“Church and State” (UMOCA)


Utah is often spoken of as a cultural monolith, even a theocracy, where church and state are inexorably intertwined. While recent legislation reminds us of the enormous sway the hierarchy of the LDS church does exert over state politics, it should not be forgotten that there has also existed a dynamic tension between church and state, ever since Johnston’s army set up cannons above Salt Lake City at Fort Douglas. Even in the beginning, miners have held sway alongside Mormons, so that both groups push and pull against and with each other, especially in cultural domains like the arts. The State of Utah and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been the biggest collectors of art in the state, and the dynamic between the two has done a great deal to determine our cultural heritage. Pulling from recent acquisitions by both institutions, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art’sChurch vs. State: Contemporary Collecting Praxisexamines this dynamic in a structurally impressive and informative show.

The first thing that makes this group show function — almost on a scientific level — is its masterful curation. What Kristian Anderson has done reinforces the binary relationship that is Church vs. State in a way that is supportive to each side, galvanizing the early pioneer vs. miner reality that has not diminished over the past 168 years, but only become more complex.  But Anderson has also brought together works that are pulled together by subtle relationships creating discursive dialogues that bring the binary opposites towards a certain gestural resolution.

As one might expect, several of the pieces are overt commentaries expressing the cultural divide implied by the title of the exhibition. Brad Slaugh’s “Latter Day Saints,” from the state’s collection, is an homage to a Sunday drive in the canyon, where the driver has become a contemporary St. Sebastian, with eyes rolled in ecstasy, his head in a halo of light; meanwhile his passenger, a modern St. Lucy, serves up her eyes on a platter. Slaugh’s conflation of the tagline of the state’s dominant religion with traditional Catholic saints, a classic American car and a recognizable Utah landscape, will certainly unsettle mainy in the majority. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Mark Hedengren’s “A Church Member Cleans the Ward, Gunlock, Utah,” featuring an LDS chapel interior, is an uncomplicated and comforting cultural reflection that any church-going member can easily identify with and find comfort in.

But politics and religious play are not the primary mode of expression in this show and there is another kind of art that looms larger: a non-iconic, non-specific expression, that operates in a soft, even gossamer manner, weaving a fabric of meaning, a web of ideas, through the use of gesture. It is a fabric that is utilitarian, that can be constructive from every side, the kind of fabric of idea, and thought, from which to build and construct, not through difference and displacement, but through commonality, understanding and unity.

A first piece to consider is the massive, structurally-gestured “Hanging Family History (Maternal Line)” by Valerie Atkisson.  On one hand, it functions as a representation of the double helix of DNA; on the other, more literal hand, the myriad paper triangles that shower from ceiling to floor are 72 generations of the artist’s ancestry, beginning with Atkisson herself. The sculpture may be awesome, but in its simple individual gestures, it expresses something intimately comprehensible. Mormons have many core reasons for a concentrated interest in family history, some sacred, many secular, but to gain a grounding of one’s heritage is an empowering thing for every human, in every walk of life. Instead of shouting this message in didactic methods, which would only perpetuate abrasion, the gestural approach of Atkisson is invigorating, inspiring, and intriguing on a level that is quiet and is allowed to speak without causing a noise.

A “secular” complement to “Hanging Family History (Maternal Line)” is Wendy Wischer’s quixotic “Wooded III.”  For her “Wooded” series, Wischer photographs treetops, close up, and transfers the gestural, linear design to paper. She then turns the image 180 degrees, and uses a laser to cut the delicate, fibrous plane of the one solid sheet, to create a dense labyrinth of branches, vines, twigs and shoots, with an intricacy that again is hushed; but once the implications are considered, the voice of the artist truly resonates.  First of all, the artist has used as her subject, trees, or an appropriation of them.  This itself is a critical gesture, deconstructing the absolute nature of the treetop in an art-laden context.  In this context, the expressive lines of the treetops can easily be read as roots, and given the deconstructed value, somewhere up there, the very uprooted roots of the tree, idiomatically speaking, are reaching high into the sky.  This deconstruction reverences the same element of heritage in Atkisson’s piece, considering the roots of human characteristics, strengths, gifts, personality traits, physical characteristics, and a makeup of sensibilities that belongs to one unique individual and no other.  Just what makes someone truly special is, in large measure, due to roots, and in this case they are aiming high.  Treetops, that spend their waking hours brushing against clouds, take on a new reality in this deconstruction, and their ethereal nature becomes deeply grounded with the elemental beneath the surface.

Another gestural approach with a quiet voice of communion is Ben Howell’s “Transcription #1.”  It is a scroll of parchment, several feet wide, reaching from floor to ceiling that finishes in scrolls. An incredibly minute text covers the entire surface from top to bottom, line by line, with exacting precision, and gesture that is fluid and absorbing.  This gesture is so quiet it can reach the heavens and circumnavigate the universe.  This is the power of gesture that, in its subtlety, can convey the very possibility of an immensity of truth, light, and understanding. 

State-side, or secularly speaking, Howell’s pieces finds a complement in the gesture of Hyunmee Lee. Her “Chunji-Changjo,” is hardly subtle, yet in the mass of black that coalesces centrally, with gesture breathing downwards, to the bottom left, and filling the top center of the canvas on a ground of white, there is nothing intense. The relationship and construction of these two opposite tonalities engages the sensibilities in ways impossible if the slightest color were added.  Ways like rest, resolve, repose, resplendence, recourse, resilience, and respite.

Jared Lindsay Clark has two contributions to the show, his “Palimpsests: Saturday,” and “Palimpsests: Sunday.” These two etchings are the overlapping of notes taken during an LDS General Conference in 2012. For Saturday, we have Lindsay Clark’s pictorial musings, while on Sunday we have his written documentation of the word, each a reflective commentary on the formal state of mind of the author as he absorbed the words of “prophets, seers and revelators.” In both of these palimpsests, these gestural overlapping of words transcribed from religious leaders, we have a visually graphic statement that is, in the words of the curator, both “hidden and present.” 

