Painter’s unusual works spark imagination in show at museum

Paul Gillis exhibit follows last year’s honors in ‘Own an Original’


Visit Paul Gillis’ exhibition at the Littleton Museum with a space for new stories cleared out in your mind.

They will be stories you invent as you walk through the gallery — and circle back again … What was THAT, anyhow?

Gillis won Best of Show in the 2017 “Own an Original” exhibit, entitling him to a solo exhibit the following year. The juror for 2017 was Katherine Charles, who grew up in Littleton, not far from the museum.

“The Dark That Was Is Here,” the show’s title, is the title and last line of a poem by Eli Seigal which speaks of the likeness between an ancient Greek girl and one who lives in Idaho today … history repeats itself …

And knowing that, plus reading Gillis’ quote on the invitation again, begins to give one a framework for enjoying these highly imaginative, skillfully executed works by a veteran Denver area painter.

Gillis said: “We’ve always been surrounded by other animals, by some kind of spirit world, by a world of buildings and machines. I like to keep in mind where we’re coming from and that it’s also where we’re going.”

These paintings almost jump out from the wall with bright colors and fantastic images that immediately engage the imagination. Where am I? How does it sound? Can you smell it?

They’re painted with both oil and watercolor and Gillis’ careful layering of color and precise edges and textures clearly show the results of years of training and experience, although he takes you to places you haven’t visited before, to meet new images — Some are animals, some are robots perhaps, some may be dancing — or swimming — interacting with another image — or very alone …

A dark, all-seeing camera image appears repeatedly in his paintings. Gillis is also a photographer. Does this represent him interacting in those magic worlds that have flowed from his brain through his hands to engage the rest of us? I’d like to think so — and that it’s an often-curious, friendly sort of something — almost a someone.

The Littleton Museum’s online statement about Gillis says: “Deeply interested in the human narrative, Gillis takes common themes from across history to construct highly complex worlds within his paintings.

Set like stages, the complexities of his worlds are combined to a few symbolic actors and relationships, making for powerful scenes. Gillis uses images of ghosts, robots, animals, ancient scripts and objects to explore how the experiences of people remain constant across time.”

In “Do You Remember Me?” pictured on publicity for the show, there seems to be an underwater version of that camera, bead-clad, with a wisp of blue hair, perhaps interviewing a couple of cheerful dancing yellow tables, while above, a pink fish and a sort of reptile are meeting — or considering if they want to meet … And we’re off to inventing new stories!

Every one of the 30 paintings will lead a viewer somewhere else.

I think children will enjoy Gillis’ imaginary worlds too and hope parents, grandparents and schools will plan visits. It could lead to all sorts of conversations and hopefully some artwork as well — and perhaps a bit of storytelling. Kids in general will love the imaginary surround while their adults may extend meanings farther afield.

Gillis has been painting in Denver for a number of years and is represented by the prestigious RULE Gallery at 530 Santa Fe Drive, Denver. He has recently exhibited at RULE’s gallery in Marfa, TX, with a show called “Now Rhymes With Then,” based on a Mark Twain quotation, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

RULE’s press release about the Marfa show said: “He was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1941 and moved to Los Angeles with his parents at age 6. He spent several years in the Air Force … at several colleges … then moved to Colorado in 1967 and received a BFA from CU Denver in 1967 and MFA from CU Boulder in 1976. He was influenced by a group of Colorado artists who became associated with Drop City and Criss-Cross and in 1979 with the founding of SPARK Gallery, and early cooperative gallery in Denver. (Still on Santa Fe Drive.) He is influenced by the Chicago Imagists movement, as well as the style of many underground comics of the’ 60s and ‘70s. His art has the feel of a comic book panel or the cell of an animated movie, inviting the viewer to build a storyline around each scene presented … In actuality, they reveal how the ages of civilization and the stories we communicate are all expressions of our fundamental realization that the more things change, the more they are the same.”

“The Dark That Was Is Here” runs through Oct. 21 at the Littletom Museum, 6038 S. Gallup St., Littleton. Admission is free and there is adequate free parking. 303-795-3950.


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