“Church and State” (UMOCA)

lee

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.          

Corinne Geertsen (Springville Art Museum)

Picnic

What is narrative art? In the 15th century, Alberti wrote his treatise Della Pittura dedicated to the highest form of art, the historia, or the history painting, what has been traditionally known as narrative. In the days of the early academies, prior to the 20th century, such as the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, a hopeful nominee was required to paint an historia in the traditional sense, to gain admittance. Since the era of Modernism, and the advent of non-representational art, the notions of what a narrative can be have become more flexible, and have become malleable to the experience of conceptually understood or transcendently experienced art, where narrative is relational to understanding and the projection of meaning. Today, where there lacks a discourse and a work of art stands alone, as being in time is a paramount subject for the contemporary artist, narrative is not only a common tool, as it had been in the quattrocento, but a common theme to explore the parameters of in a post-historical context.

 

Making use of narrative is common for many Utah artists who employ narrative means in a more overt language, to imply that a story in the literal sense is occurring. There are many popular Utah artists whom employ such means. It is most often the case, that the artist is focused on the present, with scenes that might be farcical, but tend to be comprehensible, even if fantastical, with little of substance, little of meaning, little of real value, to concern the viewer, or connect the viewer with the past or future. In the case of these artists, it is their subjects, that tend to be gimmicky absurdity, and not refined surrealism, that are the driving force of their work. In this case, a narrative by such an artist, might become static, and loose much of the narrative aspect, as the viewer is caught in the moment of the here and now, without any universal meaning or substance with which the viewer might feel engaged.

 

How is the viewer engaged? An investment in one’s sensibilities into the content being viewed is a sure way to evoke a sense of engagement, and this is just what artist Corinne Geertsen does with sensitivity, finesse and a sense of humor, in canvases that she creates with a technique she calls digital photo collage. The artist, who grew up in Montana, studied drawing and painting at BYU, with a BA and an MFA, states that her works are “visual narratives about psychological situations.”

 

The difference is clear in “Picnic,” which is not really a picnic, but certainly as bucolic as any picnic should be, albeit on a tiny desert island, a desert island so small, it can fit its only inhabitants, the great lioness, gazing out to sea, and reclining on a bamboo mat, while reclining upon her, is a young girl. She is perhaps 12, and rests her elbow comfortably on the head of the lioness and her head on her palm, and wearing a lovely and bright pea green frock. This girl with chestnut hair stairs with the gaze of eternity into the eyes of the viewer. Behind each is the only other object that can possibly inhabit this small space, a palm tree.

 

Certain qualities about this image grip the sensibilities like a vice, taking hold and, stopping one in one’s path, causes the viewer to question who and what and where and why and when… and how? Most certainly the surreal element of the very lovely scene causes this line of question… it is nothing but impossible and only fantastical, and so much so that it causes a sense of detachment into its own reality that the viewer hopes to understand. The lioness is so at ease on her island, but how did she get there and why is she so content to stay? But it is the girl, resting atop the lioness, whom gives rise for such quizzicality. Why is this young girl, with a pale face and dark eyes in her Sunday best, sitting atop this lioness, and why does she have a look in her dark eyes so utterly tranquil that the viewer is sure she has been there since the beginning of time and will remain to see it through so content is she?

 

Here Geertsen has created a surreal word from which the viewer is totally detached, but evoked by certain signifiers causing certain sensibilities to transgress this detachment, such as a curious feeling of “otherness,” a sense of something present yet at the same moment distant, a feeling of timelessness, yet without being able to catch hold of any fragment of it, confrontation so close yet with a displacement as distant as the sea itself, and a wanting to get a grip on the reality of it and knowing that is a fruitless impossibility, and ultimately, having to let it simply be so.

 

A lesser sense of the impossible is evoked with “Tornado,” yet still, a sensibility of wanting to get a grip on the actuality of it possesses the viewer. A young girl in a dark violet frock dress sits restlessly in the center of a cushioned bench of teal green. Could she be a grandmother, a great-aunt in adolescence? Her historical presence is palpable felt yet genuinely brought to the present to incorporate the surreal space in which she herself has been displaced to. To her left is a painting; a large baroque gilded frame surrounds a composition with shrubs, a large sky, and a sinewy tornado. To her right is a much larger window. It is closed, and beyond, is another whirling tornado. Again, in this painting, there is a sense of surreal timelessness, of a duration that exists somewhere outside of time. Memory and recollection create meaning, filling in the canvas, giving life to the girl, and giving space to the sealed room by going beyond the window and connecting the phenomena inside the painting and outside the room. Again, it is the viewer sensibilities that respond to the indicators of the image, allowing for impossibility while acknowledging the possibility of the powers of cognition, of memory, of recollection, of attachment, connectivity, and the power over detachment.

