Ana Maria Hernando and Trine Bumiller are two of Denver’s most prominent and prolific artists, and each has a quirky way of looking at nature. They both paint flowers, though not in that colorful, comforting way that brings out instant awe of the planet’s most decorative objects.
Instead they get at — and deeply — how we see plants and trees and other earthly things with our most acute, inner senses. They focus on the lines, light and shadows that form them in our minds and fix them in our memories, and the organic patterns and shapes that connect us to them as fellow living beings.
Hernando’s show, now at the University of Colorado Art Museum in Boulder and titled “We Have Flowers” is a milestone moment in an impressive career, and a deep exploration into seeing. She uses simple paper cut-outs and cryptic, gestural paintings to flatten nature’s dimensional qualities and highlight its visual essence. At the same time, she creates large-scale, floral-inspired installations that pay tribute to the female laborers — cloistered nuns and factory workers — who make the lace fabrics she uses as raw material.
Bumiller’s concurrent show, in the downtown Denver building known as 1801 California, connects the dots on a decade-plus of work. “Juxtaposed” transforms dozens of her smaller, existing paintings into wholly new — and massive — constructions. She, too, pays a tribute, though more personally, to her father, who inspired the earlier pieces on display.
These artists have radically different styles. Hernando is loose, emotional and political and integrates various methods into her work. Bumiller is a painter, with a disciplined talent for rendering the cells and structures of earthly phenomena. What links them is an appreciation of the flora around us and an understanding of how it helps us mark the passing of time, as well as a simple and instructive way of breaking nature down to its elements. There’s romance to both of these offerings, but also a bit of psychological science
Both shows have a considerable wow factor. Bumiller’s comes, in part, from its setting in the vast, marbled lobby of Denver’s second-tallest skyscraper. Scores of paintings are collaged together, salon-style, and the sheer amount of art on display can feel overwhelming.
There basically two categories of works intermingled in the show, which was curated by Andra Archer: Horizontal oil paintings from the circa-2005 series “Tending My Father’s Garden,” which had her capturing scenes from the yard of the family homestead back in Ohio; and vertical paintings from “Elevations,” a series created more recently of horticultural scenes from her life in high-altitude Colorado. The personal runs deep here because we see the artists then and now and witness how her father’s obsession with plants morphed into her own as an artist.
But Bumiller’s detached, abstract tendencies are on display, too. She’s all about dissecting angles and intersections and pulling out the architecture of organic things. She has a way of zeroing in; some of her paintings, with layers of glaze applied on top, look as if she took leaves and placed them under a microscope and painted the details that appeared on her glass slide.
The mix of sentimental and scientific within these constructions makes them involving on multiple levels. It would be easy, and perhaps fair, to look at the whole show as an exercise in recycling. How hard is it really to grab some old paintings, mix and match them and call it new? Walking in, you might get the sense that you’ve seen this material before.
But what the exhibit lacks in originality, it makes up for in the art of re-imagining and that becomes increasingly clear as you spend time in it. Art is a process. An artist’s life is a journey. Through these works, Bumiller’s own life is on display for all to see. This exhibit manages to be entertaining, technically smart and personally revealing.
Hernando’s show, oddly enough, feels new and original from the get-go, even though we’ve seen her, for years now, take on the topics of flowers and female labor. She knows the only way to wander into the subject of just how hard, meticulous and meditative some women’s work can be, is to make art that is hard and meticulous and this exhibit goes the distance.
The floral pieces and installations are extreme and intricately constructed by Hernando with help from some of her female artist friends. Hundreds of white organza and silk flowers, seamed, stitched and pinned, are fashioned from the delicate lace produced by the Carmelite sisters tucked away in the Monastery of Santa Teresa de Jesus in Buenos Aires, and from the fine petticoats made by women in Mollomarka, Peru. Hernando’s work might come across as too earnest to some, or overly sincere in its effort to elevate the work of the under-appreciated, but there is genuine magic in the media, a connection between places and cultures and it is easy to appreciate.
The real beauty of “We Have Flowers,” though, emerges from its simpler works. Hernando wants us to see flowers and the different qualities they take on in the day and in the night and she employs several tactics. In opposition to the complex, flower installations, are monochromatic — and barely readable — oil paintings of flowers where the contrasts come, not by capturing depth of field, but by harnessing the matte and glossy qualities of oil paint. Some are white-on-white, others are black-on-black, and their deliberate murkiness is an exercise in how light shapes perception.
There is also a series of unframed, acrylic-and-ink, cut-out paper works, again all-white or all-black, which seem casual and haphazard at first glance. They are floppy, sloppy and just tacked to the wall, like so many of the folkloric, paper cut-out pieces from Mexico and points south that they bring to mind (known as papel picado, or perforated paper). But Hernando’s cut-outs are abstract. They don’t create traditional domestic scenes of evoke the skeletons of ancestors as much as they serve to let light in and out of the work. The pieces billow off the walls and shadows dapple in, around and underneath them, giving these super-flat objects great depth. What does Hernando want us to look at here? Is it the paper? Or the images of flowers and patterns on its surface, like we do with any other painting? Or the dance of the shadows?
Like with Bumiller’s work, you get a lot of options. And things that start off simple become intellectual challenges, visual lessons, mental trips. This work is all about how seeing and feeling and time are inseparable. It’s fun, sometimes a lot of fun, but you don’t have to stop there.
Ana Maria Hernando’s “We Have Flowers” runs through Oct. 22 at the University of Colorado Art Museum, 1085 18th St., Boulder. 303-492-8300 or colorado.edu/cuartmuseum. Free.
Trine Bumiller’s “Juxtaposed” continues through Nov. 18 in the lobby of 1801 California, the downtown Denver skyscraper known by its address. Info at artsbrookfield.com/events. Free.