Randee Levine (Dibble Gallery)


Randee Levine


The life of Randee Levine is one based on making decisions and arriving at the here and now, with a life that flourishes and with many avenues of expression; her long practiced psychology translates into her art, into her perception of herself, those she interacts with, her life, is a development. Levine was born in Manhattan and grew up in Bronx and Yonkers. She was raised in a first generation Jewish family, which, although not currently active, her heritage has had a significant impact on her life and her art.


Her mother and father moved to Yonkers once they had a family. Ultimately, Levine set her sights on fine art and entered State University of New York at Purchase and receiving her BFA in visual art. Levine is emphatic on how she gained and enjoyed this learning experience; her colleagues, her learning, and her mentors, many of whom had direct influences in the NYC art community with associations such as Josef Albers, formative to Levine’s studies.


As a struggling artist living in NYC, Levine did much of what other artists did, she sang in bands, she waited tables, and she did visual research many designers needed. In the process of survival of being an artist in NYC, Levine met a musician and “We decided we didn’t want to stay in New York; he had some connections here because his parents were ‘transplants.’ We decided to move here, it was great here, and developing the connections, and the gigs that I got,” she says.


In 1986, Levine and her husband moved to Los Angeles, Levine practicing celebrity photographing and only then, after, she states with experience, “Leaving New York to come to Salt Lake City, I realized I do better in a more relaxed environment. Coming back from LA and coming here, through going to a therapist here for my own personal needs, I discovered something called ‘Process Oriented Psychology.’ This affects both personally and professionally the way I view the world and my life. I work professionally, as well as privately with individuals, couples and groups, developing awareness, compassion, and communication,” she says.  


“Process work is not traditional psychology, it has a strong Eastern Asian Philosophical bend; it draws out of Jungian psychology. The whole idea is that it’s potential oriented, that everything we experience that is troubling or disturbing, has the seed for potential growth.” she continues, “I like to make a distinction between new age thinking and Process work. We don’t invite things into our lives but face those disturbances. For example, if you are depressed, we don’t prescribe something for depression, we discover the meaningfulness of that depression and doing that often relieves the symptom. Things manifest as disturbances, but if we can become congruent with these things, they flow more easily,” she says concertedly.


In this case, it is hard to say what comes first, the philosophy or the art, or, the art and then the philosophy. According to Levine’s philosophy, her art is an extension of herself, of reaching out to face challenges and life’s many disturbances and to face these disturbances and to understand them and progress. Art, on the other hand, might not be understood as a “disturbance,” yet still it is a coming whole with balances and manifestations for life congruencies to harmonize; in reality, a life long process of an ongoing processing.


Levine will be showing more than 10 major works at Dibble Gallery to open on the 15th of July third Friday gallery stroll, and with this opportunity, Levine is able to reach a congruence with those who may come to appreciate her expressive process, the psychological being of her work, and the elements that reveal this being through processing.


Levine’s standard medium scale canvases, are the kind that can be read with a symbolic intensity, so much that the viewer might come to an understanding of the thematic elements of Levine’s figural expression, with emphasis and how this resonates with the viewer’s phenomenological attachment; meanings, and understandings. Color, shape, scale, formal implication, one element to another, meaningfulness and discovering through process a revelation of the processing self as a relationship, is created through the expression of the figure. The meaningful presence is to be absorbed with a congruence of understanding. Coming to understand this work can be challenging, but at the same time, fluid and open with the figure and personal connectivity. For example, the prominent yet simplified symbol of female gender in “Woman with dog on green,” gestural, almost hidden, with breasts, prominently high just below the neck, seen as cones protruding, these definitive provocative symbols may confront personal connectivity with myriad processing that is instead evocative.


In 1945, Jackson Pollock painted a series of “Totem” paintings. These were semi-figural and have a strong parallel with Levine’s work. Pollock had a long-running interest with Surrealism, and the abundance of meaning that can be read on a subconscious level, with parts to the whole and emphasis given from part to part with symbolic awareness. This is very much like the work of Levine, whose painting is based on process and the processing that renders totem-like figures, comparable in levels and hierarchy of meaning, that build the structure of Pollock’s as much as the verticality and meaningful emphasis of Levine’s figures.


Says Levine, “I think that showing things that aren’t always exposed is part of my psychology and who I am. I tend to be an expressive and authentic person who shows things that others might be shyer about, something that might be reflected. This is getting along with what is actually and not trying to cover things up and make them different;” a core basis for Levine’s philosophical practice and her art practice.


“I am connected with dreaming and what’s inside,” says Levine. The environmental phenomena of personal psychology and the coming together of Levine’s art is achieved, so says Levine, in the subconscious.” Like the others, there is a structural flatness here that unifies while projecting core inner elements. “Yellow and red woman” has a very widened head with eyes rendered as hypnotic. Two cone-like projected breasts are placed just below the neck, the child-like rendered arms are bowed, the feet are heavy. At her core is a visceral representation, the abstraction of her inner-core. The colors are bright, but a compendium that seems to have no rhyme or reason.


In “Yellow and red woman,” the dream is rendered in a Frieda Kahlo-like manner, a visceral awareness of the core of self and not being afraid to look deeply within and not be afraid of confrontation that, which may be a harsh reality, but in Process psychology, one is encouraged to face inner demons, not by aggressively challenging, but meeting whatever this may be on its own terms, with a congruous understanding of being.


As Levine’s current work acts on a myriad of subtleties; it has not always been figural abstraction, but for much of her professional career, Levine has had the quality of total abstraction. However, the artist’s abstract work functions in much the same way as the figural work, with meanings that evolve from symbol and structure. “Red and green abstract” is one such example, possessing totem symbolism, layering from top to the bottom strata, with an irrational element in the heaviness at the top and a looser application towards the bottom layer. This pressure, with scribbles and blending through each layer, causes a different dream-state. “Black and red abstract” functions in the same manner, with the top tier far more intense than the bottom and sketchiness of hue creating a psychological, irrational response, thus sensitizing or desensitizing by the effect of the linearity


These charged works are a study, of sorts, of what is personified, what is portrayed, and who, what, where, when, why and how the response is projected; the purpose of process, the movement of self, the movement of spirit, a moving of mind, and ultimately the courage in processing this psychological and personal journey. Ultimately, an expressiveness of Levine’s putting her own art “out there” is facing her own life, mistakes, misfortune, arming herself and the viewer; projecting blindness with color and personal connectivity with the unknown    




Dennis Smith (David Ericson)

Dennis Smith.jpg


A tree, with its trunk and ever-expanding branches, is composed of lines, but there is no regularity to them: they are a natural system of creation with a beauty and structure of their own, speaking to their innate essence. Certain artists are like this: they honestly express the beauty they experience, the natural systems of creation of the earth, with their personal essence and vision that unabashedly reveals who they are. Dennis Smith is one such artist and a large collection of his artworks, primarily paintings, are currently being exhibited at David Ericson Fine Art.


