The first rule of art is that no one except the artist touches the work.

But Denver abstract expressionist painter Doug Kacena threw that guideline out the window for his latest exhibition. Crossover, which opens at LoDo’s Mike Wright Gallery on November 5, sees Kacena painting over the works of 12 local master representational painters, including Quang Ho, Jill Soukup, and Ed Kucera. In exchange, Kacena handed over 15 of his paintings for each participating artist to paint over. “I didn’t want it to be a one-way conversation,” he says. The other artists were able to decide which of their paintings to give to Kacena, and they were also able to handpick which of his paintings they wanted to work on.

The result is an exciting and intriguing study of what art is and how different styles—abstract, realism, landscape, etc.—all contain elements of each other. The new paintings are so fully realized that it’s difficult to tell where they started. Was it an abstract color study that’s suddenly transformed into a clear(er) image? Was it a more traditional landscape that’s been blurred with textured swaths of paint? In Crossover, mediums and styles merge and diverge, creating new emotions and understandings where others once existed. (Documentary filmmaker David Schler also filmed each artist at work, and a 10-minute version of his film will play at the gallery.)

Doug Kacena’s “Composite,” painted over by Dave Santillanes to become “Into The Icy Blue.” Photo courtesy of Mike Wright Gallery

Kacena, who is also gallery director of Evergreen Fine Art Gallery, says he treated each painting differently. Some he recontextualized, others he chose to abstract; some he turned on their sides, another he drilled holes into. “It was very reactive, very instinctual,” Kacena says. “It’s kind of like jazz. You play off the cues [the paintings] give you. The toughest part is starting to make those first marks.”

The idea for Crossover came from Kacena’s realization that many of his artist friends weren’t aware of each other’s efforts because they worked in different schools. “There’s a divide within the arts community,” Kacena says. Crossover is intended to be an “exchange of ideas,” he says, between contemporary abstract painters and traditional representational artists.

And while some in the arts community have already expressed concerns that Kacena ruined these masterworks (some valued at more than $30,000), he notes that the experiment was undertaken with each artist’s permission. “This whole thing is forcing the artists to do something they don’t usually do,” Kacena says. And that’s part of what makes Crossover so sensational: It’s an opportunity to see these well-known representational painters in entirely new ways, to see their skills beyond what they’re known for. Look no further than Edward Aldrich trading his typical alpine animals—bison and mountain goats and the like—for delightful monkeys.

Art fans will have to decide which side they land on for themselves.

Details: Crossover opens at Mike Wright on Saturday, November 5, with a party from 6–9 p.m. The exhibition will be on view through January 14.

Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at