In a massive abstract painting by the late Lee Deffebach, “Green Sides of Gold Sides,” 1999, the viewer is encouraged to ponder and meditate upon various sides of things. For sure, there is the green side to the gold side, but there is also the lighter side to the darker side; there is the linear side to the lateral side, and on the whole, there is the complementary side to the opposing side. Just as Clark reflected the layered sides to his cognitive approach to spiritual perception—the image and the word, and the many images within images and words within words—Deffebach is inviting the audience to compare relationships of form, be they those that occur within the painterly—her physical gesture—or be they the cognitive registry of such gesture, and how this gesture is made manifest and thus occupying place as space. Both artists, across many boundaries, parameters, polarities, and limits, are in sync.

If voices from church and state would speak in a manner synonymous to gesture rather than posture, the rhetoric and the sophistry that pollutes the everyday functioning of our state would be silenced; and instead, a resonant realization that there is much to be gained through difference, would be heard. This exhibition highlights some of the differences implied by the vs. of the title, but it also shows us that if voices are listened to, with sensitivity to truth, and sensitivity to meaningful productivity, on a level of humanity and humility, all can find mutuality through common, synergistic understanding.          


Blake Luther, Anne Wolfer, Jill Barton (15th Street Gallery)



In January of this year, the Dibble Gallery hosted an exhibition with Mark Knudson, Daryll Erdmann and Paul Vincent Bernard, entitled “Spirit of Place.” Each artists’ philosophies on just what “place” is to them, was expounded upon by their painterly responsiveness to a certain landscape location of their choosing. Their responses were decidedly different and decidedly profound, and it became apparent that “place,” conveyed something personal to each of these artists, regardless of physicality. The “Spirit of Place” ultimately transcended this physicality in every situation.


The current show at 15th Street Gallery, featuring artists Blake Luther, Anne Wolfer, and Jill Barton, takes a different departure from the subjective approaches to place, and finds each artist using the dimensionality of space, with results that are entirely different and evocative of formal aesthetics and personal artistic choices and sensibilities to their subject. Although each artist is singular in their approach to their subject, the nature of the fundamental element of space is constant, objective, and unites these three artists, creating a formal unity and harmony that is rhythmic and soothing, and revealing.


Luther’s subjects are exclusively landscape, and might be called stark, bold, and even figural in his use of vertical structures. There is a sense of human presences here that might even be called “existential” as his use of the linear, in these contexts, is so strong. In “Park Matrix,” for example, there is a subject of trees, painted with a personal signature graphic style, yet there is less of a tendency to grove the trees than there is to stand them alone in there place, together, yet isolated, in the traditional existential manner of Giacometti.


This is not the case for Wolfer, who also delves into a great deal of landscape, yet even though the land is primarily barren, there is more of a Diebenkorn tendency to play with the patterns of the land, such as with “All Terrain,” making the most of turquoise blue and yellow, and like Diebenkorn, creating divisions in the expanse with color, with the same element of Modernist flatness, up until the horizon, where there is an implied recession and then a great white of sky.


How are these two paintings harmonic and rhythmic? Regardless if it is a figural monumentality or a stylistic structuralism, space is the controlling factor that allows each of these singular characteristics to be. Spatiality admits for the monumentality and the stark, bold approach, dividing up the land, and spatiality allows for the being of the expanse and recession into space and then sky. As these paintings are hung next to each other there is a marvelous synergy.


For Luther, we see an extremism of the allowance of space to articulate the dimensionality of his landscape, in “Francis Silo.” It might be a lonely and barren scene, but the contrasts made between the large rounded tree, the tall silo, and the shallow cluster of farm industry against a recessed large and hazy hill, that does not reach the center of the picture plane, instead creates a scene of powerful minimalist structural interest. Again, like the trees, the silo stands alone, a figural allusion to an existential phenomenon represented in these reductive and barren elements, which becomes intriguing in their isolation.


In “Harspwell Dock,” from Wolfer, we find the opposite, a canvas consumed by structure, but it is a weathered and weary dock in a bay, with only three basic picture planes, a band of ivory sky, the lifeless dock, and the glistening and refreshing looking water, the redemptive element to the painting contrasting lifeless elements with animation. Again, regardless that both of these images have entirely different aesthetic approaches in every way, it is their consummation by space, their spatial structure, that creates their being, and lends their compositional elements that unites them, and again, as they are hung close together on the gallery wall, they are in unison with the other.


Where Wolfer breaks away is her series of still lifes. These are empty bottles cursorily painted against a dark ground on a cool menthe green ground. “Dark Bottles 2” is the composite of a short glass medicine or cosmetics jar refracting the green from the ground beneath it. Next to it is a taller, black jar, an olive oil container perhaps; refracting the menthe and cooler tones in front of the blackness. These bottles are defined by their space. Their being and structure is made recognizable by the space they inhabit. This is no different than Luther’s “Sentinel.” This is a lone evergreen in the middle of a field, standing erect and isolated against the field and hazy hills behind and an even hazier sky. It is its spatiality that makes possible its being and acknowledges its existential presence in the field as it resides alone and silent.


We have asked what is the figure with or without spatiality to give it presence and reality. But what is space without the figure, the lone, silent tree? What is space without the bottles, or the dock, or the silo, or the planes, or the grouping of trees to give it presence and reality? Jill Barton’s paintings present a representational hypothesis to this in their abstract purity. Her “Big Ocean” a painting totally abstract, with the most reductive elements of color: steel and cold gray, blue, and ice white, with slate gray, painted in an ethereal application of horizontal stratus-like streaking, with no subject other than the purity of the color, mood, tone, expression, emotion, intensity and subtlety, addresses the question, but the answer is equivocal. Perhaps it is a void, or perhaps it is pure reality.


“Little Bird I” and “Little Bird II” is a diptych existing together, each requiring the other. Each is more substantive, with teal blue melding with pearly white, and chalky gray with a similar raison d’être, and here, “representational” of space, although charged with meaning. Apparently, space is not autonomous, but like the figure, space too is a reality that must be defined by “the other,” in order for it to be present and real.

