection by Denae shows through November at Europa Pizzaria, 125 S. Wall. Call: 455-4051. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &





& & Melting Pot & & & &


In addition to being one of the area's largest and most impressive galleries, the Douglas Gallery has also become a sort of promised land for a number of fine artists emigrated from Europe. Yuri Gorbachev, whose work is a regular feature of the gallery, will return for a visit and gallery engagement next month; Valentin Popov's show in May was one of the best shows this year; and now, & & ZOLTAN SZABO's & & richly colored landscapes and still lifes grace the Douglas Gallery walls.


Szabo, who now resides in North Carolina, left Hungary at the age of 20 to seek his fortune in Canada. The story of how he decided to paint as a lifelong act of gratitude for his freedom sounds like a Hollywood moment, but Szabo assures me it's true.


"When I came to this continent, it was the first time I saw the sea. We came across on a ship that was still equipped for the military, and we were even caught up in a hurricane, but it was fascinating to me, not scary," says Szabo. "We were coming down the St. Lawrence Seaway, and it was late afternoon and it had been raining, but it cleared up as we approached Quebec City and there was this magnificent castle on a triangular peninsula. And just at that moment, there was a rainbow, right above the castle. I took it as a good omen. I felt so happy that I had regained my freedom at last, and I decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life giving something beautiful back to these countries that had welcomed me so."


The vibrant colors of Szabo's original rainbow appear throughout his extensive career. In recent years, Szabo has moved into doing more studio work rather than painting on location, imbuing his work with a quality of being landscapes of the imagination. Although Szabo works frequently in opaque watercolors, the work in the show at the Douglas Gallery also shows Szabo's experimentation with washes and gold leaf.


"It's an ancient combination, paint and gold leaf," says Szabo. "But I like to give it a modern twist -- a more personal twist."





& & & lt;i & Zoltan Szabo's work continues to show at the Douglas Gallery, 120 N. Wall, through November. Call: 624-4179. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &





& & Abstract Expression & & & &


& & MELISSA LANG's & & studio on the Moran Prairie looks like just one of the many sheds and outbuildings anchored in the waving grasses of the hillsides south of town. But step inside and you're greeted by a cacophony of paint and movement as Lang finishes up a series of abstract paintings for her show, "Impulse and Restraint," this month at the Lorinda Knight Gallery.


"I go into it with an idea of what I want to do, but I almost always give up on what I've conceived and let the painting do the speaking," says Lang, smiling and rolling her eyes at the delicate balance between control and creativity that all artists smack up against at one time or another.


She finds inspiration in shapes, be it the comforting round lines of an onion bulb or the ubiquitous "flower power" shape of a circle with five or six round petals coming out of it. Darkness and light figure prominently in a Melissa Lang painting as well, and those who think abstracts are easy -- or rendered without much thought -- would be challenged by her work.


"When I did this line here, I was thinking about how it relates to this circle," says Lang, gesturing at the different elements of her painting. "It's all about balance, about relating the darknesses in a painting to something delicate or subtle that will remind you of them. I love to play with the opposites, with the dichotomy between the pieces."





& & & lt;i & "Impulse and Restraint: Paintings by Melissa Lang" opens Friday, Nov. 3, at the Lorinda Knight Gallery, 523 W. Sprague, and runs through Nov. 25. Artist Reception: Friday, Nov. 3, at 6 pm. Gallery Talk: Saturday, Nov. 4, at 11 am. Call: 838-3740. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &





& & International Reputation & & & &


Anyone who says big city art events never happen here needs to check out the Visiting Artist Lecture Series, a joint effort of Spokane Falls Community College and Eastern Washington University, as well as the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture (formerly the Cheney Cowles Museum). Innovative and internationally recognized artists like Dustin Shuler, Ken Butler, Nancy Chunn and Rirkrit Tiravanija would not likely find themselves in a city like Spokane if not for the Visiting Artist Lecture Series.


The first artist of the 2000-2001 series is Cuban artist & & JOSE BEDIA & & , whose work -- both paintings and installations -- is known for its use of found objects and silhouetted black figures. Bedia is influenced by the Native American spirituality he first encountered in Florida, and the Afro-Cuban religion Palo Monte.


Bedia's lectures in Spokane this week are the first of three such events featured in this year's series, entitled "Articles of Faith, Acts of Inquiry." In February, Reverend Ethan Acres will discuss the fine line between being a minister and a performance artist, and in May, photographer Graciela Iturbide lectures on her body of work documenting the religious ceremonies of her native Mexico.





& & & lt;i & Jose Bedia lectures at SFCC on Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 11:30 am, and at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, temporarily located at 1020 W. Riverside, on Nov. 7 at 7:30 pm. He will speak at the EWU Art Department, Rm. 116, on Wednesday, Nov. 8, noon. Call: 359-6996. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &





& & Inland Craft Ahead & & & &


November in the Inland Northwest means none other than the yearly return of & & INLAND CRAFT WARNINGS & & , which has a new venue this year and more than 20 new artists. This year, the popular show of fine arts and crafts moves into the Spokane Convention Center for the Nov. 10-12 event, making plenty of room for an impressive array of fiber arts, pottery, jewelry, photography, glass, metal, furniture and two and three-dimensional art.


An Invitational Artist Gallery Section spotlights a number of outstanding regional artists, with Chris Nylander, Patricia Sgrecci, Eva Simova and Leslie LePere on Saturday, and Ken Yuhasz, Joy Attwood and Dan McCann on Sunday.





& & & lt;i & Inland Craft Warnings is at the Spokane Convention Center on Friday, Nov. 10, from 3-8 pm, Saturday, Nov. 11, from 10 am-6 pm, and Sunday, Nov. 12, from 10 am-6 pm. Tickets: $4 (good all weekend). Call: 466-2973. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &





& & Wrap Artists & & & &


A rare visit by conceptual artists & & CHRISTO & & and & & JEANNE-CLAUDE & & takes place at the University of Idaho tonight. In conjunction with the University of Idaho's Pritchard Gallery show, "Two Works in Progress," the internationally famous artists will speak about the planning, collaboration and execution of two monumental upcoming projects. "Over the River" involves the installation of seven miles of translucent fabric canopy over the Arkansas River in Colorado, and "The Gates," a not-yet-completed 1979 project designed for Central Park. Both projects require political, engineering and leadership know-how, as they involve landowners, construction crews, structural challenges and more fabric than most of us can imagine.





The exhibit "Two Works in Process" runs through Nov. 17 at the U of I's Pritchard Art Gallery, 414 S. Main, Moscow, Idaho. Lecture: Thursday, Nov. 2, at 7:30 pm in the Administration Auditorium. Call: (208) 885 3586.

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