Doug Kacena: “Crossover” at Mike Wright Gallery

“Intimate Encounter,” Ron Hicks, painted over by Doug Kacena to become “Redacted Memory,” 2016
Oil on canvas, 50″ x 40″
Photo: courtesy Mike Wright Gallery

Denver-based abstract painter Doug Kacena noticed that there was a disconnection in the art scene, not just here in Colorado, but nationally. This clearly defined gap has artists working in contemporary styles—like him—on one side of it, and those whose efforts lie in the traditional realist realm on the other. So Kacena conceived of the exhibition “Crossover,” with the idea of bridging the distance between the two through radical interventions. Kacena selected some of the most significant representational painters active in the region and asked each to give him one of their pieces so that he could paint over it. Simultaneously he gave each of them one of his, so that they could paint over it. Given the time needed to fully realize his aims, Kacena began preparation for this show a year before it opened. Although there are precedents for this kind of thing in the history of art, it’s important to point out that the resulting paintings from Kacena’s concept, both those by him, and by the others, are neither collaborative in the normal sense, nor are they examples of the “exquisite corpse” tradition. All the pieces in “Crossover” were completely finished works of art before Kacena and the others intervened.

Kacena’s style is expressionist, characterized by big arching brush strokes that run and drip. Some of the realist artists, including Ed Kucera and Jill Soukup, were inspired by the original contours of the abstract marks to come up with recognizable subjects, a horse in both their cases. In some instances, one sensibility overwhelms the other, as when Kacena nearly completely obscures a Robert Spooner, or when Jeff Legg turns a Kacena into nothing other than a background for one of his signature images, a red vase. In only a few cases was there a genuine convergence in which each artist was still clearly present in the enterprise. This was particularly true of Kacena’s redo of a Ron Hicks, and conversely Hicks’ repainting of a Kacena. The results were so simpatico they both could have been the work of the same artist.

The Mike Wright Gallery went all out with this exhibit. Not only was there a photographic reproduction of each of the original paintings paired with the final result, but there was also an accompanying documentary by David Schler, in which the artists were interviewed and the show’s concept was laid-out. Kacena may have ultimately failed in his quest to unite abstraction with realism, but with his noble attempt in “Crossover,” he definitely got a lot of people to start thinking about it.