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Riva Sweetrocket Rocks the Botanic Gardens

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It was a Sweetrocket ride, a cool morning and a bright day as I sit down for tea with the artist
Riva Sweetrocket in her gorgeous Ballpark Neighborhood loft. She meets me at the door and sweeps me into her studio, a clean and spare space which reflects the clarity of her vision. A 44 x 38 inch paper is affixed to a Plexiglas wall; the striking image of a crimson cushion with an oversized, gold satin bow hovering above it is in progress. There is nothing else in the room but light, a small cart holding art supplies and a larger blank sheet of paper on another wall, awaiting inspiration. The precision of Sweetrocket's work is extraordinary. Many times I've stood before her works at Denver's Plus+ Gallery, mesmerized and wondering "How does she do that?" It was my privilege to find out. We spoke of images, what strikes the eye and how these fascinations reach the gallery wall. "I keep a file of photographs, things I see and the colors and textures I find appealing. Most of the time I photograph them myself, but others come from memory. When I get an idea about what I want to put together, it all comes alive in Photoshop," she says. I get a sense that there is a lot of silence and rumination in this woman's daily life, and a fair amount of chalk dust. Riva's works are created in soft pastel on paper and have a luxuriant quality that is radiantly defiant of the medium. "Once I'm happy with the image, I begin the work, layering colors and pressing them into the paper with my hands. That is when it starts to really come alive" she continues. And it does, startlingly so.

The first time I saw one of her pieces was a year ago in the home of my Telluride Inside friends, Clint and Susan Viebrock. I was smitten, a bit envious of their ownership, and wanted desperately to meet the woman behind the creation. And now, as this crystalline morning whipped into a windy noon, I was delighted to sit upstairs drinking tea, discussing the meaning of feet and the glassy reflection of pomegranate seeds.
Sweetwater is a graduate of CU Boulder with a BA in psychology; I come from the New York theatre. We found similarities between visual art and playwrighting; choosing the story to be told, the collage of characters to tell them and what's better left unsaid. I write about people who seem polar opposites but find they are more alike than different, she manipulates chalk on paper in hyper-realistic expressions and magical juxtapositions of elements: a hand, a leg, a bird, a cherry. We talk about the play between the psyche of the American shopper and Madison Avenue, the sultry presentation of abundance in Whole Foods vs. the seductive impulse of a Walmart end cap. Like a walk in the garden, it all feels connected this exploration of inspiration and how life tells you what to create.

As Plus+ gallerist Ivar Zeile described her at the reception for her "Extra Ordinary" exhibit at the Denver Botanic Gardens, "It is amazing that Riva is able to do what she does, with pastel it's nearly impossible." The one-woman show hanging in the DBG's Gates Garden Court Gallery is a sumptuous affair with Sweetrocket's vibrant works rivaling the beauty of the cultivated flora of our host. The works are a mysterious cauldron of elements, gleaming with a spiritual sensuality. My favorite, "Heaven and Earth," brings an electrical outlet, a string of pearls, a pool of flames, a large daisy and the reflection of a setting sun on clouds into a perfect harmony that lights up my imagination even as it soothes my soul. You kinda have to be there. Fortunately you have until January 23rd, 2011 to experience this Sweetrocket ride for yourself and with the Henry Moore sculptures and the Blossoms of Light outside the door, there is no better holiday gift to give yourself or cure for the post-holiday blues than a moment of quiet and beauty.