 

As one approaches the pieces with a certain power of authority, that the sensibilities are not powerless, but have a place in this surreal discourse, that this surreality can come to life for sensible cognition, an entirely surreal canvas such as “Clouded” can become accessible, albeit distilled, as always, in its own reality and time. In “Clouded,” we see a woman standing tall astride a flying carpet. She is wearing a Victorian black dress, and her head, quite literally, is in a cloud. As surreal as this might be, as removed from one’s own reality as this canvas may be, one may find a connection with the flight of freedom, and relate the Victorian sensibility of the woman whom before the age of suffragettes has her shoulders bared, and her head in the clouds. A canvas such as “Grand Tour” does not need to be so far away. Again, agreeably, it exists in its own surreality, this baby astride a tiger, holding a Japanese parasol, both astride a large tractor tire, marching steadily onward. Yet the viewer need not question who, what, where, when, why, and how… but may join in the journey with them, feel the excited vigor of this baby who peers forward, and get “lost” in this narrative as one is intended to, as the viewer finds their access to memory, to recollection, to meaning, to adventure, to wonderment, to excitement, and to possibility, as the narratives of Corinne Geertsen become engaging, accessible, and if only for a few moments, entirely possible.

 

When Words Weren’t Enough: Works on Paper From Topaz, 1942-1945 Topaz Museum

the distant camp

The development of a society within a particular geographic location with given demographic factors is never without pitfalls. The factors that have affected the development of our own society are unique, and in many cases triumphant; but even though our desert has been transformed into a thriving civilization, Utah has its own cultural and demographic blemishes. One of those is the World War II internment camp at Topaz, tucked away in the desert near Delta. Such a blemish cannot be hid, but must be made known, for the dignity of the lives affected, and for the standards of humanity of those to come. This has been the mission of Jane Beckwith, who has spent decades trying to raise awareness about this part of our history. Her crowning achievement is the newly realized Topaz Museum, which opens this month with a fine art exhibit curated by art historian Scotti Hill.

 

Just after Pearl Harbor, the 70% of Japanese Americans who lived in California were given 10 days to liquidate their assets  and, only with what they could carry, were taken to internment centers. At Topaz, in an area with just a 1 ½-mile radius,  8,500 detainees were housed in unfurnished communal barracks where they were subject to bitter cold and dust storms. Worst of all, according to Hill, might have been “the psychological and emotional stress involved when your government labels you an enemy to your country.”  Families, however, were allowed to live together, and detainees could attend school, were treated at hospitals, had access to libraries, theaters, and a job. This was not Auschwitz, but each detainee had their freedom taken from them as well as their way of life.

 

Jane Beckwith became intensely interested in Topaz in 1982, when she asked her journalism students to research what she thought was an important part of U.S. history and discovered that few of her students knew about Topaz and the other Japanese internment camps. “From that time on, my interest in the complexity of the subject led from one project to another, until now the Topaz Museum Board [of which she is president] has purchased 634 acres of the original site and has constructed a building to house the museum.”

 

The Topaz site is the most intact of the original 10 internment camps and looks much like it did in the late 1940s when the buildings, guard towers, utility poles, water tower and water pipes were removed from the site. For more than a decade the camp has been open to visitors. And now a museum in nearby Delta will chronicle the lives of those who lived in Topaz.

 

As the project developed, says Beckwith, “Japanese Americans started sharing with me their stories about what it was like to live in Topaz. The stories were fascinating and complex given that we live in the U.S… People who were in Topaz had something they wanted to say, and they wanted the Topaz Museum to record their memories.”

 

With financial assistance from the National Park Service, the Topaz Museum Board purchased land on Delta’s Main Street and, in 2013, constructed a museum designed by Alan Kawasaki, principle of Shah Kawasaki Architects, Oakland, whose family, the Hayashidas, lived on Block 7 at Topaz.  Sparano and Mooney Architects and Darin Mano of RAW Design completed drawing for the 8,000 sq. ft. building situated at 55 W. Main St.The opening of the museum, on Jan. 13, has waited only on the final installation of the impressive exhibits.

 

Among the artifacts the museum has amassed are 95 pieces of art painted at the Topaz Art School, run by Chiura Obata, the UC Berkeley professor of art who was detained there.  From among these, Hill has curated an exhibition of works on paper, a primary Japanese art medium, entitled “When words weren’t enough: Works on paper from Topaz, 1942-1945.”