Altared Books: Offerings in (Con)text (Finch Lane Gallery)


From the clay tablets of the Minoans to the papyrus scrolls of the Egyptians, from the illuminated manuscripts of medieval monasteries to Gutenberg’s Bible and the pulp novels of the 20th century, the book has had a monumental role in the creation of civilization. It is history itself. Because of this historical and cultural context, the book offers a wealth of possibilities to the artist. As an alternative formal medium it allows for an abundance of inherent associations and semiotic play. This is in evidence at Altared Books: Offerings in (Con)text, now at Finch Lane Gallery, where seven artists deconstruct the book in various ways and methods to various ends, using fragments, not of history, but the avatar of this history, the book itself. Yet, despite the transformations these objects undergo, ultimately they retain part of their original purpose, the power of narrative.


Exhibition curator Kandace Steadman says the show and its title refer to “books that are not just changed but given as an offering, a sacrifice, not necessarily religious, but like an altar, a place of devotion.”  That devotion is a recontextualizing of contexts, to ascribe new meaning from the wealth of meaning available to the artist from the source material that is a book, and creating an entirely new narrative through altered contexts.


Carol Berrey’s “Altered Altar” is an excellent introduction to the show. It is a literal triptych altarpiece complete with the triptych panel paintings, candles, table, scriptures, and even a holy icon. All elements have been produced by the use of appropriated pages of scripture from various Christian texts in various languages. These texts cover the entire work, including the candlesticks. Berrey makes literal the thesis of the show by placing in recontextualized form a book as an altar, and in doing so, acknowledges the seminal history of the book, representative of the core of universalized religion, in the history of Western civilization.  Here, the reality of the essential thread of history being maintained “at the altar,” in its darkest moments, its most uncivilized hour, is alluded to, and the parallel of the civilization of humanity, and the prominence of the book, is made manifest.  Berrey sees her work as a unification of many types of Western religions and looks to the future in her work as she states, “By combining these sacred materials from many religions, I express my hope for a future free from religious strife.” Like the book, the art’s narrative invites liberal interpretation.


A more particular allusion to the book and its specificity as a medium in religious propagation is made the subject of a work of art by Chauncey Secrist with his altered book “The Sacred and Profane.”  Always begging the questions but forever leaving an open door, the work is an inquisition into universalized religion and its relevancy today. The book that has been altered retains its original context while the allowance for play that it might at the same time be altared, and its original context be bent and made malleable.  The book is an older, hardback version of Jesus the Christ, written by Mormon apostle James Talmage and held in high esteem by the LDS faith.  Within the book has been cut a tabernacle for a small bronze Buddha, a symbol that much of the Eastern Hemisphere holds as sacred.  On top of this devotional offering is a long beaked bird’s skull placed along the top edge of the book.  “Just how relevant, how alive in today’s culture, in contemporary reality, is this thinking from the distant past?” Secrist seems to be asking.


This kind of narrative recontextualization is heightened in three pieces by Frank McEntire.  With “Gazette” and “Scripture Writer Reconfigured,” the most elaborate alterations in the show with the most found-object appropriation and the least book, McEntire is begging no questions and leaves no doors open with his satire on the dominance of religion. In “Illustrated Scripture History,” he addresses the subject with some brevity… even subtlety. Although more reductive in form than the typing machine and prayer role of “Scripture Writer Reconfigured” or the antique newspaper vending machine in “Gazette,” “Illustrated Scripture History” might even be said to have a formal elegance but in all actuality it is violent and angry.  A train rail spike has been driven through a small antique volume, the title of the piece, that sits squared on top of two consecutively larger antique volumes. The narrative is a straightforward and direct statement on religion, spelled out through so many elements, the book being one essential symbol to convey this message, be it through a series of symbols in “Gazette,” with a silver crucifix in the facing panel, a miniature Salt Lake Temple with phallic-like rockets all set on an LDS sacrament tray set on a large volume of scripture, or the simplified ““Illustrated Scripture History.”  Either way, each tells a story.


The work of Jody Plant addresses her audience on an entirely different level, or levels.  Her altered creations impact the viewer in a way that is the antithesis of McEntire’s nail on the hammer method, but merely a suggestion, a devotion of elements that are as if they had never been anything than what they are, that their altered state is their true state, that this is their genuine state of being, and in this genuine state of being their purpose, like each of the works we have seen thus far, through a vocabulary of symbols, speaks a narrative, not one in particular, but custom made for each individual viewer’s sensible responsive state of being.  It is a harmonic synthesis. “Heretic” makes an inward protestation and is not loud but allows its viewer to ponder it and opens itself to be considered.  Like a Rothko in sculpted multimedia form, it is an object of contemplation, of “natural or forgotten worlds,” says Plant.  Plant makes a feathery display of the book at top with folded paper, and sets that on an old piece of driftwood like a boat, which rests on a bird’s  nest. This Plant sets on two books shelled in encaustic and placed on a grating.  It is a series of symbols whose vocabulary can be read in any manner the viewer likes, adhering to the theme of nature, and stories and mystery.  It is not a puzzle but possibility for inspiration and sensible stimulation and wonderment.  “They Became Birds” is likewise a devotion of possibility for thought and feeling.  The book, again, has been feathered, and in it Plant has placed a feather, as if it were always meant to be there.  Set on a rusted hanging frame, there is a nest and a small frame with an antique photograph. Here the notion of time sets in to propel the concourse of inspiration and direct the narrative and it is one that moves us “not only in three, but in four dimensions,” says Plant. This is seen lucidly in her “La Perouse Bay,” where the open book is in a state of destruction and within it is placed a decayed hull of a fish.  All has been ravaged by time and what is left are fragments of a reality the viewer must piece together, come to grips with, or make some sense out of with total liberty and no occupying force to determine responsiveness.


Artist Loné Vilnius’ “Book Wise” is a pun loosely structured on a re-created owl formed out of a restructured book, drawing on not only the formal allowances of the book she creates in a semi-owl-like structure, but also the relationship between the knowledge contained in a book and the allusion to the wise owl. In this and works like “The Proper Sinner” and “The Written Word” Vilnius creates an art for arts’ sake discourse with her altered books creations. She deconstructs the formal aspects of the book and recontextualizes them in new, structurally surprising, humorous, whimsical or challenging ways, in a context similar to Modernist formalist experimentation, pushing the limitations of just what artistic ends can be reached with the book with work that deconstructs and recontextualizes the book purely for its own sake.