Smith was born and raised in Alpine, where he continues to work and find inspiration in rural settings. He served an LDS mission to Copenhagen, from 1961-63, and after attending Brigham Young University, returned to Denmark where he attended The Royal Academy of Art at Copenhagen from 1966- 67. Perhaps it was the feeling of Hans Christian Andersen alive in the air of Copenhagen, but enchantment, and a deep connection with children, on a spiritual and symbolic level, has become a primary inspiration and model for Smith’s art.


Smith makes this connection explicit in his artist statement: “the child is a metaphor for life; children’s lives, as they explore the world around them, parallel our lives as adults as we discover our identity in this universe.”  Smith’s works capture this youthful vision, “still vibrant and alive, frozen in the moment of discovery.”


One sees his “Apparition Over Brigham” as if through the eyes of a child, big and bright, and saturated with color. With the horizontals of boulevards and the verticality of buildings, trees and lampposts, the linearity of the painting is accentuated. But so is color. Streetcars of lucid yellow with streaky trails cut through the excitement of downtown. The sky radiates with shades of blue, violet, orange. This is Salt Lake City, a wonderland to a child, who might, in the whirlwind of blue violet and orange, and in the mind’s eye, also see apparitions, two heavenly beings crossing the sky above the prominent statue of Brigham Young.


How a child might gaze upon “Sledding Hill” in the late hours of dusk is possible to envision only for a child. The mountainside flows in deep violet and blue hues and furrowed depths and tonality, visible with the last of the sun on the crest of the far mountain, calling the child in for the close of day. It is a vision of fantasy and beauty unlike that experienced by a “grown-up,” and that which the child, exhausted, will fall asleep to, in their eyes and dreams.


Sledding is also the subject in “Home from Sledding,” which is bathed in an expanse of fading light from the sun, receding and leaving its mark brightly, in the hook of an embedded trail in snow, flowing toward a cottage, around, then far into the distance. One child pulls a sled, with another sleepily bent over, as they glide along the crest of a trail into the sheltering cottage; it is an expressive use of color, light and subject, to symbolize the everyday reality of ongoing experience, through children.


How is the subject of a child, seen through their vision, or from within their sensibilities, expressed in these compositions? Just as amazement, emotion, experience, and hope are seen through eyes that are pure. “Treehouse at Dark” is everything right. The road is boldly and precisely foreshortened, leading to a mountain in the vast distance, catching incandescent red light of fading sunlight, superbly balanced. A massive tree trunk with a tree house nestled in its frame contributes to the harmony of how all should be. But, not quite. A young boy makes his way down the road, facing the horizon, pulling a bright red wagon. Wonderment and youthful vision are added to the composition. Now everything is right.


Every artist should have something to say. Dennis Smith has much to say, and he says it in many ways, but most importantly through the eyes of children, expressing a vision of beauty that is the purity they experience and see.

Abstraction and Emotion (Slusser Gallery)



In today’s heterogeneous world of art, there are, generally speaking, two fundamental vehicles for connecting with a work: the emotional and the conceptual. The two create structures of meaning and the basis for fundamental interpretation. As the viewer comes to understand a work, an emotional response is as much a facilitator as the conceptual. Slusser Gallery’s current exhibit, Emotion and Abstraction, relies strongly on this emotional connection, whether with abstract or figurative works.


The only real figurative works in the exhibit are a series of large paintings depicting scenes of violence—a suicide, domestic violence, a crucifix scene— whose subject matter provide the emotional content. But Randall Lake is also represented by looser, more opaque work that requires a more internal emotional connection. Even for longtime fans of Lake, his “The Baxter Kitchen” might be rather cryptic, from either an abstract or figural perspective. It is coarsely rendered, in broad strokes, with no apparent color palette, normally Lake’s forte. In fact, though saturated with whites and highlights of color, it is a rather mundane and murky composition and taken literally, is generic, like any other kitchen. One might exclaim, “It’s a kitchen, so what, what’s it all about?” Or, from another, “I’m caught between something that makes sense, but at the same time, I am lost to it,” and “It has no point, what am I to think?”


Gallery director Mark Slusser provides some insight: “Baxter refers to Randall’s good friend and fellow Utah artist Ken Baxter.” It is a place Lake is free to enter and leave, it evokes the essence of friendship: trust, loyalty, love. For the viewer to see Baxter’s inner sanctum in this painterly way is on a very physical level of form and aesthetics, distanced. But to realize the relationship between Baxter and Lake, to be able to feel just some of the connectivity of their emotive human vocabulary, makes the painting something different entirely, and this emotion, that is not seen physically but understood, is transformative, and becomes a compelling work of art, opening many doors to thought and feeling.


Chauncey Secrist’s two untitled pieces work with an equally subdued palette. They are much alike in their fundamental aspects. Each allows a freedom of interplay as cognition supports emotion and vice versa. In these works there is an expression that is soft and billowy but at the same time intense. Most of the surface of both paintings is somewhere between white and a pearly light gray, highlighted with gestures of azure blue which stir the pieces. In each, there is a mass of charcoal gray, which seems to cause disruption in the billowy white and is a force for the source of the viewer’s experience. The pieces would certainly be interpreted as emotive as the bulbous black amorphous form ascending from beneath gives what would be a mass of tonality, of substance, a true dimension of palpable experience for the viewer to feel, to perceive, to sense, to absorb. The emotive force of the paintings requires an impression of some aggression, this dark amorphous form that perpetuates and gives structure to the inertia of the swell of emotion itself. This more tangible, darker form, and the ethereal tempest give each a clearer sense of subject, together.


