‘No Straight Lines’ | Arts & Entertainment

For a mountain town of roughly 6,500 people to have such significant ties to the contemporary art world is rare, said Bob Chase, owner of Hexton Gallery.

In fact, he said, the history of culture — in terms of who came here, what happened creatively and how that has and continues to emanate out from here — is singular to Aspen.

And to honor that singularity, Hexton Gallery is exploring Aspen’s historic impact on the visual arts through a series of exhibitions. The gallery’s second rendition, a show titled “No Straight Lines,” is currently on view through the end of April.

Art collector John Powers shows visitors work in his collection at his home near the Aspen Institute in 1968. A Kenneth Noland painting is prominent on the wall in the background. 

The group exhibition features the works of Herbert Bayer, Kenneth Noland, Richard Carter, Evan Hecox, Phillip K. Smith III and, new to Hexton’s mix of artists, Andrew Huffman.

“This show is an extension of our series of shows, where we’re tracing the history of contemporary art in Aspen from the 1950s up until today,” Chase said. “It feels like a story that’s important and a story that needs to be told, and it’s fun to be able to tell it from a bunch of different angles.”

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Kenneth Noland’s circle and striped paintings from the 1960s in conversation with a contemporary colored-light wall sculpture by Phillip K. Smith III in the “No Straight Lines” exhibition at Hexton Gallery. 

Hexton’s first exhibition in the series, “Ripple,” opened in December 2022 and focused more on Aspen’s lineage of art history — depicting, via the works on the walls, a ripple effect.

“No Straight Lines,” on the other hand, celebrates the nonlinear and curving pathways that lead renegade and established artists to this mountain enclave.

The show’s title refers to how chance and improvisation have shaped the artists’ lives, work and artistic journeys; it’s somewhat ironic, or in juxtaposition to the formal and rigid abstraction that’s present in their artistic output.

“In this particular case, we’re essentially looking at geometric abstraction as sort of the basis for the artists that are in the show,” Chase said. “But the story is really about an artistic journey and how all of these artists kind of weave in and out of each other.”

At its core, the “No Straight Lines” exhibition is a story about the touch-points and influences of visual artists on, within and through Aspen. It’s about the what-ifs and whatnots — about “life doing what life does,” Chase said — in forming the ever-evolving creative community here.

“Using this kind of significant work to tell the story of this town is really engaging and intellectually stimulating to us,” Chase said. “And we think it’s a great experience for our collectors and the community to see things in that regard.”

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“Lucid Stead,” 2013, an installation by Phillip K. Smith III in Joshua Tree, California. Part architectural intervention and part optical illusion, Smith modified an existing 70-year-old homesteader shack with mirrors, LED lighting and other custom electronics to tap into the quiet and the pace of change of the desert. 

Color conversations

The story begins with Herbert Bayer, the Bauhaus-trained polymath who came to Aspen in the late 1940s by way of Elizabeth and Walter Paepcke. Bayer gave visual voice to the Paepckes’ idea for modern Aspen, redesigning the town into a cultural center — not to mention his creation of the Aspen Institute campus. (Journalist Tim Cooney recently captured Bayer’s Aspen legacy in his piece for Aspen Journalism, “From Bauhaus to birdhouse,” which ran as a two-part special in the Aspen Daily News last week.)

Currently on view at Hexton are two of Bayer’s wool tapestries and two of his paintings, all of which were being shown at the Aspen Institute prior to the “No Straight Lines” installation, noted Chase.

“We’re really happy that we have these,” he said. “I mean, coming right from the Institute, the provenance is great and they’re just in perfect condition, and it’s a really cool look for people to see Bayer paintings.”

Next in the narrative is Kenneth Noland, one of the best-known American color field painters and an early pioneer of the stain-painting technique.

This is the first time for the late artist’s work to be exhibited at Hexton Gallery, with two major pieces of his — a 1962 circle painting and a rare, domestically-scaled striped piece — featured in “No Straight Lines.”

Born in 1924 in Asheville, North Carolina, Noland was introduced to painting early on by his amateur artist father. After serving almost four years in the United States Air Force, Noland took advantage of the G.I. Bill to enroll at the acclaimed Black Mountain College near his hometown.

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Evan Hecox designed an Hermès silk scarf featuring the original Paris store address, which later expanded into a Spring 2024 apparel collection. The original painting now resides in the Hermès permanent collection at the Paris design office. 

There, he studied under the influence of former Bauhaus teacher Josef Albers — who is considered one of the most influential abstract painters and art educators of the 20th century — and Ilya Bolotowsky, another early 20th-century leader in abstract styles.

Noland eventually made his way to Washington, D.C., where he taught at various institutions throughout the 1950s and 1960s and formed relationships with fellow artists, including Morris Louis. Together, Noland and Louis co-founded the Washington Color School movement.

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Depending on the vantage point and time of day, Phillip K. Smith III’s colored-light installation echoes Kenneth Noland’s striped painting at Hexton Gallery. 

First known for his iconic “Circle” series — square canvases featuring concentric circles in saturated colors, which he started making in the late 1950s — Noland’s body of work expanded to include chevrons, stripes and shaped canvases. He continued experimenting with color and composition until his death in 2010.