Nancy Steele-Makasci uses the book to relate specific historically relevant narrative episodes.  In “6,000,000” the artist uses a signature paper fluting layered with collaged paper to recall the historical occurrence of the Holocaust, made poignant by the handmade and painted barbed wire that surrounds the paper fluting.  In “Shrine: Worship! DO NOT READ!” the viewer is reminded of Catholic Church history and the strictly enforced illiteracy upon the general population of Europe whose only means to knowledge was through Church-commissioned art.  And in “Ephemeral Flute,” the artist’s altared book tubing is wound with cord to re-create the temporal passage of time and the reality of the ceaseless narrative that is the essence and reality of time.


Emily Dyer is the only artist in the show who, rather than altering or recontextualizing a book, has rendered her own new bookish creation. “Extravagant or Credo” is a fold-out accordion-like paper-made book,  using words, passages of scripture and poetry, with pockets and pull-out cards, to create an endless play of semantic structures and relationships of meanings of significance — an endless abstract but very poignant narrative.  “The book is my explanation of the extravagance of faith—of worship,” says Dyer.  “Extravagant or Credo” is an ingenuous formation on the book that, as we have seen, can come in any form or structure, but Dyer stresses the fundamental principle of the book, which is not the turning of the page, but the transporting of information, which, for Dyer’s purposes, is indefatigable.


As all artists have made clear, the book is an ephemeron, one that we as the human race have made real and given context.  This thoughtful exhibition, in its many altared states, seeks to deconstruct the object of the book, showing that it is not the book that is the substance of religion, civilization, and the passage of time, but we, the civilization that empowers pulp and ink with narrative power. What we find is that the essential quality of the book, its ability to record, to tell a story is still preserved in each of these various artworks.

Jared Lindsay Clark and Makia Sharp (CUAC)



The nature of perception, the artist’s vision and viewer responsiveness is a topic that concerns all of art, in every facet, from every place and time, from every artist, and from every viewer. From a visitor to a gallery or museum in Salt Lake City to a pedestrian standing in front of a public sculpture is a piazza in Torino, Italy. The subject is one that is currently brought to the fore at the CUAC gallery with artists Jared Lindsay Clark and Makia Sharp, whose individual shows “Seer Screens” and “Passing” both question the notion of making and looking, and the transportation that is art’s reality known as “response.” The evocative art objects in both shows are such that cause the viewer to pause and to look, to then consider what they are looking at, and in the advent that they are sensibly connected to the piece, the phenomenon of transporting we call “responsiveness” is the result.


Lindsay Clark is an artist familiar to most in the region and beyond who are knowledgeable of the most forward or “on the cusp” of contemporary artists. Lindsay Clark is an artist to satisfy his audience on many levels, most significantly, the conceptual, intellectual and the sensory. Sharp has recently graduated from BYU with a BFA in painting, and her work will be a pleasing and a welcome experience for those who desire the most forward or “on the cusp” of contemporary artists. As it happens, although different in formal content and conceptual perspectival approaches, the pairing is a pleasing one, whose outer regions of philosophical leanings are in tandem, and one finds a synergy between the two after a thoughtful investigation.


Sharp’s installation requires less of a penetrative effort, and one might glean from her work this philosophical outer crust without too much effort and much pleasure. One of the most enjoyable of the show’s installed pieces is “Untitled,” 2014, Cast Quickrete Cement. At a closer look at what initially looks like a pile of stone rubble, are beautifully smooth and polished cast cement gem shaped structures of various sizes and dimensions. Already, the viewer, in an act of looking and considering, has been transported. A pile of rubble has been seen, and then a closer examination reveals what actually is. After this looking and consideration, for the viewer to see the beauty and find artistic appreciation in a pile of concrete, is a sensible responsive act of transportation on various individual levels.


On the wall above “Untitled,” 2014 is “Haze,” 2014, Mylar, photograph on Lasal (photographic paper). As one looks at the hazy yet transparent sheet of Mylar, one can see that behind it is a rectangle of lavender in the center seemingly floating. In the center, on the Mylar sheet, is a rectangular slit. Here, without the “haze,” one can see from the top that it is white, and towards the bottom the lavender has gradated to a pure hue. Here again, the viewer has looked, considered, and has been transported. Here the viewer has seen the Mylar and considered and looked through it, has seen the lavender and has discovered the pure hue. It is no incredible feat of perception, but a serene and beautiful symbol of the act of the elemental processes of viewer perception and responsiveness. What might be gleaned from this occasion, as is the case with “Untitled,”2014, simple as it might be, requiring only to look and consider, is the realization of truth in the act of transporting. The same can be said of all acts of perception throughout the installation.


As there is so much difference in each of Sharp’s installments, the task is a more apparent one. With Lindsay Clark, and a room of objects that transcend the boundaries of painting and sculpture into one, the dynamics are different, and fantastic. Each of his “Seer Screens” is a Styrofoam box with a glassy plane of lucidly colored transparent epoxy silicon resin. In the case of the polyptych “Primary Boise Sunset Set” 2014, there are a set of four like boxes, but the glassy resin is distinct in each. Here, one can see how Lindsay Clark achieves the most extraordinary color effects in resin as majestic as stained glass windows, yet without context, and purer. Here hues melt into each other in various schemes that cause an immediate connectivity with the viewer and the primordial human sensibility that thirsts for color.  


As one begins to investigate Lindsay Clark’s “Seer Screens” and looks into each box, one find one’s self transported within a beauty contained therein; unlikely color and an apparent magic within each.


And certainly there is a bounty of magic in these “Seer Screens.” In theory, Lindsay Clark has conceptualized two ideas. Firstly, a contemplation of transcendental, mystical aspects of spirituality, and the second, a play on the phenomenon of computer and television monitors that permeate culture. And this may all be digestible to the cognition of the viewer, considering the fundamental act of perception, which allows cognition to occur, making full engagement possible. Looking, considering and transportation (responsiveness), in this case, is not a three-tiered process, but as mentioned, a momentary, immediate one as, “one begins to find one’s self transported within the beauty contained therein.”