 

Hill has chosen to focus on five major artists from the camp, working in five mediums (watercolor, ink, woodblock printing, gouache and color casein) hoping the public will recognize and respond to the art as “giving [these] people a reason to look forward to life.” For the artist, Hill has a sense that there was some urgency, a feeling that,  “If I don’t record this, maybe it will be forgotten.”

 

One of the primal urges in these artists, one which created some of the most potent art, was the desire to express the situation of the camps. For artist Minè Okubo this meant an emotionally brutal rendering of the harshest of human conditions. In her “Mother and Child-Telephone Poles,” the figures are expressed with an exaggerated geometry and hyperbole of various parts to the whole, not to arouse sympathy, but to convey the extent of the state of suffering.  Heads are in a gross state of proportion as if the mind has been pushed to its limit, eyes are minute, and in the girl’s case doubled, showing a myopic view on the world and an unclear vision nearly cut off, forced to live in one’s mind.  The feeling of anxiety is extreme as the mother wrings her hands and the daughter clings to her and the state of unknowing is echoed in the telephone poles which stand as symbols complicit with barbed wire and are on both the inner and outside of the wall and have apparently no end and provide no answers to the state of madness the mother and child are left in.

 

Most of the works in the exhibit are not as dramatic as “Mother and Child” but still depict the unsettling circumstances of the internment centers. The majority show the immediate surroundings of Topaz, and though some may appear as somewhat prosaic, the setting gives many a charged undertone. The trees, barracks, two figures, and collared dog of Charles Erabu Suiko Mikami’s watercolor, for example, are all straightforward and non-threatening, but the title — “Watching over the camp, Dog with Collar” — gives the work a touch of irony when seen near Chiura Obata’s “Guard Towers and Mt. Swasey.” Setsuko Nagata Kanehara’s “Block 7,” with its lack of fences or guard towers and its light, attractive colors, could almost seem idyllic.  But another work by the same artist, “Laundry,” is a no-nonsense representation of concentration- camp life.  This is no summer holiday or vacation resort but a severely regimented institution, one in which there was strict and absolute rule and regulation, and a no-nonsense attitude toward life.

 

Though the physical aspect of the camp and its immediate surroundings were the subjects of many of the works done by the detainees, the Topaz artists were also well involved in expressive abstraction and the themes of the camp were well internalized by the artists and made powerful subjects. Okubo’s “Poles and Fences Part 1” is a hauntingly brilliant expressive abstract work that uses bright color with westernized symbols to create a bold statement.  Her colors are bright and she uses various tones of green, pink, and taupe to create a canvas that in and of itself suggests very little other than abstract color and vertical spaces, but when we see the same telephone poles that appear in her “Mother and Child” drawings arranged in a crucifix-like pattern, the effect is transfixing.

 

As might be expected, some of the more sophisticated approaches to the camp experience can be seen in the many images by professor Obata.  In his “The Distant Camp” there is a harmonic rendering of a purple mountain far in the distance, and a mystical haze that seems as if a reminder of traditional landscape, a reminder of the peaceable home life and tradition; this is disturbed, though, by the semblance of the jagged form of the camp and the piece’s title Painted in 1942 when Obata first arrived, the painting may express the anxiety of the unknown, connecting the peace of traditional Japanese landscape with the ugliness and contradictory state of existence that is the internment camp.

 

His “Guard Towers and Mt. Swasey” also harks back to a long history and tradition. It is hard to imagine any mountain in and around Delta, Utah, looking more like Mount Fuji than Mount Swasey does in this painting, and it is hard to imagine any Japanese painter, while painting Mount Swasey, painting it without some allusion to the most painted mountain in the world. But again, we find a painting that reads on many levels.  Here we see what is ostensibly an allusion to the artist’s native land, but what is being realized is a crossroads in culture, in reality, in the reality of art and humanity.  That the days of tradition and harmony are no longer, that the days of painting Mount Fuji, whatever the modern condition, are long past .

 

The reality of injustice, told in this history, is what the Topaz Museum seeks to preserve and to propagate. The opening of this important museum, and its inaugural exhibits will provide a hope that the truth of this blemish will not be forgotten, and that life where unity of community and respect for cultural difference will always find value.

