Place is not a thing, it is not even a space, it is an experience. An elderly soul sits on a park bench, lost in reveries to sixty years of regular Sundays he spent with his wife on that same bench, now over a decade departed, but his heart showing no signs of healing. Farther down the bench, oblivious to him in his reveries, two youth, hardly knowing each other, show publically their immature affection. They may occupy the same bench, the same area, but their place has no connection.
How thoughtlessly do we meander life’s channels, sharing the same structures as each other, the same domain, the same space, but could our sense of place be any farther apart than to that of the innumerable individuals we come across each day, either giving no heed to, giving casual recognition, or in the worst case, those in our immediate circles with whom we are experiencing a disconnect.
Yet place can be shared. Instead of a thing that has the effect of creating a detachment, instead, this thing can bring together. In the instance of the park bench, who is to say, perhaps the aged gentleman began his relationship just like these youth and thus life is cyclical. Place has the marvelous benefit to unite. It is the factor that brings people together. More than a tool to tear people apart and destroy, place is more commonly used to the advantage of humanity and is an aid for galvanizing strength and support.
But just what is “place?” If not a thing, nor a space, but an experience, why don’t we allow artists Darryl Erdmann, Mark Knudsen and Paul Vincent Bernard, currently showing at the Dibble Gallery’s “Spirit of Place,” each share their vantage point?
Erdmann takes us on his metaphorical abstract journey showing to the viewer the truth that “place” need not be a thing or even a space. According to the work of Erdmann, is it a state of mind? Is it a collision of elements? Is it something so metaphysical to the individual that that state of mind, the elemental foundation, simply cannot be described and for Erdmann, the result a range of abstractions, from the most boldly explosive in “What’s Mined is Yours” to the more resolutely controlled in “Defining Moment”?
“This whole show for me was a composite. I stayed true to this throughout, for example, Alpine Loop to me was my choice. Every time I have been up there it has been proportionately in my mind green to black. I wanted to stay true to this subjectivity. It always seemed so contemplative and vast”
Interestingly, “Defining Moment,” the painting that captures this subjectivity, is very structural and geometric. For Erdmann, he sees harmony in nature not as unbridled elements thrown to the wind but a cognitive sensibility that can be grasped by the rational mind and contemplated, pondered, thus his compositions for a sense of “place” that is orderly and understandable is very graspable to the visual and cognitive sensibilities, as well as a sixth sense recognizing a harmonious balance.
“When I visited Kennecott I wanted to show the textures of the shovels and the mining and the process, a much different kind of painting, a man made painting, wrought with digging and mining,” says the artist. “What’s Mined is Yours” is a response to another kind of inner sensibility that responds to the natural environment in a way that is entirely different than the orderly structure Erdman found in Alpine Loop. Kennecott has presented Erdmann with unnatural upheaval of the land, in fact just after a massive land slide, so the chaos and debris is immense.
What we see in “What’s Mined is Yours” is likewise immense and fierce responding to a landform that the mind cannot easily come to terms with. The inner sensibilities are most certainly not at ease with this sense of place and this is reflected in the canvas where disorder and artificial use of the natural are in conflict with what it no longer is and the sensibilities struggle with this canvas. It is an inner frame of mind that makes this reality of “place.”
An entirely different approach to the reality of place is taken by Realist Mark Knudsen whose work has a dichotomous sensible elemental resonance to it that is not only seen but felt, in fact as much felt as seen, actually, more felt than seen. Looking first at “Moab Rim in Winter,” one might get the idea that Mark Knudsen is another “red rock painter,” and maybe he is, but a singular biographer of the landscape of Utah is more accurately a title for Knudsen and those who know the land of Utah and know the art of Knudsen know that there is a whole lot more to these “red rocks” than meets the eye.
Knudsen recalls an anecdote when referring to his “Moab Rim in Winter” about a friend John Thomas who had stated when asked, “I think I would just rather stay here in Never Never Land.” Referring to the tactility of “Moab Rim in Winter” and what is so seemingly a physical sense of “place” Knudsen states, “I had never expected that I could ever paint the Rim, it looks just too chaotic. I walked out of the door in early morning, the melting snow had revealed the rim in such a way that I realized I could paint it. The particular conditions made it possible to look at this and make a painting out of it.” It is apparent that the magnificence of this land is more than just physicality for Knudsen who is awed by its immense splendor, who felt he could never do justice to this sense of this “place,” this Never Never Land. But when the right moment happened, when the elements were just so and the snow melted, Knudsen could see that in fact he could paint this monumentality and capture just what awesomeness was holding him back.