The nature of perception and the artist’s vision as well as viewer responsiveness is a monumental subject that can be better understood through examples of the phenomena, as elucidated so poignantly here, in the case of Makia Sharp and Jared Lindsay Clark. We have seen how Sharp’s art is a direct allusion to this philosophical orientation, while for Lindsay Clark’s work, like all art, it is a fundamental aesthetic, achieved in a glance, a moment, and the viewer then focuses on issues relevant to perception that further cultivate sensible responsiveness for the viewer.



“Utah Ties” Juried Exhibition (CUAC)



A January 2014 article by Catherine Craft is a reassessment of a 1970 Whitney Museum exhibition by African American artist Melvin Edwards.  Craft asserts “A reconsideration of Edward’s exhibition reveals its seminal place in art of the period as both an incisive response to the most radical forms of sculpture and installation and as an uncommonly nuanced articulation of social and political issues.” 


With a deliberate choice to ignore any context of “nuanced articulation of social and political issues,” Craft instead focuses the article exclusively on “response to the most radical forms of sculpture and installation,” Craft considers “The rigors of conceptual geometry underlying Edward’s configurations of barbed wire planes and the way he articulated the entire space of the Whitney gallery- ceiling, wall, corners and floors- take minimalism as a point of departure, while his enlistment of an unconventional material yielding undeniably expressive effects align these pieces with those of artists initially associated with the term “anti-form,” who are today considered ‘Post-Minimalist.’”


Exactly one month shy of four years earlier, in the December edition of Art in America 2010, Alexander Gray also wrote on the subject of Melvin Edwards.  He writes that, “Though Edwards work has long been seen as a product of African-American indignation and pride, today, we are able to recognize his sculptures as something more varied.  Shapes by no one exclusive concern documenting either content or form, they occupy a space between sociopolitical narrative and personal expression.”


Seeing the content of these two articles, considering the same artist by the same art publication, one might experience a telling example from the former of what is best expressed contemporaneously as, “A return to formalism.” 


Attending the current juried show now being exhibited at CUAC, “Utah Ties,” I purposefully sought a “tie” I was sure would be descriptive of “Utah Ties.” As I spoke with juror Adam Gildar of Gildar Gallery in Denver for forty-five minutes, based on my initial question, “What did you see, while judging the work (over 500 entries with 52 accepted entries) that seemed distinctive of Utah’s art?”  Gildar alluded to a concentration of works with subjects of advanced formalist composition.  Gildar found that a substantial number of the strongest juried entries had as their strength the bold use of formalism, often as subject.  These would ultimately find their way to acceptance.


What is most remarkable about Gildar’s decisions, not recognizable by him who knows very little of the art of Utah as he associates it with global phenomena; when considering the art of Utah, not only is there is no “Return to formalism,” but we can say with boldness that we never left.  


Ours is a tradition that discovered itself with its very roots of formalist abstraction, although not coinciding- this makes no difference.  This is strongly evident in the works of Minerva Teichert bearing strong formal resemblances to the structural working of Cezanne.  Instead of using chiaroscuro for volume she implied it with shape of hue and tonality.  Maynard Dixon’s latter Utah subjects were galvanized by both plein air impressionist formal technique; an articulation of color responding to light in given conditions and different environments, forever in flux, as it is in reality.  Also an accurate use of cubist structuralism suited the boldness of form he so desired.  The legacy of LeConte Stewart leaves a landscapes tradition with an open door to an array of various post-impressionist formalist semi-abstract techniques for the sake of authenticity to realism in any given condition, at any given location.  With this tradition of formalism, abstracted landscape artists blossomed with the plein air style and a tradition of formalist abstraction, as is seen at CUAC presently.


What Utah had that other art centers lacked was a conservative establishment that demanded painting while the 1980’s saw the “death of painting” universally.  Today, in a most healthy and vigorous environment of painting that is Utah and Salt Lake City, instead of an international scrambling to return to form, the sublime and mystifying beauty in the spirited landscapes of Mark Knudson might be realized by the sensibilities, a total conceptual abstraction by one of the very most gifted of abstracted painters bar none, Darryl Erdman may be enjoyed for its intellectualism, or the metaphysical compositions of Paul Vincent Bernard, a penetrative and indefatigable journey through existential reality, can be appreciated for an unparalleled use of form so finite in exacting line, while so infinite in universal consciousness.


One piece to helps substantiate this Utah “tie” comes from the unique vantage point and quality of art of Sean Moyer.  Moyer is a resident of Utah for 10 years after graduating from outside of Chicago to attend the fine art program at Weber State.  Although only a senior in high school taking senior advanced art classes, he was aware enough of the goings on of the “art world” of Chicago to understand the already well advanced trend of street art, something seemingly ever present in the ultra-urban inner-Chicago. 


In Moyer’s studies at Weber State, he was inspired by a theory introduced by an art exhibition at the New Museum referred to as the “un-monumental.”  The theory of the “un-monumental” is a response to contemporaneous artists and their works of art, considered monumental.  These are such artists as Richard Serra, Marc Quinn, Jenny Holzer, Rachel Whiteread, and Robert Indiana representing the establishment of the contemporary mainstream. 


Found placed centrally at “Utah Ties,” atop a plinth, Moyer’s hyperbolic paraboloid “Silver,” encountered as it were of Waterford Crystal, is an example of “un-monumentality.”  Upon close inspection, the precise angles, the exacting measurements, the tightly adhered planes, and the demanding articulation, is actually sheet plastic joined at each seam by cellophane tape, a structural irony to monumentality.  Furthermore, layering each plastic plane is “privacy tinting” the stuff of windows of limousines and top-of-the-line Mercedes Benzes, this tinting to this already mocked-up crystalline form only further irony.   The artificiality of the celebrity and elitism of monumental artists seeing themselves as monumental, when in reality, we are all fragmented as Moyer’s planes and cellophane.      