Jo Conteh’s “Wetlands,” exudes a similar ethereality. Instead of a brush, Conteh uses written notes on shards of paper with other strips of paper to construct a complex yet spirited piece with a wildlife subject. Her collage elements are rousing in the uplift of the fragments that lose their identity as pieces of paper become form that gives life to the swelling of compositional emotion. In a second composition, “Cliff Face,” she uses the same layering technique to create the density of forest, dark and encompassing, while some shards burst with light, to grab the viewer with an energetic, abstract and emotionally engulfing light.


Rod Heiss is represented here by multiple pieces, which show the artist’s command and range of abstract techniques. Working with layers of gesso and colors that stain and saturate, Heiss creates large abstract works with a cosmic expansiveness. “We’re Walking, We’re Walking, We’re Stopping” is an expression of emotion in a subtle and nuanced manifestation, that aims for a visceral and emotive experience, with a burst of light at the center of lucid color creating an emotional awareness. “Three Strikes You’re In” has equally powerful color, but with much more dynamic contrasts, the fiery bulbs of orange, yellow and red contained by a network of deep indigo. His use of paint and gesso to create these effects is a mystery . . . and masterful . . . and allows the colors to reverberate with fullest intensity to create an emotional receptivity without limit.


A painting can show you something that resonates emotionally, like one man holding another who has slit his own wrists. This is a conceptual understanding of the emotion. But as this exhibition at Slusser Gallery shows, a painting can also resonate emotionally itself, as the abstract works in this exhibit demonstrate, having a direct interaction with the viewer.

Tyler Willmore and Molly O’Mara (UTah Artist Hands)


Artists Tyler Willmore, together with artist Molly O’Mara, are both showing at Utah Artist Hands for the upcoming gallery stroll opening; they both use nature to their advantage to express the idea, metaphor in the case of Willmore, and for O’Mara an expression of reductive natural elements that are expressed in a visual, poetic expression. For both artists, this is very much a part of their aesthetic lexicon, and allows for a figural aspect much broader, universal, in scope… and meaning. The gallery has chosen two exceptionally fine artists, each, whose work is a telling of personal experience, overtly, for Willmore, and for O’Mara it is a quiet and hushed use of natural elements; allowing for personal expression manifested in very different methods.

Willmore is a writer and a philosopher as well as a painter, who uses visual metaphor and the written word, to help him map his own reality; every-day situations that life will present. He uses the relationship between what is seen in his landscape, and what is understood in the word, this duality creating a visual and conceptual metaphor, that is an artistic tool for him to grapple with existential moment-to-moments in this unique way. This unique way establishes context as the manufacture of the painting, together with the word, contrived to stimulate the certainty of meaning required.

The Artist’s work in this series is a product of a yearlong research project at the University of Utah Rio Mesa Research Center, just outside of Moab, UT. He states of his experience during this year, it was “an attempt to translate these ideas through images where landscape becomes symbolic of life’s journey and nature becomes representational of greater spiritual influence.  It is an attempt to explore the balance outward and internal contextual perspectives as they pertain to the landscape.” The viewer can enjoy the landscapes, together with the conceptual, and thus meaningful layers of significance, with much of the same depth as the artist. These layers of significance, or the contextual synergy experienced by the viewer, are made viable through the image, in this relationship, the metaphorical experience addressed through writing.

“Climbing a hill or mountain though has significant benefits.  Once elevated from the ground, the survivalist can see more of the landscape and possibly discover those things that will save his or her life.  It may provide shelter, food, or water that was inaccessible at the ground.  Once ascended confidence and hope can be renewed.  For me this piece is about seeking employment and very significant to recent events in my own life.”

This segment, from a much broader piece of writing, is the artist’s way of expressing something quotidian; an artful exploration of meaning applied to every-day experience such as finding employment. Yet not unlike a map, Willmore paints a lone hill- the landscape is titled “Lone Hill-” and he uses it, as visual metaphor, as well as the writing transcribed, to give this situation reality and truth. The hill is not insurmountable and he is “a survivalist.” But like every life situation, these efforts; employment, for example, need shelter, food and water, and the essential elevation- that ubiquitous something that is required to see from the requisite point-of-view, and the confidence to progress and complete the climb. Simple, poignant, real, and sensitive.

O’Mara’s paintings, as mentioned, have a reductive aesthetic visual appeal, that is, reductive and attractive in their minimal use of form. This begins with a play of this reduced form. For the majority of O’Mara’s works at Utah Artist Hands, much of the focus of these very muted canvases are squared and linear aspens, with no contour or shape, but simple delineated structure; frontal, linear, formalist presentation, with raised relief. Painted as structural, and in a foremost plane, there is a repetition and continuation from either side. There is no implied depth-of-field with the aspens, and as cutouts, given a certain width, each tree is singular or crosses into another, but flat. With these very bold, yet very reduced two-dimensional paintings, giving them life and depth, are washed and gentle hues of greens and mauves and crimson that might recede, but in fact, visually, are one in repetition with the frontal plane and the reduced aspens.

O’Mara canvases are coarse, rustic, and austere, that have a natural beauty and express a poetic vision of nature when juxtaposed with alternating rhythms of tranquil color that create, not so much a literal representation, but a natural narrative of proceeding elements. O’Mara, like Willmore, creates a dialogue through formal, for O’Mara, or conceptual, in the case of Willmore, natural contexts, and in doing so, in an expression of natural elements, if not meaning as such, but relationships that tell a story, manifest and given a sense of being through a synergy, a fundamental articulation of form through metaphor, or for O’Mara, a formal narrative of elements in nature, to unravel a rhythm, and making sense of being; a manifestation in the natural world of which all are a part, white aspens and soft color, side by side, one vertical supporting the other, telling a story, as suggested, elementally, as the context expressed, of repetition and relationships of an unraveled rhythm of life.

Layne Meacham (Gallery at Library Square)

Layne Mecham Chalk

Finch Lane presented a showing of work by Layne Mecham in 2012 that was understood very much like the current show of works at Gallery at Library Square. Mecham’s earlier show displayed large canvases read as sizable bodies of cement, each with large diagonal yellow painted stripes, and even black spots to render the effect complete (chewing gum). The show articulated a pedestrian ambiance, something urban, an “outsider” approach that gave a sense of street life when physically, these were vacant crosswalks. The marginalized, the disenfranchised, the unseen, were the invisible subjects of the show, and the challenges of their everyday lives were something to think about, proportionate to the gargantuan effect of faux cement on canvases clinging to walls with a certain tenacity.