“’Stansbury Jetty’ It isn’t grand but it is. I like to think that I am looking for beauty that is sometimes overlooked and the landscape of the lake is often overlooked.” Compared to Knudsen’s Moab painting, it is easier to see the transcendental method with which he treats his subject. The Great Salt Lake, according to Knudsen, is an optimal subject, because without the inner artistic vision to transcend physicality and to see the massive presence of beauty, it would simply be salt, mud, and acerbic water where only brine shrimp can live. “Stansbury Jetty” is an ethereal painting seemingly of some unearthly landscape and Knudsen has helped use his artistic sensible intelligence to project various elements so the viewer might see this.
Firstly, there is no human context. The area is broad and flat and appears limitless. The water is rendered with a mirror reflectivity giving it an unearthly matter, and the island seems untouched by time, older than time, resistant to time. It is this transcendent vision of a landscape not too many miles outside of Salt Lake City that qualifies the inner perspective as a factor of “place.”
Paul Vincent Bernard, a printmaker who uses his skills with his tooler on plates of aluminum, is generally understood as a Minimalist by the many who follow this popular artist. The term has been applied for the reason that Bernard’s use of his tooler is limited to the creation of the line and the formation of structure generating a relationship with the viewer that addresses existential states of being such as time, as space, and here, most appropriately in this exhibition, of place.
In the past, Bernard has created monolithic structure from line or strata to create the concept of temporality, be it a state of permanence in a reality of change, or be it a concept of flux in a reality of the same. The idea of space was created as Bernard created immense structures of line that occupied the major area of the picture plane in heavy densities of linearity while the subject of the work was given focus to the spaces that were left bare, naked, unattended to, causing a heightened awareness of the reality of space and its very existence.
How, might one ask, in this exhibition devoted to the concept of place, has Bernard presented his existential questioning upon the fundamental aspects of this condition? We might begin this inquiry by asking the artist about two seemingly contradictory linear structures presented first in “Swell Season” and then in “Deep End.” “Swell Season” is an apparently monumental structure with line that unlike most of Bernard’s has pattern and rhythm. “Deep End” is a great vacuous void engulfed between two rises and is created of line that is for the most part vertical following the drop in this gulf.
Referring to “Swell Season,” states Bernard, “That’s the first time I used the line to contour. It was the San Rafael Swell that pushed me into that mode, to use the line instead of the strata. I wanted to follow to follow the form becoming more sculptural. Its not a dark looming thing it’s a bright curvaceous thing, the form opens and pulls you in and up.” This ability for the contour line of Bernard’s tooler is caused by the fundamental existential element of “place.”
“Place” can only be defined in absolute terms by what it is not. This is a void, or absence. The presence of place works with the contours of the immensity of “Swell Season” and literally by its being takes the viewers and gives them a sense of presence lifted, up, up, through the height and into the bright sky, the absence. This might be made clearer by the next example.
Says Bernard, “‘Deep End’ was actually inspired by the Grand Canyon. I was inside looking towards the back wall, and you can see more sky but it is the deep end, and instead of the Swell pulling you up, you sink deeper and deeper.” Here, in “Deep End” the focus is on the presence of “place” and in this relationship to absence the viewer feels a sinking sense of being driven deeper, deeper, not by the void, the absence, but by the bottomless pit that is the presence of “place.”
Here, Bernard demonstrates through existential visual qualifiers developed through the Minimal use of his print making skills of his tooler, the existential being of “place,” and that being a polarity of what it is not, a presence to an absence, or an absence to a presence.
These three artists working from inspiration of six chosen locations, have each presented their own artistic visions of their artistic response to that “place” using their own artistic methodology, and in doing so, have each contributed to a sizable exegesis on the comprehensibility of the “Spirit of Place.” Whether states of mind, perception, or fundamentals of being, all artists agree that “place” is not simply a thing, it is not only about space, it is an experience.