Two of Denver’s most intriguing art shows this month are poised to transport you away from the everyday—one, to the far reaches of the universe; the other, to a high-altitude world carved by wind and ice.

Vance Kirkland’s Cosmos | Feb. 15–May 28, 2023

“Creation of Space,” 1960, by Vance Kirkland (1904­–1981, American), oil paint & water on linen, 75 x 105 inches. Collection Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver.

This winter and spring, the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art is highlighting the work of its namesake, Vance Kirkland, with the institution’s first temporary exhibition of his paintings in 20 years. Considered one of the most important 20th-century painters in Colorado and the region, Kirkland (1904–1981) created a broad body of work that encompasses five major periods, ranging from surrealism to abstract expressionism. During the second half of his career, Kirkland shifted from capturing earthly scenes to an exploration of outer space—first with his Nebulae paintings, and later with his vibrantly colored Dot paintings. Vance Kirkland’s Cosmos, co-curated by Kirkland Museum founding director and curator Hugh Grant and deputy curator Christopher Herron, immerses visitors in works from this period spanning nearly 30 years, including a selection of large-scale paintings that have rarely been displayed in public.

“Unknown Space Mysteries Nine Billion Years B.C., 1979,” by Vance Kirkland (1904­–1981, American), oil paint & water with gold on linen, 22 x 22 inches. Collection Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver.

The exhibition also features a new sub-series of Kirkland’s paintings documented by Grant, titled “Energy of Forms in Space.” Lacking the exploding shapes that characterize Kirkland’s works from late 1976 to 1981, these pieces, Grant says, are “charged with manifestations of energy, with jets and spurts of energy emanating from their sprawling, complex forms.”

Of such depictions of the universe’s evolution and expansion, Kirkland once said, “I am trying to paint something I do not know exists in a tangible way…if I am looking at space, who is going to say that it never existed? It has existed in my mind.” With the debut of this vibrant exhibition, it’s sure to make an indelible impression on the minds of a new audience, as well. Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, 1201 Bannock St., 303-832-8576

Precipice | Feb. 3–March 4, 2023

“Misty Gore” by Jared Hankins, 2023, oils on panel, 42 x 60 inches. Photo courtesy of Jared Hankins

Over the course of his career, Denver-based painter Jared Hankins has explored a wide variety of subjects and styles, from intricate depictions of bridges and rollercoasters to eye-catching abstracts (available through fine art reproduction company Big Wall Décor) to remarkably realistic scenes of Americana. But to fill the lofty rooms of Denver’s Space Gallery—home to Hankins’ first Colorado solo show, the largest exhibition of his work to date—the artist has created a series of moody, high-country landscapes, from frozen rivers to portraits of the faces of iconic mountain peaks. Displayed alongside a selection of his structure paintings—“to help viewers compare and contrast the stylistic changes,” Hankins notes—the rugged scenes take cues from early photography of the American West. “I am drawn to the imperfections and streaky quality of the old photographs that helped capture the magnitude of the mountains,” Hankins says. “This show was an opportunity to push this imaging into a more contemporary space while paying homage to the early explorers.”

Hankins began creating this series with the same level of detail and execution seen in his portrayals of industrial structures. But as he made his way through the body of work, he began painting larger scenes with looser strokes, “deconstructing the detail while still maintaining a realistic look,” he says. “From 5 to 10 feet, these pieces feel photographic, but as you approach the canvas, they have a painterly quality that adds a layer of interest. While these pieces have a black-and-white quality, I used an incredible amount of tone in the various textures. The longer you look at them, the more color reveals itself.” Space Gallery, 400 Santa Fe Drive, 303-993-3321