Mecham’s motif of cement, now at Gallery at Library Square, continues to compel and intrigue the senses, perpetuated here with sidewalks, not street walks, with no indication of urban pedestrianism. The mapping here is one of children’s drawings, rendered in chalk, some profusely colored, others nearly vacant. The playfulness of these naive works is raw, energetic, and bewildering, and the artist’s psychological perspective cannot be overlooked, forming much of his impetus for these paintings. This can be understood by reading Mecham’s artist statement; he cites two artists he admires, Picasso and Dubuffet. Quotes from both artists stress the advantages to artists of mimicking children and the freedom to think, act, and become like a child, without imposed rules or inhibitions. Mecham has accomplished this very same creative impulse, with large scale replications of side-walks, on which he has become invested in the subject of juvenile mapping, with an uninhibited candor and seriousness, having thought, acted and become as a child, with as much fun and caprice as surely the children whom would have rendered such.

“Helmand Poppies, Oxalis” is simply as odd as the title implies, sinuous, free and expressive; a sidewalk chalk children’s masterpiece. But with these assemblages, consider beyond the whimsical and the psychology of painting as a child, and more deeply assess aesthetic qualities of each of the canvases, and how they may be conceived with a formalistic, concerted point-of-view.

The cement-like layering is thickly adhered, leaving much texture on the canvas, with areas often left entirely unapplied. The chalk used develops ridges and surface texture on the canvas as it is utilized. However, creating a wall hanging in the form of a slab of concrete, that is absolutely flat, with chalk drawings having little texture, and surfaces that are entire; this is a replication of the illusion of a colored piece of sidewalk. Considering a contrived sidewalk surface that is thickly layered and recognizable as not being cement, drawn chalk upon it that leaves coarse ridges and texture, and entire areas that are left bare, this resonates a highly discernable painterly composition, as such. As Mecham functions, to create the appearance of a sidewalk, with the play and freedom of a child, having no aims of convincing, only psychological experimentation, this is to create works for their own sake, Modernist sidewalk and scribbles.

Fahimeh Amiri (Springville Museum of Art)

Fahimeh Bulls

A pathway can be something literal, a tangible progression for one place to another, or it can represent something metaphorical. In the latter case, the meaning and signification is the same, a tangible progression from one place to the next, but is focused on the transportation of ideas, histories, cultures, beliefs, faiths, and aesthetics to name a few that are credited to artist Fahimeh Amiri in the soon to open showing of works by her and other artists “Passages and Pathways,” at the Springville Museum. Work by Holdman Studios will be presented to share a vision of the history of the Holdman family, a temporal journey and literal passage way in color, shape, and the transcendence of light as this vehicle. Spectrum Studios use glass, again, using literal and figurative means. The transportation of the passage of light is given representation through fused glass and pattern and design, conveying an immense symbolism of spiritual, and enlightened transcendences of every kind. A third artist is Russel Ricks, whom, through a presentation of plein air works, shows the audience a representation of the passages of his travels, which, while literally indicates the passage of place, metaphorically shows the change of light and color, moment to moment, with a unique blend of the literal and figurative. Amiri is an important artist with an important tradition and personal achievement in her native Tehran, Iran, and has brought her talents to America when she made the passage from Tehran to Boston in 1868, living most of her life in the United States. The evolution of Amiri is a passage from one place to the next, of culture, a passage of artistic progression, of aesthetic progression, and the ongoing of formation and discovery of self.


Asked of what she thinks of her current home in Salt Lake City, Amiri responds, “I love it here, and it brings so much of my native home, very similar to Tehran, where I was born, and left after achieving my diploma in fine arts. I was able to obtain that honor for the first time, as a girl, when previously there had been only boys. I was the first girl to achieve this honor and receive a degree in the Ministry of Fine Arts School, a government school. Once I got my diploma, I moved to Boston for my higher education. I got the scholarship at Boston School of Fine Arts and finished the four year degree in two years.” Interestingly enough, Boston and her new home in America was not enough to westernize her and convert her practice, on the contrary, her work after graduating, was a concerted effort on what she had learned prior to her diploma in Tehran, and as a young girl.

Amiri says, “At the age of seven, I was the only child of the family, and I kept at drawing and my mother took the drawing to a professor, he was the Persian Miniaturist at the time in Iran, and he would not accept any pupils but when he saw my drawing he said, ‘I’ll see her’ so from that age I was under his tutelage.”

These auspicious origins into art making inform the art that Amiri creates today, using color, pattern, subject and symbolism, to create works of art that have their passageway in Amiri’s development and are a passageway from one place to another, literally and figuratively.

Of her time in Boston, Amiri says, “I can really say I really didn’t learn anything at the school. I was actually lost, no structure, and I was coming from a very structured school. All of my learning took place with the intensive program of the Fine Arts School [Tehran] where we had to cover everything from sculpture to graphic design, from old masters, artifacts, textile design, Persian Miniature, everything was in depth.

From this point of departure, and now in the United States, Amiri had a family, a successful career making posters, and moved to Salt Lake City in 1986. Amireh’s career as a fine artist, beyond posters, beyond children’s books, when her passage way from girlhood, to teenage academia, to a sophistication of contemporary Persian Miniatures that are in presentation, authentic to tradition, but utilize a style very much of Amiri’s by new seen with her posters and the children’s books. Both elements, the graphic and the love for children, were a layering to what Amiri was to bring with her to Salt Lake City after returning to Boston for 10 years.

“Drowning Her Sorrows” conveys the reality of deity in womanhood, and be this an actual goddess, or a woman becoming at unison with her goddess power, an evocation of the ancient Persian Miniature is grasped here, and the message of everyday transcendence to a higher reality of the power contained through symbols of deity, are captured in the fragmentary wisps of hair surrounding her crown, the heavenly terrain surrounding her, her magnificently embellished robes with color and fine design, and at her feet, a bird and a rabbit. Perhaps there is something very personal here, for Amiri, or most certainly she is addressing and empowering the Iranian woman, whom, while in tune with her heritage, can find attunement with her higher goddess power and divine self.