A worthwhile departure to a second, even more descriptive piece exemplifying the possibilities of an artist’s maturity of formalism, parts to an abstract whole, but with an essential gravitas, is “Installation of Thirty Sculptures.”  This sculpture of upright twigs, wooden stakes, branches, nubs of sawed wood, even a concrete upright mass, when interconnected by barbed wire, nails, wire, and other metal filament, creates a most unique irony to the monumental establishment. 


English artist Marc Quinn creates a life sized exacting replica of Kate Moss in an extreme yoga posture.  The structure is finely and smoothly articulated ceramic, with the face the very embodiment of Moss’s visage. 


There is no comparison between these two sculptures of one’s beauty to the other.  One is a beauty that is intense, that is organic, that is fierce, to the core is honest, is pure, is massive, is sublime, and the other beauty, it is simply a beauty of complete absurdity.  Of course of the former I address Moyer’s magnificent sculpture in the raw, a sculpture with an outer and inner strength that looks, or to the sensibilities feels, as true, as right, as real as this sculpture actually is.  The Quinn is pure art bunk and insults the intelligence.  Thus a truly unique irony indeed manifested in a sculpture of such ingenuity that defies norms of taste.     


Sandra Brunvand, Roland Thompson, Claire Wilson, Christine Baczec, Laura Sharp Wilson, David Wolske, Camilia Lund, Peter Everett, Jonathan Frioux, Kyle Jorgensen, and Cara Despain are just some of the exceptional artists whose formalist abstraction is most boldly perceptive as weight bearing.  These artists are not monumental, these artists are not “Pop,” or “Street,” or a “return” to anything.  These are unique artists using unique methodologies to creating unique art to perpetuate unique ideologies, vision, personality, individuality, emotion, consciousness, sensitivity, conviction, and being, from each unique expression, utilizing mature, unique form; the tie that binds.        



Darryl Erdmann, Mark Knudsen, Paul Vincent Bernard (Dibble Gallery)


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.


Views of the West: Case, Workman, Handrahan (David Ericson Fine Art)



Three exceptional and important contemporary Utah landscape artists offer disparate and unique artistic visions of the land adopted for the sake of individual passion for wilds of the west and love of the brush alike.  Says David Ericson of David Ericson Fine Art, each “painted what they see and painted what they experience.”  The show at David Ericson’s gallery is “Views of the West,” up through May 17, with ample representation from the three visionary landscape artists: G. Russell Case, Michael Workman and George Handrahan.


G. Russell Case is from Brigham City, studied at Utah State University and Snow College and his father taught art.  Case has painted for 30 years and his paintings bear a close familiarity and connectivity with the land, a personal and intimate connection.  Although the color might at times be bold and the shapes aggressive, as is the case with “A Good View,” there is a softness to the edges and a smoothness to the rough instead of a harsh abrasion, and a comforting warmth to the boldness instead of garish intensity.  His approach to the land, in every case, creates a vision of gentleness imbued by a sensitivity and depth of relationship resonating in the land he paints.  Case paints on-site exclusively and has been an avid fisherman and loves the hunt.  He spends as much time out of doors as possible.  This is attested to by the deep relationship that results in the gentle intimacy that is unique to Case.


Michael Workman hails from Spring City.  He holds an MFA from BYU.  Workman is what is termed a “tonalist,” an artist whose color palette is limited in its spectrum of hue within a limited range of tone.  This does not mute the composition but creates one full of interesting nuance and character otherwise left undetected brought graphically to life.  The artist’s “Old Farm with Boat” is one such image where the limited palette creates expansive interest.  The wispy wintery trees are highly nuanced with a fabric of branches yielding subtle and luxurious ambers and violets.  The rustic quality of the farmhouse is emphasized as is the dividing wall and decaying fence against the arid field.  The effect is nothing short of “picturesque.”


 Kaysville resident George Handraham studied at Weber State and spent many years as an illustrator and as a mapmaker for the US Geological Survey; no small achievement.  He has devoted the past five years exclusively to painting.  His work is decidedly structured, as can be seen in “Superstition Mountain.”  This vigorous picture breaks up craggy form to create an even more intensive mood and feeling of monumentality.  As a follower of the structural work of LeConte Stewart, he is inspired by a Utah form of cubism that, like the prototypical, is deconstruction of form.  But at heart, given his mapmaking at the highest level, he is a craftsman as well as an artist whose work bears the strength of technical structural design expertise in addition to unique vision, as do they all.


Three Ladies From Spring City (David Ericson Fine Art)

Lee Udall Bennion


Lively subjects, rich color, nuanced emotion, exciting composition; from the looks of things, Spring City is no “Smallville” where art is concerned but has influenced three very talented women.  Lee Udall Bennion, Kathy Peterson and Sophie Soprano are each not native to Spring City but now call it home.  Each paint in ways strikingly different and strikingly accomplished suggesting Spring City is a place ripe for artistic inspiration.  The common denominator between these three artists- artistic fecundity; paintings rich and abundant with creative energy.


Lee Udall Bennion’s Canvases explode with stylized subjects expressing vicissitudes of emotion.  Kathy Peterson’s canvases have a warmer, intimate feeling and invite a subtler and more intimate palate of emotional responses through subject and color. Sophie Soprano uses humor to her best devices to elicit bright, full, energetic canvases that amuse or rouse.


An exceptional and exemplary piece in the show is by Lee Udall Bennion (untitled).  A sitter is at a table with her elbows at a “T” and her hands raised to her chin.  On the table is a pot of flowers.  Behind her is a window.  The table is at a perspectival angle to cast a surreal tone, skewed and irregular.  The flowers are tall yet one is distinctly bent and droops at an angle.  The woman is present but emotionally she is absent; she gazes with a vacuous look in her eyes as if caught in a state of being somewhere between pleasure and pain.  The window is situated in a space completely filled with contrasting pattern and texture.  In this painting that could be so direct, nothing is.

8th International Art Competition at the LDS Conference Center


Stephen Barker a caring savior 

The current display of art at the 8th International Art Competition at the LDS Conference Center: Remembering the Great things of God is a bold and vibrant dynamic of over 200 works of artists’ individual manifestations of religious art.  Artists of many nationalities address their own spiritual perspectives and incorporate subject and meaning in a spectrum of art which takes advantage of the broad range of tools and forms available to all contemporary artists.  The result is an art exhibition that is as lively as it is meaningful.