Matthew Allred (UMOCA)

Allred

 

Heliography, the 2013 solo exhibition at Finch Lane Gallery that introduced Matthew Allred to a wide Utah audience, was both revealing and limiting: it revealed an engaged mind with the ability to physically encapsulate abstract spatial and temporal concerns; but that single exhibit could not possibly begin to contain the ideas that are present in the mind and sensible perception of the artist. Clinamen, a current installation of the artist’s work at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA) is more comprehensive and thorough, although not complete. It is a demonstration of the cognitive conceptualizations of the artist, as he grapples with subjects that create his reality and introduce to his realization ideas of scale and measurement and how we, and he, might understand reality through tactile contemplation. His work is incredibly nuanced, yet vastly infinite in its implications, and is an important and valuable contribution to the critical understanding and artistic dialogue that it perpetuates.

 

So much of art history cogitates temporality by capturing immediacy and the moment. Allred’s single point perspectives in Heliography — photographic images exposed for days, weeks, and months — are the polar opposite to this viewpoint, yet they document reality as much as the immediacy of time. The artist says it explores in a temporal scale what is normally the purview of cinematography —  time lapsed — and condenses it into a single image. Instead of a fragment of time, he says, “this is the mass inclusion of time, 24 hours, six months. What you are seeing is the motion of the earth’s rotation.”

 

There is an element of the ephemeral to this mass condensation of the 4th dimension, and this is the “mark of decay as these images are recorded, these large gestures of time,” states Allred.  For example, “Heliograph 12-0612-009” (2012), has a trace image of a mountain to the distance and an industrial railing running through the fore silently, but in fact one can see the resonation of six months: the deep indentations of the many courses of sunlight passing through at so many degrees, the marks of weather that leave a palette of color, and the chill of the atmosphere that leaves the piece beautifully hushed.  By contrast, “Heliograph 11071602” (2011) is but one day.  The landscape looks alien, with tall forms and abstract space, but critical is the clarity of the clear blue sky, the darkening of the horizons, and one bold beam of light streaking its way through.  One day in the life of the sun.

 

Clinamen at UMOCA revisits Allred’s Heliography series and expands the dialogue from where that series left off. Had one only seen Heliography, one might think temporality was the extent of Allred’s fascination with universal elements. This is the essential reason of the importance of the comprehensibility of the installation.Exoplanets, the second series on display at UMOCA, has nothing to do with temporality, but there is a distinct commonality between the two series, with regard to play of scale and proportion — in the case ofHeliography with time, in the case of Exoplanets, size and distance.

 

In Exoplanets, each of the small circular photographs (of what look to be planets of various sizes and elements) appear, at first glance, to be quite genuine; but after further perception makes a bold statement, the viewer finds that these are instead Allred’s representations of planets —  actual planets, outside our solar system, discovered through visual detection, but whose actual appearance is unknown. “We know something exists,” Allred says, “but we really don’t know what we’ve only glimpsed.”

 

Instead of examining the universe on a temporal scale, in Exoplanets Allred is intrigued by our understanding of physical scale. Since the planet exists light years away, we can only know it through an instrument, and then only vaguely. So Allred has used another instrument, the microscope, an inversion of the telescope, to create what can only exist for us in the imagination. Using the most elemental reductions of textures, pattern, contour, rhythm and color he finds in everyday objects, he creates a credible representation of a massive, though distant, object. But, according to Allred, his experimentation is not fragmented from the truth, and his use of scale is not a simple play of form. The artist brings up the notion of fractal geometry and that, as he says, “molecules are created in a similar fashion as universes. I am looking down towards the minutia and up towards the grandeur. It is a question of microcosmic vs. macrocosmic.”

 

Finally, in a scale that is all encompassing and entirely universal, Allred’s last series, Atlatl, explores destruction and creation, their essential relation to all conceivable order, and the state of flux in reality. The primary piece, “Eta Carinae” (2014), is the first in a cycle of analogue photography — light sensitive materials  exposed to fire or explosions. “This piece is named after a famous nebula, the birthing ground for stars, matter, and elements,” he says. “There is a sensitivity here that is being surpassed and abused. I really like that ‘Idea’ on a grand scale. I wanted to mimic the ideas of stars exploding, kind of destroying space and then recombining through chemical processes. The entire thing is alive.  The piece is alive since the paper is still sensitive to light. It’s still in flux as well.”

 

Allred’s fascination with the elemental basics of photography has led him to an expansive exploration of time, space and understanding. The tools of his trade allow him to explore universal ideas, to bring the expansive nature of the universe into the four walls of a gallery or museum. These ideas are powerful and they are real and they are genuinely discovered organically in the mind and through the method of the artist as he works from phase to phase. One can only admire his integrity, learn from his understanding, and look forward to the fruits of his future, which, at 30, has just begun to reveal the deeper colors of life, and manifest the palette of what lies ahead.  