A second Miniature that shows Amiri’s love for children is the no less fantastical than “Drowning her Sorrows” yet sublime, and, shows the duality, the balance of all elemental and spiritual natures in the universe, is “Aggression.” The image has a primary focus on a mother who desperately tries to protect her two children, all three on a bright orange Persian rug, from a terrible, awesome force above the broad white cloak she has over the three, protecting them. She has a traditionally Persian nearly connected brow, and has intense eyes as those of early Persian Miniatures. Her eyes read the intense effort she makes and is willing to make to keep all evil at bay. This force, magnificently rendered in curls of blue, with ominous deep orange recessive eyes, seems to be a figurative representation of all evils in the world and the mother trying to shelter the children when young, under the white shroud. It is an image any mother might relate to and is an expression of Persian art that is such a part of Amiri’s passage that can be seen, along with many other of this latter phase, at Springville… magnificent work of many years in the development.

Says Amiri, “At a point, I thought, ‘You can’t come up with the ancient Persian Miniature to the full extent, today, you just can’t do it. As a result, when I returned to Salt Lake for the second time in 2004, I brought a geometric, Islamic quality. I had been stuck, I did not know what to do, no room to grow, and I was puzzled. In the mean time, I had started teaching children, working with children gave me the freedom that I needed, back in Salt Lake City, for 11 years. Children were my love. This was the time to get started with children. After my art, children are the most passionate thing I have in my life. These children, 6-17, always 30- 40 students, 5 classes a year… I can never count.”

The passage that begins in girlhood, to paint Persian Miniatures, honors at the Fine Arts School in Tehran, bringing with her talents and culture, as well as yearning to develop as an artist, to Boston, to study and making graphic posters, to Salt Lake City and painting Persian Miniatures, back to Boston to illustrate children’s books and paint more Persian Miniatures, and back to Salt Lake City to teach innumerable children the art of paining, is the final link of this literal and very figurative passage of place, of self, and transcending place and self with each new turn and obstacle in the journey.

Says Amiri, “The freedom that children use to express themselves influenced and help me break away from the constituants; how a child sees, this was a breakthough for me. This freed me from Persian Miniatures; everything has to be perfect. With children there is no regulation, no limitation

Richard Lance Russell and Rebecca Reese Jacoby (Finch Lane)


How one perceives the world, and how one is perceived by those in the world, constitutes much of one’s sense of being-in-the-world. One’s sense of reality can often be dependant on one’s inner states of being, determined by the physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual self. At the same time, so much of who one is as being-in-the-world, is defined by who one isn’t, and by one’s relationship to the concept of the “other.” This reconciliation of the interior self with the external world is a central concern in our contemporary, individualized age, and one taken up by two divergent but complementary shows now at Finch Lane Gallery.

The first, in the west gallery, is 100 Beautiful People, Richard Lance Russell’s series of 100 small portraits of people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, of different ages and genders, arranged in uniform, square frames. A title like “Poet” might give away something about the sitter with the shorn head and the intense gaze, but most of these portraits are context-less, open to the interpretive fancy of the viewer. “Mark” seems like a guy you could borrow a snow shovel from, or ask for help jumping your car. “Papa Jeff” might be a plein air artist, or a botanist; and “Kathy Jane” might be a costume designer, or a mother of eight. In his statement, Russell encourages the viewer to take a moment to engage with each portrait, and to “look for compassionate eyes, a mischievous tilt of the head, or a bold smile.” But the experience and assertion of the painter and the engagement by the viewer, in regards to these many works, might be dramatically different. Russell likely knows each of these subjects individually and responds to each on a personal level, while the average viewer may find him or herself surrounded by 100 nameless, unidentifiable faces, looking into the faces, with curiosity and wonderment, and looking past compassionate eyes, mischievous tilts of the head, or bold smiles. The viewer does not merely see, the viewer looks.

Surrounded by these portraits, the viewer may have an experience closer to the existential than the quotidian. Beyond simply “people-watching,” the viewer might experience a sense of commonality, of being at one with humanity. With this sense of commonality, there might be a feeling of comfort in the unification of people of every sort, varying in age, or in experience or culture. Such a feeling of being ensconced in “the walk of life,” or basking in the beauty of humanity united in a common purpose, may be a very reassuring thing — the security found in company and likeness.

However, the crowd, as Baudelaire so lucidly expressed in his 19th-century writings on Paris, can also be something disconcerting, disenfranchising, unsettling. When the crowd one finds oneself in is not particularly beautiful, familiar or lacks a perceived commonality, any comfort or feeling of unification disappears. The surrounding crowd increases one’s sense of difference, of alienation, of being “other.” Russell’s viewers might see beautiful or ordinary people, but might not feel beautiful nor ordinary themselves, not “like everybody else.” As a viewer is unable to reconcile the simple physicality of the many, the beautiful, the ordinary, with the uncertainty they themselves feel, a feeling of anxiety may ensue. So, while to some Russell’s 100 faces may be comforting, engaging, to others they may be equally alienating.

While Russell’s show confronts the viewer with a sense self-defined by the multitudinous and outside other, Rebecca Reese Jacoby’s exhibit, in the east gallery, takes on an interior exploration of the self, though still in relation to the other. “The exhibit is about the strength and powers which spring and bolt from our own inner spirit creating spontaneous gestures of the rituals of dance and generations of human connections,” says Jacoby in her artist statement. The energetic abstractions in Fire Dances Ancestral are a metaphysical contrast to Russell’s careful portraiture, with its specific sense of being and space. The paintings are inspired by the fire dances of the American Plains Indians, who relied on ritual dances they believed would bring the fire back after the solstice and ensure posterity for future generations. They incorporate abstract representations of Jacoby’s own ancestors and explore qualities of the primordial inner-self in its multiplicity of core nuances.

The “Fire Dance” series, primarily “Fire Dance 3 Beginning,” “Fire Dance 1 Confront,” and, “Fire Dance 2 Primordial,” captures “the strength and powers which spring and bolt from our own inner spirit.” The first, “Fire Dance 3,” evokes a mythical time of beginnings — of, in Jacoby’s words “primordial beasts, the motions of mythical human plight, and the conveyance of strong descendants” — with a web of fragile line and color conveying an act or a time of conception, realization, empowerment. The “confrontation” of the next piece, with its two primary figures in a dance of domination that is nevertheless fused with powerful beauty, is also an essence of human existence as there must be an ebb and flow in all things, in all experience. The “primordial” in the third, is a balance of matter, of bright color, of heavy darks and light lights, a reservoir of the nascence of human ethos.