The artistic inventiveness pervasive in the show that allows for a vast freedom of expression to address infinite qualities of spirituality is a unique formula.  This dynamic is generations beyond traditional LDS art which, using works by artists such as Arnold Freeburg, in retrospect seems homogenous and created a latent canon of its own.  Currently, much of the art representing the LDS faith, such as much that is exhibited, might be included with the best of contemporary art and captures spiritual interpretations in ways that may be surprising to many viewers.


The subject matter in “A Caring Savior,” is a surprising when considering art that might be shown at a religious art fair.  Photorealism is a method used often to capture reality at its most brutal, yet despite its gravity, it might also reveal hope that is often hidden in humanity.  Steven Barker of Colorado paints an image that can compete with any photographic essay dealing with a courser side of reality and presents hope, which is the backbone behind all who thirst for salvation.  Here, a woman, surrounded by her cluttered bags which hold her only earthly possessions, in a tattered coat prying into a can of some meager food, faceless behind her lowered hood, sits on a pavement ledge.  Behind her is seen a face of Christ, a Christ who is knowing, who is compassionate, who is real, whose spirit emanates protecting this woman, unbeknownst to her whose heart yearns for this protection and unknowingly receives it. 


The symbolic realism in a digital image by Esther Deborah Benn of Germany, “Light in all Things,” may be contrasted to the gritty realism of the homeless woman and lost multitudes that search for light and truth. Here in a densely wooded forest with a clearing in the trees, darkness is penetrated by a ray of light.  This light, like the hope searched for by the woman, longed for by many who linger in obscurity, is available in abundance with power enough to illuminate a dense forest.    The wanderer, the traveler, the seeker or the woman who is lost who longs for this illumination and possibility, simply have to turn and look; without which, hope fades.


Symbolism, such as light, is abundant in the exhibition, expressing abstract universal and spiritual truths. The figure of Christ, the central being of the LDS Church is absent from most of these works of art.  What is seen ubiquitously is a product of the reality of Christ and the spirituality which he represents; the reality of the salvation that comes through his sacrifice.  “Eternal Family,” by Robby Ray Burton of Florida, a sculpture, signifies all that is good, the mission of Christ as reverenced by the LDS Church in this simple yet exquisite form. Three unified beings hold one another, clad in white carved from alabaster; the purity that may come when the family is united in spiritual oneness. The head of mother and father and interlocking arms embracing the child form a heart like shape; a moving portrait of the core of the best in humanity.   


In a pristine and emotive canvas by Joshua Wallace Jensen of Utah, “The Gathering,” loosely grouped individuals traverse a sloped field, not aimlessly but in a manner which shows submission to something greater and belief and faith and knowledge that that greater power is within sight, is tangible, is real.  Such spiritual messages; this march forward reminiscent of a pioneer heritage, is savory and meaningful to the LDS faith. The sacred subject painted by Gary Kapp of Utah in “A Voice From the Dust,” speaks to LDS members and those interested in the miraculous moment as the prophet Joseph Smith, guided by the Angel Moroni, unearths the Golden Plates. 


People of all faiths, individuals who are in tune with their spirituality will find no dearth of meaning at the Conference Center in works such as David Andre Koch of Utah in his “Journey to Moriah.” The strength in the young girl, with a dirty face and ragged clothing on an arduous journey with her hand in her mother’s, cannot be denied. The eyes of this child tell that hers is a challenging life for one so young but she will see it through.  One does not have to be African or LDS to appreciate “A Family History,” by Carolyn Ida Kolb of California who sculpts an orb-like form where, nestled into this sheltering cocoon is a scene of primitive beauty.  An African mother and child, prior to any advent of difference or separation, personify the intimacy and unity of mother and child and the potential unity of all humanity.


Impassioned art from impassioned souls speak messages of spirituality in inventive dynamics and capture elements that are sacred to Latter Day Saints and to all who believe that there is more to life than the day to day; that which is unseen but believed.  These images are the essence of this exhibition and speak to all who seek for more than the temporal; to those who have faith, as in “A Stop along the Way,” by Carmelo Juan Cututupa Caares of Peru where life has greater meaning and purpose.  Here a man, a worker, and his wife, beautiful yet humble, stand in a plowed field underneath an illuminated sky with colors rarely seen except on such moments of the sublime.  The painting encourages the belief that happiness is attainable in this life and that it is never ending.  “Flight,” by Rose Datoc Dall of the District of Columbia shows the infant Christ with mother and father in flight from Herod to be raised to be the man whom Christians believe lead all to salvation and leads his faithful to eternal joy. 

Experiencing this exhibition, the works encourages viewers to find within themselves value, worth and peace knowing that, like the most humble and faithful such as the man born blind and healed by Christ, depicted by Tyson Snow of Utah in “Whereas I was Blind, Now I See;” all are of that same flesh, of that same being as he, with the power to have vision beyond the temporal and think less of mortality or mortgages; the world or of work; injustice or income taxes; the ego or the economy.  This competition is a healthy reminder that economy is not eternity but that the spirit is universal and for those “Looking Past the Veil,” as painted by Kent Wood of California, will recognize this when they visit this exhibition and find for themselves spiritual realms that have gone dormant and see them rejuvenated once again. 


The example set in a painting by John Zamodio of Peru called “Come Unto Me” professes a message permeating this monumental and portentous exhibition.  The message is simple and unique to every spirit; to submit themselves, give of themselves and explore a deeper sense of one’s own spirituality such as has been so dynamically expressed by so many for the benefit of those of all faiths and all beliefs here in this exhibition.  This 8th International LDS Art Competition is something I highly anticipated, an event that I had foreseen to not only be impressive but be an experience where I would see great art and be moved and awakened to a wealth of spiritual strength. I am not disappointed but awed by what I have seen, thought and felt.