Jason Manley (CUAC)

jason10

 

From his MFA thesis experience at the University of Arizona, Jason Manley says he learned the distinction between what can be represented physically and what remains ineffable — what transcends the structure, the material, and, in the most literal sense, the concrete. Over the period of several months, Manley documented his day-to-day experiences in writing while adding a layer of paint to represent each. Over the course of the month, the layer of paint was thick, purely substance, one layer lost to the last, while the reality of the memories in writing remained.  

 

Ten years later, his current show at CUAC is aptly titled “Paved Forest,” and in it Manley draws a metaphorical parallel between the literal realms of an actual forest and the cognitive forest that is the consciousness of the mind.  Parallels are being drawn here between what can be defined in literal, absolute terms, and what transcends that to the more abstract, intangible states of being.

 

When the visitor to CUAC enters the physicality of the gallery space, encroaching upon the artificial world created by the artist, they become the mythical figure lost in the wood, a cognitive forest that generates thought and hopefully leads to truth.  There are conundrums along the way, but these are a good thing, leading to the exercising and illumination of the mind.

 

“Double Gulp Light” lights the way into this paved forest of the mind.  Perched upon some rock-like formation made out of concrete, a plastic “Double Big Gulp” cup purchased from a 7-Eleven convenience store, has been turned upside down, painted white, and lit from within. This rock, at least six feet in the air, is held by five strong and straight rods of iron that only at the bottom begin to take turns and irregular curls and shoot off into unpredictable and various directions.  What is the forest traveler to make of this?  Plastic.  Consumerism.  Throw-away culture?  The most elemental fabric of the capitalist western world might be the “Double Big Gulp.” It stands upon the foundation of our consumerist society… from Walmart to Gucci, from Costco to Whole Foods, from AT&T to Rocky Mountain Power. One rod might stand for money, the other power, the next greed, the other lust, the last desire. That is the physical and the tangible, or oneway of seeing it clearly.  What we don’t see is reality. We don’t see the underpaid mother of four doing a double shift at Walmart, we don’t see the leather worker working with his hands for 12 hours without rest for Gucci, or the monopolistic box stores crushing small businesses. That is reality that cannot be seen and transcends physicality.

 

Around the bend on a large drywall is what at first appears to be a gargantuan record label made out of stone lettering and identifying a Schumann symphony “Schumann (record label).”  And indeed it is a gargantuan record label made out of stone lettering identifying a Schumann symphony.  And with exacting precision, the stone-concrete has replicated every detail, except there is no label, and no record, only wall. Here, the visitor is found awestruck.  Thinking to that very symphony.  Thinking of the very full emotional resonant sounds that would be heard that take the mind on emotional journeys experienced cognitively.  Nothing but pure sound and each time listened to, another emotional, cognitive journey.  But here is stone, concrete: bold, rough, ugly even, dry and raw rock, made out of concrete, with crevices and imperfections.  This is the tangible remnant left of the loved symphony and all there is to be found of it.  Is this reality?  Is this bitter pill that will soon crumble and decay reality, or is the emotional, cognitive experience, albeit different every time, enchanting and pure, is that which transcends this rubble, reality? 

 

The visitor almost stumbles over a rock in the path. But this is no ordinary rock, but the like-material of stone-concrete, made into a structure of letters, and these letters spell out words, and these words spell out a phrase, repeated over and over again: “Out of Sight. Out of Mind” Out of sight, out of mind, out of sight, out of mind. The letters are carefully stacked into a thin wall. Often they are turned upside down. This seems puzzling: a phrase so nebulous — out of sight, out of mind — repeated over and over, often haphazardly, in this wall of ugly raw rock-cement.  What is the point to it all?  Here, robbed of any meaning it might have, the visitor suspects this wall represents the basest materiality of this already banal phrase.  With its crude rendering and crude assemblage, the visitor is reassured, and is sure that this, even though it seems it could weather the sands of time, is no reality, that this is purely substance, and any traces of reality are to be found in language, in the utility of “out of sight, out of mind,” the meanings transported, and not this stasis, this state of semi-permanent decay that will ultimately see its end. The reality is in the language.  That is where the truth is to be found.