Jacoby reaches a more literal expression of herself in “Rebecca Reese Jacoby.” On a large canvas, equal in scale to the others in the room, Jacoby has painted an abstract figure in dark red. This figure is bowed over and one assumes that this is the artist, something more of a representation. But after a coming to terms with her work, one gets the sense that the canvas does not limit the representation of herself to the red shape, but that all aspects of the canvas, in totality, are a representation of the artist’s being — a less tangible, more expressive evocation of the artist’s metaphysical self, conjoined with the primordial essences of dance, and abstractions of those who have come before.

Jacoby’s dance is a free-form exploration of the self, achieving a connectivity that comes from being untethered from the now and the space of place. It is a metaphysical construction, derived from the abstract qualities of human origins, the ebb and flow of life, and fundamental cores of humanness. Compare this with Russell’s very concrete rendering of humanity in the 100 faces, a multitudinous other with which a viewer might feel communion or disenfranchisement. Together, these exhibits form a holistic answer to the query of one’s contemporary present, of one’s “being-in-the-world,” the formation of the self and its relationship with the ever-present “other.


John Vehar (Modern West Fine Art)

John Vehar

One of John Vehar’s most characteristic images, and consequently one of his best, is “Bison,” which can be seen currently at his solo show at Modern West Fine Art.  The strength of the image is in the balance the artist strikes between raw, coarse, brushwork, and what ultimately comes across as sophisticated, developed, and attuned strokes. They are highly revelatory of the tenor, and specific quality of this bison.  It is presented as something strong, yes, massive, yes, intimidating, of course; but the purposeful distortion in certain parts of the bison’s front legs, and a certain ambiguity in the haze that covers what would be the eyes of a raging animal, creates a dynamic reticence. What might seem hurried, unfinished aspects of this painting are actually what provide it with a magnetic pull. It’s the result of the artist’s approach to his figurative work: “I think if you don’t give yourself time to think too much you come up with something really good.” 

Vehar’s pieces feel bold and spontaneous, and yet are the result of a lifetime of intuition, planning and practice. “I used to be a house painter,” Vehar says, “and I think of [my process] like that. There was a lot of prep time, but the actual work is pretty fast. If you spend the time and sketch things out, if you do a lot of prepping, you know where it is going to go. You don’t need much more than that, really.  It’s a progression. Process is everything. Subject, not so much.”

Vehar’s subjects tend toward the figural, be they human or animal, and accordingly, his process is the means to a more figurally expressive end.  This progression, starting from what is seen in the most rudimentary charcoal renderings, is already distinctively his, with the mark seen in the brushwork, here in its nascent stages, boldly aggressive in the line of the rendering.  In its entirety, this process is a coming to terms with the tactility of the body in space in the final piece, the figuration, and the placement, the animation, of both the primary structural forms, and more subtle gestures of being alive. 

Vehar grew up in Utah and Wyoming, the great-grandson of immigrants from Slovenia and Bulgaria who worked at coal mines in Rock Springs, Wyo. “My mother and I moved to Utah when I was 6 years old,” he says. “My dad moved to Jackson Hole, so I go back every year, and I feel like I identify with Wyoming.”  An only child, he says he has worked on art all of his life.  “I always felt that this is who I am, rendering, sculpting, this all came naturally to me.  I did everything from technical illustration to portraits of historical figures for history books, but I have always painted. I just didn’t exhibit.”

That began to change when Vehar decided to become a stay-at-home dad. For 20 years he had worked as a graphic designer, and before that as a technical illustrator – “very technical,” he says. But when his children were born — he and wife Meredith have a 7-year old boy and a 3-year old daughter — he decided to stay at home. “During that time, I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do with myself?’  I thought I had been trying to bring my best work to the table, so I thought I would give my painting a shot.”

He does numerous preparatory studies in charcoal before he approaches his canvases. “When you take charcoal [process] and put it onto a canvas, you feel, that moment, you just need to let yourself make the lines, to feel it, and if you don’t think too much about it, you’ll get whatever you want, because you are in feeling mode. You’ve already thought about it, you’ve already drawn it, you’ve already figured it out, it’s the muscle and once you’ve touched it three times on the paper, you only need to touch it once on the canvas because you’ve already made the movements with the muscles in your hands.  It’s a part of your subconscious already.” 

He paints out of the garage of the 1910 gingerbread-style bungalow in the 9th and 9th district he and his wife have lived in for the past 13 years. The array of used brushes stuffed into cans and bowls of mixed paint atop a cacophonous palette belie the crisp clean work Vehar did as a designer and technical draftsman. But it seems perfectly adapted to the large expressive canvases that have found a home at Modern West. 

“I think it was serendipitous or luck of the draw, but I had some friends who pointed me to Modern West, thinking I would be a good fit,” he says. “At the time, there was the ‘Year of the Horse’ show going on at the Natural History Museum, and I happened to walk into the gallery with my promotional material when they were looking for people to show horses, and within a month I had my work in there.”

His solo show that opened in March features some of these horses, as well as bison and bighorn sheep. One might think of it in terms of wildlife art, which would not be surprising from a Wyoming boy, but Vehar’s works are really about painting and expression. His paintings combine both technical expertise and explosive energy.

For any artist, the ability to foreshorten is no easy task, and no matter how many “sketches, sketches, sketches,” it will take a well-schooled, and well-trained artist to capture not only the form, but the inner-energy, the inner-inertia, the intensity, and the spirit of a horse like that in “Trudy-O,” where the animal is taking an almost frontal leap from the canvas into the viewer’s space. Not only has Vehar rendered every muscle with facility and grace, but with a sensibility to this particular horse, as it takes its resplendent and so articulately animated stride. As the expressive line of the artist seems to melt into a fabric of sinewy muscle, the gestalt of the horse is fully felt, as the inner-energy, the inner-inertia, the intensity, and more than anything else the radiant, spirited energy of the horse is fully and expressively conveyed.

Modern West also features a number of portraits exploring iconic figures of the American West. “I like to feel things,” he says of these portraits, based on photographs of figures like Sitting Bull and Geronimo.  “The reason that I wanted to paint the portraits at Modern West is I wanted to feel their faces. I wanted to know them.”

An example of this is “American Portrait II.”  The portrait has a very frontal, close-up view, so it is not necessary to know just who it is that is being connected with, only that there is a connection, and in every respect, this connection is made unavoidable.  With a more structured line, and using an application of linear varnish over the surface of each portrait, Vehar creates what he calls a balance in the linear and loose, thus creating the gestural. 