The Poetry of Art: Susan Beck, Bonnie Sucec and Ryan K. Peterson @ Finchlane

Poetry of Art Bonnie Sucec


An uninhibited exploration of meaning and metaphor, within a presentation of abstracted motif and iconography in painting that lacks a clear subject and an absolute purpose, might be best approached as one might a poem.  Those wishing to understand and appreciate such difficult and profound art might do thus in the case with the works of Susan Beck, Bonnie Sucec and Ryan K. Peterson on display at Finch Lane Gallery beginning March 11.  This body of exhibited work cannot be read literally as it defies specific criterion and logical explanation.  A poetic sensibility is not only helpful but requisite in connecting with this collection being charged with content that should be enjoyed for the sake of fluency of meaning that is hidden within a visual labyrinth.  This visual language can be read only in the sense that these artists approach their subjects abstractly with a sense of the narrative that is open and ready to be explored without rational limitation, as one might approach the subject of a poem and thus explore the secrets latent in this language.


“Another hardened expanse, once marked with occasional cairns

Spreads out ahead–mountainless.

The minutia of divots and pimples’

Of furrows and flakes, lead the way.”


These are the words of Susan Beck in response to being asked to describe her work, words which are seemingly as incomprehensible as are her paintings if one is seeking reason.  Beck’s images are intense and apparently lack logic yet are visionary in a certain absurdity.  Her works on show are a series of various media, ink and watercolor, acrylic, mezzotint, pencil; a methodology of approaches that itself lacks an observable rationale.  They are distorted abstracted descriptions of the literal; amorphous, faceless and mutated bodies engaged in incomprehensible purposes.  These images explore themes that support weightier ideas: anxiety, fear, contradiction and meaningless existence.


Distance Looks Our Way is a hand painted relief print that can sustain any number of interpretations as the viewer finds two shadowlike representations approaching a great gulf.  It might be said to be painted as Dante wrote his great poem, with an air of gravity and sublimity that can be greater appreciated as one finds significance in the apparently obscure.  In this expressive ambiance one might feel the universal awe of Van Gogh’s Starry Night yet this is sublimated by the anxiety of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. These states of being render the other void in this visual realm that draws the mind and the eye from one direction to the next searching for reason as one might tied in a strait jacket.  But there is none.  The eye might think it “gets it” but the mind realizes that it doesn’t and gives in to the irrationality.


The idea that the spirit can be rescued even from the direst of life’s distractions is a theme common to art and Beck reflects on this subject in her emotive pen and ink drawing Let Go, Damn It.  The viewer is met with a Goya-like darkness, madness and inhumanity and also with universal ideas of the struggle of existence such as that found in many polemic paintings of William Blake.  Again, the viewer cannot be sure and the reading might be one fundamentally optimistic, of humanism and the capability of humankind; give up or persevere?   But again there is a grappling for reason, a lack of logic which finds the subject locked in an inexorably anxious state; the title of the drawing itself cannot be ignored which spells doom.


The visual playfulness of Bonnie Sucec’s aesthetic, she said, “develops on its own- starting with a fragment- the painting unwinds with twists and turns and seldom a solution.”  Her art is lush and alive and absorbs the viewer who may explore the pastiche of style and motif that have a “joie de vivre” temperament when contrasted to Beck’s.  Like Beck there is no rhyme or reason, only a poetic visual language, yet these works do not imply a helplessness or hopelessness in existence, but are yet a nod to an inherent absurdity.  These gouache prints and oil pastels are again, open narratives that may be followed through an iconography which is itself, absurd.


The Sun and the Moon, a gouache print as lyrical as a sonnet, is a canvas that delightfully compels a sensory reading of the subjects that have no apparent purpose yet to appreciate it invites a liberated sensibility of color and motif.  Sucec’s canvases can be interpreted visually with the sense of mystery and wonder of Marc Chagall with his same enjoyable color cacophonies which enhance the whimsical iconography.  These visual feasts have many tales to tell and can be enjoyed as they free sensory and thus cognitive perception.


The Surrealists of the early twentieth century made ample use of the irrational and the sense of displacement to transcend limits of consciousness.  In like manner Sucec’s Venus in a Half Shell incites the imagination to meander through the inviting imagery such as one would the oeuvre of Surrealist painter Max Ernst whose similar “narratives” lack a beginning, have no middle and will reach no end.  The sensual experience of this visual poetry can give it its raison de être.  These works encourage meaning by avoiding rational interpretation and submitting to depths of consciousness.


Ryan K. Peterson’s work may be the most disturbing of the exhibition with a seemingly absurd quality being difficult to resolve for the average gallery goer.  His body of mixed media is an essay in abstraction with the right amount of visual reference to connect with his audience in a sinister engagement.  Many of his pieces might be described as “grotesque”… “I believe in a collective consciousness so I would like to think others might relate to seeing childhood monsters, stalking predators, metaphorical giants and the curious, not-so-subjective reality behind our eyes,” he said.


Peterson’s imagery and sculpture may invite thoughts of horror in the face of the uncanny as what we see might seem tied to somewhere in the psyche that we find uncomfortable.  It’s Looking for Me is a vision that might resonate with the subject of memory and temporality, but nervously so.  Memories when explored in retrospect are too often not fond ones and the viewer must, as must all, reconcile their peace with their own as Peterson seems to be doing.  Ultimately we cannot escape our own reality Peterson seems to be saying.


Peterson’s most uncomfortable creations are his sculptures Brother’s Bighead which, he said, “are dreams, phobias and personal imagery manifested in sculpture.”  White Big Head is sculpted abstraction that is ironic and ugly and makes no sense outside of a liberal engagement with it.  White Big Head is Peterson reconciling reality as he has experiences it and believes others do as well.  “The world can be a troubling place for me.  I see the suffering of various life forms around me and I resent those who inflict it.  I even tend to resent life itself for allowing it,” Peterson said.  Like the work of sculptor Louise Bourgeois, in this absurdity can be found reality, traces of the real confronting us and our own reality with a crafty gaze in this manifestation of Peterson’s psychology.


This intensive aesthetic engagement found in the careful observation of the work of Beck, Sucec and Peterson is a meaningful experience offered to the viewer that cannot be attempted to be understood with any degree of the absolute.  Beck’s visionary works transcend being, Sucec’s canvases explore imagination and consciousness while Peterson’s works challenge reality, all in ways that transcend, explore, and challenge standardized notions of aesthetics.