 

Now in the heart of the forest, the visitor is obscured by an assemblage of word compilations, made out of the same essential stone-concrete. But there seems to be some rhyme or reason here, even if the assemblages are disparate and detached from the other… somehow the visitor feels attached by the reason and logic to be discovered by meaning alone, the very reality of it, even if their stone prison is only an avatar to their display, holding them captive in the heart of this cognitive forest. The first of the “Paved Forest (sculpture series)” reads “The tangle of the forest in his hair. The silence of the woodland.”  To the visitor, even on what looks like a crumbling slab of pumice, this evokes poetic thought.  The next reads, “To flee full speed through the forest across fields to house windows.”  This is very transporting to the visitor, who can feel the reality of the meaning transcending the ugliness of the stone-concrete shell that holds its beauty. The next is astonishing and makes the visitor gasp for air: “An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest the air was warm thick heavy sluggish.” These words resonate with such a real power within the visitor; here in the density of the forest, that no stone-concrete could compete with… that is only ephemera… this is reality.  Further: “lays open before the mind terrified depths trembles before the gaze like a dizzy forest and in which one hears the crackling of dead branches…” Now a terror is beginning to seize the visitor so real has this reality begun to close in on the mind in this cognitive forest.  Finally, “that wild heathen Nature of the forest never subjugated by human law nor illuminated by higher truth.”  Now the visitor feels the apex of the journey has been reached.  That the truth of the language of the reality of the forest has been learned and the visitor is calmed. 

 

But before the visitor can leave there is one more assemblage.  It reads: “colossal thicket that is to say something solitary as a tomb as impenetrable as a forest as peopled as a city quivering like a nest somber like a cathedral fragrant like a bouquet.” The visitor has learned the reality beyond the seemingly immutable stone-concrete substances that are only there to serve the purpose of reality. And that reality is universality, all consuming, all truthful. 

 

In the clearing in the wood, the visitor comes upon a large red box.  “Forest (Interior)” is where there is to be found reality.  It seems unprepossessing, like a Coca-Cola machine with no signage, completely quotidian and the like-substance of “Double Gulp Light.”  Yet the visitor is compelled by a light from behind to look inside.  The visitor looks up, looks down, looks from side to side and from every angle, and all that can be seen is eternity, eternity everywhere.  Here lies the truth, and that is the secret of the reality of the forest that transcends all, even the forest itself.  

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

Altared

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.

“Utah Ties” Juried Exhibition (CUAC)

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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.        

 

 

Namon Bills (Alice Gallery)

 

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When norms of limitation are broken by someone doing something exceptional, this is unique.  Namon Bills is an exception to quotidian norms of the professional curator. Driven, not by ambition, but to curate solely based on strong convictions, his desire has transformed into a devotion for something he is now expert.  Call him amateur, he does not mind.  “I like the word amateur,” says Bills unapologetically.  “I learned that it comes from the root words for ‘love of’ and I like that.  I like the word amateur.” 

 

“I have always wanted to be an artist, but curation came organically and developed on its own,” says Bills.  This development was grounded “on strong convictions” that have come to affect every aspect of his curatorial process.  This involves freedom encouraged of each artist, involvement from all throughout the project, and an overall spirit of unity.  Bills relates, “One of the most exciting things for me as a curator is to come up with ideas, and then find what the artists come up with- to let them take it and run with it- to see their creativity in a way they choose to interpret the concept and where they choose to take it.”

 

For such reasons Bills’ current show “That Thing You Hate” at the Alice Gallery is his seventh major curatorial group show, dating to his very auspicious beginnings with “The State Street Project” in 2008.  Fundamental to this success and each subsequently is a core concept for the project.  A gestalt experience results from Bills’ work, as each show functions on more than form, but on an idea that creates a fabric of meaning.

 

In the current show, three artists were paired with three other artists, the first group being the mentees, the second the mentors.  Each of the mentees: Namon Bills, Linnie Brown and Justin Wheatley, were to consider an artistic type outside of their comfortable milieu.  Says Bills “We each chose something that we see as having value but don’t like to do, but we recognize that if we were to dedicate ourselves to this thing it would probably be useful for us.”  The mentors chosen were Jeff Pugh, Chris Terry and Casey Childs. 

 

One of the most striking compositions of the show is Jeff Pugh’s “Flooded Field.”  Pugh has a singular manner of creating lush canvases thick with rich hue using a technique synonymous with his name that lends him his distinction.  Elementally, Pugh has an affinity with geometry, and as bold as are his colors and as vast as are his vistas, they are characteristically reduced.  There is a lack of nuance, and what we see are exciting shapes and motifs that are closer in style and substance to Paul Cezanne than they are to LeConte Stewart. 