 “You take a tool that is technical, the lines appear tight, almost like an etching, but when you look at it, the applied glazes, you find that it is as uncontrollable, as loose as a brush, which brings the feeling into it, it brings the empathy into his expression.  It’s the way I’m trying to feel the piece, it’s the way I’m trying to heighten the piece.  It helps me to know that person. The tool is limited but the artist is not limited and when those two things clash, you push the boundaries a little bit.” 

And these curvilinear lines are there to heighten that connection with the very distinctive face, in a way that reads as more psychological than the intense gaze the eyes already radiate. This psychology created by the layered varnish patterns work on many levels, from a heightened conscious of connectivity, a feeling of euphoria, a sense of hypnosis, a kind of vertigo that draws the viewer in, a feeling of displacement that enhances the power of the figure being looked at, even a schizophrenia that creates a duality and an altered reality of a sense of being and perception.

These portraits came about as a direct result of the exhibit. “When you are creating a body of work, for a show, for example, you have your influences, you have your ideas, and there is some intangible element ‘in the air.’  As you are working on the show, even at the very end, your work may turn 180 degrees, whatever makes the best show; you don’t have to be a painter, you need to be an artist.”

What we do not see at Modern West Fine Art is the range of Vehar’s expressive approach to the figure, which is something quite revealing.  In a figure called “Fear,” the portrait head is already handled wonderfully well; her hair especially is striking, as it is so loosely handled yet so acutely palpable.   Her face, which is in a three-quarter-profile view, is turned gently to the right.  She has lovely soft lines, and one gets a lucid sense of just who she is.  But one wonders why she is given the title “Fear.”  She is quite beautiful, and in her soft and feminine lines, with eyes that radiate, could second for a biblical “Eve.”  But it is her companion piece that gives her the title, “Fear.”  In the companion piece, “Resolve,” she is given the same linear equilibrium as “Bison,” that expresses so much, while conveying her naturalness.  Her eyes, like “Bison,” are hid, but not in a gesture of reticence, in a gesture of introspection, self-composition, and inner being.  The “fear,” in “Fear” is Vehar’s own reticence, and his own fear in being unwilling, afraid, to take “Fear” to that level of gesture and self-expression.

The Modern West exhibit suggests and the work in his studio confirms, that Vehar has an exciting and vigorous attraction to the fundamentals of painting, which animates his process and ultimately allows his work to function on many exciting levels.  These can be both experimental, with evocative and edgier effects on audience sensibilities, to more hushed and softer features, the kinds that aren’t as easily recognized, but the kind to imbue a subject with frailty, strength, and grace.

Liberty Blake (Phillips Gallery)

Liberty Blake

Liberty Blake makes music with visual art. The UK native turned UT resident  blends together pieces of found, salvaged and purchased paper to create works of simplistic profundity. Her current show at Phillips, in which more than 20 new works are displayed in the downstairs Dibble Gallery, are not concerned with a maximum of materiality; but rather with what can be addressed with the subtlety of an artistic language that depends on slight shifts in tone and balance. The weight of her balanced forms and juxtaposition of her multihued palette, from brown packing paper to pastel-toned art paper, create compositions that are almost as pure as the formlessness of the sounds of music, and are as fine and rhythmic as a melody, and stir the sensibilities on so many levels, again and again, and deeper and deeper, with each new engagement.

Although it is a visual language Blake is articulating, with its own visual vocabulary, the works sing in such a way that it might be best to describe them with a musical lexicon. These collages are full of notes, sounds, rhythms and intonations and function in terms of resonances and cadences, hitting crescendos and vibrating with either melancholic or dissonant jubilation or ecstasy.

Like a rhapsody in slate blue, Blake’s “Discards” harmonizes the coarse and rusty brown of a paper bag with the slate blue rectangle that holds the work’s bottom left. With the excitement of the highlights of vibrant white notes at the bottom showcasing the blue text and a bright red flourish, “Discards” resonates on the mind and the imagination and plays on the strings of the soul.

The coolness of chocolate brown layered smoothly over a ruddy mustard paper in “Insert Bottom Edge” creates a pleasing harmony; yet the brightness and boldness of the great zone of dominant red soon makes itself known, in a melancholic and moody aggressiveness that asserts itself in an oblique way, like an allegretto in a concerto by the likes of Beethoven, Corelli, or Bruckner.

“Chapter IV” might be thought of as an Austrian waltz, sweeping the viewers away in a field of emotive red, caught in the sway of the moment and driven by the ethereal blues that are only suggested in a sensual way through a plane of differing tonalities.  And all is brought in harmonic unison as the fiery and ethereal emotions are soothed and placated by the calming and restful zone of white at the top that brings all elements of this waltz together in a field of Austrian edelweiss.

“Field St” is an apt angle from which to view the cleanliness of Blake’s work, as a metaphor for visual music, something as rapturous, as pure, as soulful, as pristine, as elemental.  The precision of line, the episodes, passages, shifts, collisions, eruptions, encounters, measures, the hushed and muted silence, are all the stuff that music is made of, or at least, the stuff that the experience of music is made of.

If “Field St” is a prelude then “One” is a full symphony.  Here the metaphor of music, the experience of music, may be taken to the fullest extent, and it can be seen how Blake’s work sets the mind alight, with the most reduced purity of compositional elements, just as a symphony is a compendium of notes and sound.  But what is experienced is something bigger, effulgent, something that allows the mind to be transported to a place of harmony and rest, but experiencing at the same time a powerful drama of actuality of being, having been effectuated emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually, by the music.

These works have the ability to set the mind alight, adrift and aloft to a place where it may be at liberty to engage in the sensible movement of visual music, to bathe in refreshing color, transitions, juxtapositions, contrasts, compositions and harmonies.  This is much of the simplistic profundity of the work of Liberty Blake, a work so appealing and so enigmatic and functioning on so many levels, to compare it metaphorically to an art with the purity and enigmatic quality of music seems appropriate.  But this is not to diminish the unique quality, substance, freshness and sublime beauty of what Blake does, which is create an art happening with an astonishing simplicity and buoyancy that allows the mind freedom without domination.          

