Artists explore bold beauty of Pop Art in R Gallery's new group show

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Mar. 31—From Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Can" silkscreens to Keith Haring's "Barking Dog," a bevy of iconic images emerged from the Pop Art movement.

Using amped-up shades and electric imagery, creatives made powerful statements about causes close to them and forced folks to look at the all-mighty advertising industry, the concept of celebrity, consumerism and more.

Echoes of this groundbreaking style can be found in everything from eye-catching album covers to billboards of today.

In R Gallery + Wine Bar's latest group show "Let it Pop! Artwork inspired by the Pop Art movement," area artists approached canvases with the same enthusiasm, wit and satirical edge first made famous back in the 1950s.

"Our gallery celebrates a diverse artist community," said Rob Lantz, photographer and owner of the Pearl Street Mall multi-use space. "We like to change up the feel of the gallery quite often so it's new and exciting every time someone visits. Pop Art, with its bright, bold colors, is sure to make a statement next time our visitors walk through our doors. This boldness is what draws me personally to Pop Art."

From Annie Thayer's watercolor portraits of Betty White to Millicent Kang's whimsical mixed-media depiction of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the ingenuity that participants brought to their pieces is sure to surpass expectations.

"Our artists love the varied themes of our rotating themed exhibits," Lantz said. "Many love the opportunity to be pushed out of their comfort zone, to explore something new, to advance their creativity. Most of our artists don't normally work in Pop Art and will be able to explore something new, while pop artists we haven't yet exhibited can have a space to showcase their work at R Gallery."

Artist Lisa Pentz has two pieces in the show reminiscent of vintage comic strips, but still possessing a modern twist.

"I had a lot of fun working on these two pieces of art," Pentz said. "I began by doing a lot of research on the Pop Art movement and looking at different artists' work that fit that classification. I also thought a lot about our current pop culture and how I could represent present times in my paintings."

Pentz recently had work in R Gallery's group show "Reflections." Proving significant range, she's now impressively pivoted from hazy depictions of waterlilies and a cow in a pasture to sharp and loud images that set a definite mood.

In her "Imagining Good Times" a blue-eyed woman stares into space while a thought bubble floats above her head with a Hawaiian-inspired design and the word "Aloha." The captivating comic-like piece captures the wanderlust we all felt when the world seemed to stop, and the pandemic put travel on hold.

The female subject is reminiscent of the pensive and emotional femme fatales found in Roy Lichtenstein's work.

"People feel a playfulness in this type of art," Pentz said. "I love Andy Warhol's work. I have been watching a Netflix series called 'The Andy Warhol Diaries' to try to gain more knowledge and understanding of him and his work."

Pentz's "Starbucks on my Mind" pays homage to the caffeinated goodness folks turn to for a pick-me-up. The yellow "pow" shape with red outline only adds to the flavorful punch of a whipped cream-topped Frappuccino, drizzled with syrup.

"I think people get a kick out of seeing the ordinary represented in art," Pentz said. "They can relate to the subject matter of pop culture. And I think the bright colors often used in Pop Art are fun and energetic and catch the eye."

For artist Connie Luebbert — who has two pieces in the show — exploring this style of art was welcomed, as she previously crafted a series inspired by Warhol called "The Americanization of Chinese Brush Paintings."

Her first painting in the series — that featured works on rice paper, set in encaustic wax — was "Campbell's Chicken with GMOs."

Although that particular piece is not on view at R Gallery, folks can take in her works "Bazooka Joe" and "Mary Jane: Sugar High."

"The body of work is about food awareness, cult-like foods, playfulness, fun, all with a message within the works about the particular food item," said Luebbert, founder of Salaan Magazine and owner of Longmont's Salt and Light Studios.

Just like she reimagined Warhol's soup can, Luebbert has put a stoner spin on the classic Mary Jane candy. On the wrapper, she's slyly painted a delicate pot leaf. The label also reads "Reg US 4:20 Off."

"Pop Art was in defiance of Modernists who looked down on this lowly subject matter," Luebbert said. "This movement took art into new areas of subject matter and new ways of presenting art. Pop Art helped to manifest postmodernism."

From Jasper Johns to Richard Hamilton, artists of the Pop Art movement weren't afraid to shake things up and stray from tradition.

"The movement of Pop Art was about making the mundane look beautiful," Luebbert said. "Everyday objects are easily identifiable, which I believe makes the art resonate with most people."

The latest group show presents collectors with an opportunity to spice up their walls with original works.

"My goal for future buyers is to add a splash of color and fun to their spaces with a subject matter that they can relate to in their lives, past or present," Luebbert said. "Bazooka gum reminds me of my childhood and when I first learned to blow bubbles — plus it came with a great little comic strip."

Luebbert is hoping her art stirs up some flavorful nostalgia in viewers.

"I want my work to connect with buyers...take them back to a place and time, a memory or just a favorite food," Luebbert said. "Most of all, to make them smile."

Lantz opened R Gallery + Wine Bar in 2019, but had to temporarily shutter the space during COVID.

"The pandemic was definitely not in the business plan," Lantz said. "We opened exactly one year before we had to shut our doors for lockdown. It was tough for many months. One day, I would be ready to give up, then the next I just couldn't bring myself to abandon it. I knew that if we could survive COVID, the gallery would emerge as something truly special. Our artists and community rallied to carry us through. With that love and support, there's no way we could've ever given up on fighting through the challenges of lockdown."

Friday, from 6-8 p.m., participants of the Pop Art show will be present for a "Meet the Artists" reception.

"I couldn't be happier with what we've built here," Lantz said. "With our wine bar and event space, R Gallery + Wine Bar has become a place for people to experience local art and connect with friends in a relaxed environment."

In addition to the Pop Art show, visitors can check out a variety of other work by a cross-section of creatives, while sipping a fragrant glass of red or white. The food menu includes chocolate-covered almonds, charcuterie boards and a variety of sweets.

"By far, the most rewarding part is the real difference we've made in the local art community," Lantz said. "We are a local business — locally owned, locally operated, featuring locally made products. We help the artists who display here, and they help us. It's a tight-knit community that I'm glad we can say we're a part of."