Noland’s work landed in Aspen in the 1960s through the support of the affluent contemporary art collectors, John and Kimiko Powers, who collected and championed Noland’s color field paintings.

“And so, the reason that [Noland] is in this Aspen show is that he links to Bayer both through Bauhaus but also, John and Kimiko Powers were huge champions of Noland and that’s kind of what brought him into the sphere of the valley,” Chase said.

Noland’s influence has touched many artists down the line, even those who work in different mediums, such as the light-based contemporary artist Phillip K. Smith III.

Based in Southern California, Smith has been making a presence in Aspen’s art scene over the last year. He is represented by Hexton and had a solo show at the gallery in the summer, titled “Outside In/Inside Out.”

His light sculptures now featured in “No Straight Lines” are in conversation with Noland’s paintings of the ’60s, Chase explained, adding that Noland was a hero of Smith’s.

“There’s this notion of Smith’s work being tethered to Noland in some of his ideas, but then, you know, being liberated from the canvas because he’s all about light and space,” Chase said. “So when you look at their pieces in conversation here, it’s amazing.”

Smith uses light as a medium to create optically-shifting sculptures and site-specific installations. He is best known for these large-scale, public installations that play with light and space and expand the sensorial experience of viewers — such as his 2013 “Lucid Stead,” which he composed from an existing homesteader shack in the Joshua Tree desert, using mirror, LED lighting, custom electronic components and solar array.

Smith’s more intimate wall sculptures, as seen in “No Straight Lines,” also harness materials like time, light and shadow and change in color at a meticulously designed pace.

“There’s times, you know, throughout the day, where I’ve walked by and [Smith’s] piece echoes [Noland’s] almost exactly,” Chase said. “It’s unbelievable.”

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The works of Andrew Huffman (closest), Richard Carter and Herbert Bayer line the walls of Hexton Gallery, displaying over three generations of Bauhaus-inspired visual artwork. 

All roads lead back to Bauhaus

Serving as a critical connector between Aspen’s avant-garde past and its robust contemporary present is local artist Richard Carter.

Following his formative years working as Bayer’s studio assistant in Aspen in the 1970s, Carter embarked on his own renowned artistic journey, which continues today.

And when it comes to channeling Aspen’s cultural momentum, Carter and his generation of artists picked up where Bayer and art supporters like the Powers’ left off. Carter was the primary founder and a board member of what is now the Aspen Art Museum. He continues to produce paintings, drawings and mixed-media works out of his Basalt studio today.

Carter’s two pieces in “No Straight Lines” demonstrate a progression of his abstracted geological studies and landscapes. He pulls off the literal straight lines depicted in his works with an engineer’s drafting tool that he learned to use under Bayer.

Among the next wave of Bauhaus-inspired artists is Evan Hecox. Currently based in Denver, Hecox is a multidisciplinary artist and designer whose work over the past two decades has included drawing, painting, printmaking, graphic design and illustration.

His artistic repertoire ranges from small drawings to major gallery installations and large-scale murals, and his design work has references from Japanese prints, European poster design, 1960s-era illustration, Bauhaus typography and folk art. Hecox has also worked on numerous design and illustration projects with clients, such as Burton Snowboards, Nike, Volkswagen, the State of Colorado and recently, Hermès.

As a young child growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, Hecox would frequent Aspen with his artist parents, spending summers in a small mining cabin near the deserted town of Ashcroft and attending the Aspen Institute’s International Design Conference each year.

“That was his world, you know, he was kind of brought up in the whole Bauhaus tradition, so a lot of his work is very steeped in Bauhaus design,” Chase said of Hecox. “And he and [Carter] have this really great connection between what they do.”

Last but not least is Andrew Huffman, the youngest artist of the bunch who is making his Aspen debut with his 2022 geometric piece featured in “No Straight Lines.”

Chase described Huffman as having a “full Western renegade spirit,” explaining that after he graduated from art school, Huffman went and lived in a cabin in Yosemite — paying 15 bucks a week in rent — before eventually making his way to Denver, where he still lives and works.

“He’s got like this renegade spirit mixed with Bauhaus and you can see that in his work,” Chase said. “And he’s had a great young career, he’s done some major museum installations and shows and has shown across the country, so we’re excited about having him a part of it.”

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Richard Carter (top row, second from the left) poses with his fellow co-founders of the Aspen Center for Visual Arts, which is now the Aspen Art Museum, in 1978. 

When thinking about the exhibition series at-large, Chase explained how they’re just getting started in terms of the narrative threads that they plan to cultivate at Hexton.

The gallery owner said that after “No Straight Lines,” the next show of the series will be in the summer and center around lyrical abstraction as the basis for the artwork — bringing artists like Helen Frankenthaler and Friedel Dzubas in conversation with the contemporary ones who’ve had a touch point in Aspen.

“As I started laying out the series and thinking about the different avenues of exploration, you know, there’s an avenue of pop art in this valley, there’s a figurative component that we’ll look at, there’s a representational avenue,” Chase said. “And the idea really is, you know, modern Aspen exists through the vision of a lot of these artists… I don’t know of any other town like that — cities, sure, but certainly no mountain town in this country.”

“No Straight Lines” will run through April 30 at Hexton Gallery, located at 447 E. Cooper Ave. For more information, visit 

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