Antonin Passemard and Anastasia Dukhanina (Slusser Gallery)

Ravieres 12x16 Passemard

Those who are under the impression that plein air painting is a practice of subject and technique exclusive to the western United States may experience a reality check this month upon visiting Slusser Gallery, where for the March Gallery Stroll the work of owner Mark Slusser will be featured along with those of plein air painters Antonin Passemard and Anastasia Dukhanina, a married couple who currently reside in Auxerre, France. The awakening will not be entirely the simple discovery that plein air is a global artistic phenomenon, but that Passemard and Dukhanina are each able to achieve in their “open air” landscapes a definitive, characteristic method, transgressing perimeters and breaking new ground of what is generally considered traditional plein air painting.

Passemard, who grew up in Auxerre, in the Burgundy region, recalls a childhood where art was “nothing special, it was something normal. It was how it should be. I could not live without a painting… it needed to be there. Painting was something I had to do, it was something that had to be done, nothing more than that, really.”  When he registered at the Beaux Arts school in Auxerre, Passemard felt he had reached certain limitations as an artist, and it was through the academic system that he would learn the tools to become better.  There he gained an appreciation and connectivity with late 19th-century Russian representational modes of painting. He continued his education at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, but ended up quitting, not finding what he was looking for in this educational system, disappointed in what was now centered on conceptual art practice. However, at the school, he gained a strong appreciation and affinity for German Expressionism, an influence still evident in his work. 

In 2001, Passemard left for the United States, moving to Portland, Ore., and traveling through many other states.  In 2012 he discovered an article about German artist Ulrich Gleiter.  “I really liked his painting; it was completely different than anything you could see in America,” recalls Passemard.  Gleiter had studied in Russia and the Repin Academy, and he and Passemard began corresponding with each other. “We talked about other painters, about some other friends and of course he talked about Anastasia.”

Anastasia Dukhanina had a similar experience growing up with an interest, practice and early art education in formative art environments.  In her general education, from age 7 through 14, Dukhanina immersed herself in her own reality of art, amid dire economic hardships of 1990s Russia.  At 15, she entered art college in her home city of St. Petersburg, where she chose to study interior design. “In Russia, interior designers are taught to draw and paint as real artists,” she says. “We did everything by hand: watercolor paintings, all technical parts. To be honest it was very useful.  But I realized I loved painting more than design,” says Dukhanina, who would go on to study at the Repin Art Academy Since 1991 this has been called the St. Petersburg Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture?in St. Petersburg, before she would meet Passemard, whom she married last November.

In 2013 Passemard met Mark Slusser at a plein air convention, and in 2014 he and Dukhanina began to be represented by the gallery.  Says Slusser, “I thought they were both masterfully trained, Anastasia in the classical Russian style, impressionist, and Antonin, in a Parisian style. In Antonin’s case, it is the heavy impasto, and they have influenced one another so we have a mixture of Russian and French, which is really exciting to see.” 

Dukhanina has a plein air style that is very much her own, and her subjects transcend the convention of landscape but include genres ranging from urban settings to home interiors, still life to portraiture. Her hand is quick but heavy and her stroke expresses more when she uses less.  But the unifying component in her work is a structural element that works to her advantage.  In “February” one gets a sure sense of the structural quality and utility of Dukhanina’s work. The atmospheric resonance rings absolutely true and the coldness of the winter month in Russia is undeniable, and so is a further design element brought about by the linearity of the trees that bring the eye within the centrifugal nature of the three main elements, the sloping shed, the house, and the house in the distance, that focus the eye on the tight area of the center, causing almost a visual claustrophobia that only enhances the atmospheric climate by a measurable quality of design.

“Spring” functions as much structurally yet in a counter-manner, releasing the spirit into the openness of the refreshing spring air. Here, there is a terrace with a church just below, with a steeple rising almost to the line of the soaring mountain above, and to the left and right of the church, divided by a fence, are old housing structures. This creates a linearity and horizontality, but even more important are the arms of the tree in full white spring blossoms, opening arms to the sky and to the mountains along the horizontal and upwards, in a manner of jubilation for the spirit of the season. It is a masterful articulation of mood, not only in brushwork, but in formulaic design and structural articulation by Dukhanina.

Of course, this makes sense to the reader who recalls the importance of Dukhanina’s education and training in interior design, so fundamental to her formative education as an artist.  Although she chose not to remain in interior design, this was a fundamental part of her education, a time when she says she felt very secure as an artist and as a human being and much of her plein air style derives from this intensive study, which has its own logic and structural sensibility. 

As one looks through Passemard’s works, one will find repeatedly an assiduous brushwork, a lively, dense impasto, asserting rich color, yet never is there any semblance of feeling of domination by color or the brushwork, but perpetually a comfortable sensibility of refreshing vigor and a harmonious atmosphere of balance as each mood is greeted with pleasure and satisfaction.

What captures the viewer’s sensibilities in the woodland scene “Fall Colors” is the density of natural form expressed through a vividness and richness of hue that finds a balance of equanimity upon the viewer.  This unique balance is achieved by the artist’s marvelously vibrant and expressive color palette placated by the confines of a limit between the use of lights and darks.  Passemard invites the viewer into the environment with the strength of the mood but does not overwhelm; he creates a tonal range that results in a feeling of comfort surrounded by the intensities of a natural beauty without any sense of heaviness. There is allowed a feeling of wonder and awe in nature’s creation, a feeling of possibility without a sense of being pushed to the limit.  There is a natural give and take that comes across as being smooth. 

In the cityscape “Ravieres,” there is again a strong and tumultuously cloudy sky, terra-cotta rooftops, stucco walls, greens in many hues and tonalities, all painted with a zealous richness and lushness, so that the viewer feels the fecundity of the afternoon over this town, as birds take flight in the distance. Yet as rich and as zealously as Passemard paints, he strikes a remarkable sense of tonal balance, with a scene that is brimming with gestural color, yet the viewer feels an ease and tranquility on this breezy afternoon moment. 

Though in Utah we love our local plein air painters, the genre is obviously a global phenomenon with practitioners expressing their personality and training in locales all over the world. Passemard and Dukhanina have made Auxerre their home for art and passion, but they continue to travel, painting and teaching: they teach painting courses in France and will be teaching in St. Petersburg and then in the United States. The results of their diverse approaches are on exhibit this month at Slusser Gallery and shouldn’t be missed. With Dukhanina’s steadfastness and Passemard’s level passionate vigor, the young painters are both sure to experience much greater happiness and greater success as they continue to endeavor in what they love, together.