 

One result of this collaboration is Bills’ “Plane.”  No landscape could be more different to Pugh’s.  Bills’ is, true to his nature, experimental, and reductive on a different level completely.  Bills’ work universally functions as responded to visually evoking cognition.  Here, two planes, a larger upper plane that is five sixths of the canvas of powder blue gradates to white towards the bottom.  The bottom hits a horizon line straight and horizontal one sixth of the canvas.  Its tones of green and patches of blue are varied.  This is neo-Minimalism at its boldest and with it comes a strong response.

 

 

“Unveil” is a stunning figurative composition by Childs.  She beautifully leaves her brushwork open, enough to convey a striking and definite figure, but allows a multiplicity of responses from viewer emotional and cognitive sensibilities.  Most striking are the contrasts.  The background is teal blue, rough and coarse, thus accentuating the softness of the skin of the sitter that is rendered in shades of ivory and milky white and pale.  This in turn accentuates the deep chestnut hair with dispersed streaks of red incorporated and pulled back in a flare of chestnut brown and crimson red.  In the classical style the model has her lower portion loosely draped, but here, even bolder contrasts are rich folds of pomegranate red.  It is a marvelous portrait rendered in a classic mode with splashes of contemporary flavor. 

 

How does any of this translate into the mixed medial figural post-Modern works of Linnie Brown?  Brown’s style is very much her own, but most certainly the mentorship was a successful one.  Displayed are unique creations of mixed media with only portions of hand drawing, yet all of Brown’s works succeed in the academic requirements of figural rendering.  “Figure #26” is intriguing; as goes contemporary mixed media, this work stands alone.  It is a brilliant play of raw materials using only the barest traces of the hand, and compiled into form remarkably like Kurt Schwitters getting a hold of paper dolls.  Although left to the pure medium of collage, the subject is rendered fluidly with a high degree of naturalism.

 

From still life virtuoso Christopher Terry comes a work of technical near-perfection “Fluorescent Halo.”  Not a minutia of detail is left to the imagination but every fragment is rendered with a draftsman’s precision.  The folds on the tablecloth have a satiny sheen, the reflection of this sheen is seen on the glass smooth floor, the objects on this table are set perfectly arranged and ordered centrally and the “fluorescent halo” casts the ideal light to create the illusions of depth, light, shadow and space. 

 

Although not one to choose still life as a preferred artistic type, Wheatley’s “Camille’s Kenmore” is so compelling, it might initiate a new direction for the artist.  Wheatley uses as his subject a vintage sewing machine that, true to his signature form, has palpable gravity and weight.  Instead of shying away from the example of Terry, Wheatley meets it, albeit in his own manner.  The two compositions are not dissimilar, each have a central squared structure occupying the central lower half of the canvas on a flat smooth surface and bold play of light above.  Using this formula and appropriate precision, Wheatley creates a backdrop of smoky white, lit from either side, and not from above.  The focal shape is rendered with accuracy and exactitude, but Wheatley is not aiming towards illusion, he is seeking the reality of the piece.  He focuses, like a neo-Cubist, on the many planes of the machine set at various angles and differentiated only by contrasting intensities of tonality, lending a Modernist lack of similitude and implied depth; an analytic approach decidedly not of traditional illusionistic representation.

 

The concept is not esoteric, but meaningful in the manner the artist is motivated to traverse beyond their sphere of comfort, to transcend their personal boundaries, and attempt something new and expansive.  This raison d’être, the fundamental quality of Bills’ curatorial projects, is a benefit to the artist unique from the benefit of the patron.  These are opportunistic challenges to self-imposed norms of artistic and aesthetic limitation enabling growth and liberation.                    

 

 

Eva Speer (CUAC)

Eva Speer

Artists typically concern themselves over a final product, an end result, a finish to their piece.  Leaving aside the Michelangelo’s and the Matisse’s of the histories who were synonymous with the habitual leaving bare of space or marble, the common practice and aim of an artist is finitude in work when often knowing when to stop can be a difficult balance to strike.  There is an art that is aimed at the very “leaving bare” that looks nothing like a Michelangelo or a Matisse but has everything to do with space and that which concerns art phenomenologically.  The work to be considered is by Portland, Oregon artist Eva Speer, showing currently at CUAC in “Soothsayers,” through August 10, for whom no painting ever reaches a finished product or an ultimate aim and can hardly be said to have a beginning.

The existentiality of art phenomena is featured in this body of work.  Like conventional existentialism Speer’s work deals with phenomena such as temporality.  Within this temporality it uses variables to address flux and change.  Within this continuum it is an indefinite entity with no absolute way of being as it exists in many forms for the artist in a space that is as phenominologically conditional as time.

The works come in groupings.  The first are abstractly neon colored grids of lozenge shapes that form matrixes.  The work here has not quite reached full fruition and is certainly nothing complete.  One might think of Sartre and the phrase “existence precedes essence.”  Indeed these grids were phenominologically non extant before Speer imbued in them the character they now have, a character that is in a stasis of hypothetical growth, on a temporal continuum that will continue to be, and, as the artist would have the viewer believe, has no end to its being, a character that suppositionally will continue to evolve.

The next set is multi layers of plexi-glass with space between and perforated across the entire surface.  For this series we might throw out Sartre’s phrase as these art objects represent flux and always were and always will be.  Speer is an artist whose existential vision for the phenomenology of art is transcendental and neither artistically finite nor artistically nihilistic.  She invites the transcendental notion in her postulated phenomena of form that art has a core reality, something beyond the worldly artificial towards something more like Heidegger’s dasein, but nothing reminiscent of the absolute.  In this regard, theoretically, the phenomenon of art is fully able to manifest as boldly as the day-glo colors.

A final grouping is a set of wall sculptures not too different than the last but these have a layer of miniature balls at the bottom looking like strata of packaging material.  Here Speer’s work assumes a subject in the manner one might be assumed from nature.  It is metaphorical and elemental and the conditions are met and the work fully realized in a phenomenologically minimalist context by the receptive subjectivity of the viewer who understands its being-as-art in the fullness of the phrase.  Speer’s work is thus a highly successful exploration of the existential phenomenology of art.

J. Kirk Richards: Utah Biennial: Mondo Utah (UMOCA)

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“…the exhibition demonstrates how Utah has produced its own visual language within our country’s cultural puzzle,” is a statement from the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art on its mission for Utah’s Biennia, Mondo Utah.  This commentary refers to critical gleanings that may be reached with comprehensive evaluations of the work.  This exhibition is all about Utah’s traditional parallel types, says museum Senior Curator of Exhibitions Aaron Moulton, and these in turn cause intersection, creating new hybrids, thus advancing on a distinctly Utahan artistic contemporary landscape.  One prominent Utah artist doing just this is the ever-adventurous, well-known, spiritualist local artist J. Kirk Richards, whose work is perpetually a hybrid of intersection.

 

In an incredibly impressive wall installation “Untitled (Cristo Series)” the artist employs portraits that are an intersection; they present a hybrid of traditional representation of traditional subject matter using acute degrees of reductive minimalist abstraction.  This is in no way a pastiche of over 160 portraits but a mélange of surprising miniature portraits of Jesus Christ.  These are hung magnificently in wall collage format, only the larger having frames, and make the very best use of space with very little left between the mass assemblage.  The spiritually devotional image is the essential heritage subject of Utah art, which for the Utah establishment, is sacred.  The critical methodology of the exhibition introduces to Richards’ work a consciousness of intersecting phenomena producing new phenomenon that engages an invigorating, fresh, starkly abstract, deeply personal interpretation on the establishment.

 

One influence on this project is conceptual artist Francis Alys who has collected a mass number of reproduced images of a 4th century female Christian saint based on a late 19th century prototype by French academic painter Jean-Jacques Henner with slightly differing styles and media but almost all the same facing left and red mantle red mantle model.  This can have a generalizing effect on the subject, inuring the identity of the saint to the audience, whose identity becomes objectified ornamentation, without the kind of divinity generally imparted to the sanctity and individuality of the saint herself.

 

The opposite is true of Richards.  Surprising is the abstracted and minimalistic reductive approach to each of 160 pieces allowing Richards to create 160 clearly distinctive images of Christ, each one different in essence to the next.  All have raw, telltale signs of Christ.  On one is a sketchy head of hair and beard with coarse remnants of a penetrative eye.  On another is a more articulated image where the features can just be made out reductively and abstractly so.  Thirdly is an image that is simply hair, beard and cloak that with a shadow seems sublimely knowing with features barely perceptible.  Through reductive features Richards exposes a sensory sublimity perceptible in each image and the special, unique personal and profound spiritual quality of each.  All 160 portraits are abstractly diminished, abstractly distinct and abstractly sublime.  They each rely on pure essence of feeling and mood revealed by casual, slight, and effortless and emotionally intensive strokes of the brush to captivate sensitive viewer responsiveness to the subtlest nuance of Richards’ aesthetic expression.