Randee Levine (Dibble Gallery)

 

Randee Levine

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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“Church and State” (UMOCA)

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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.          

David Maestas (UTah Artist Hands)

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David Maestas always has been a painter, his reality is one of a painter, and no matter what curve balls life may throw his way, he always will be a painter seeing and understanding life through the eyes and cognition, and spirit of an artist. As a father of three daughters, he had to make some changes with the economic situation, which in 2008 slowed sales and had to relinquish the total freedom he once had to paint at total liberty as an artist, with his last major show in 2010. But things are day-by-day looking better for Maestas, and for the economy. It is very likely, as his two older girls will soon help support themselves, that Maestas will once again very soon have the total autonomy to be the self-supporting artist he always was, yet with a renewed outlook. “The best paintings come from the journey, and never knowing where it’s going, and never knowing what is going to happen,” says Maestas.

For Maestas, his painting is very much a personal expression, that is a mastery of the mechanics of abstract art of 20 years, to the degree that his work is an open door to his spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and transcendent struggles with life, as he faces the trials of his reality that become manifest in relationships of strong color and bold tonality. Although his life is one of both happiness and hardship, Maestas has found his work to be a symbiotic tool with the workings of his sensibilities to process life’s more challenging aspects. The result is always beautiful. “Her Soul is like a Waterfall” is like much of Meastas’ work and a collision of forces. Here it seems as if he has occupied a particular space of hardship, blue blackness, for far too long. The levee has ruptured, and the beauty that is her soul, like a waterfall, has come rushing in, overcoming a darkness with a glassy effulgent orange, and life and vitality fuses with the space of emptiness and despair.

Maestas does not regard being an artist as a career choice or something he necessarily initiated at some point in life. For him it is a way of life, and how life has always been. He says, “I think being an artist is a full time thing from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, and it is your power of observation, the way you look at things. It’s almost like a sensitivity to things that most people would miss. Maybe you walk into a room and you see things happening all around, but your mind fixates on a ray of light breaking through glass or a salt shaker, the way it makes a star; it’s having that sensitivity throughout your day, and having that awareness and taking it all in- it can be a bit overwhelming.” For Maestas it is a total reality that became manifest when he was a very young boy.

Maestas, who was born in Chama, New Mexico, recalls “I think the first time I remember picking up a brush was with the little Crayola cakes, the little set that you bought for $1, and I could always remember when I was 9 or 10, and coming from a family of 6 boys, messing around with the paint and seeing the paint and what it would do, mixing it with water and moving the paint and turning the paper, and seeing and being fascinated with what the paint was doing, not even being concerned with creating anything that meant anything to anybody. It was just about the paint and the paper and what it would do, and how they would interact. It was experimentation and I remember being lost for four or five hours in the process. I would lock myself in the bathroom and my brothers would tease me, “What is that?” I didn’t know what abstract art was, but I knew it felt good, it felt right, it felt right creating it, so I’ll always remember saying “This feels good.”

“With the six of us,” says Maestas, “none of them had the discipline. They all had the ability from my mother, but talent will only get you so far- that ability to create- but for me it was an impulse.” He continues, “I think I found out early on that art was what I was good at. When I graduated with a B+ average in high school, it was a struggle, with math classes, English, but when it came to art, I was in a different place where it just came easily. I got scholarships. Every time there was an art contest, I would win- I knew I was good, but I was creating work people wanted to see, using rendering skills: portraiture, wildlife. I guess I did it because I like the reaction and the praise that people gave me.”

It was at the University of Utah that Maestas found his footing as an abstract artist and felt justification as an abstract painter, as he became educated in the histories of abstract art. He says of Jackson Pollock; “He’s probably my favorite American Painter. If there was anyone to do something different, to say, ‘This is mine and this is where I’m going to take it,’ it is Pollock, and I like that courage, it’s a beautiful thing to have that courage to be able to pursue that.” Meastas is not one without his own resources of courage, and those who know the artist and know his art, know of its intensity and his own personal battle for courage. The symbiosis that is the life of Maestas, that finds its reality mingled with art, growing stronger day by day, was never born in a vacuum, but has a very real genesis in a child’s sensitivities and longtime struggles with acute anxiety and depression, translated as a real driving force of power in art, taking on myriad forms. Maestas has had to live with this condition and process this and his process is art as his life and his art are one.

There is much about pain that can be seen in the intensity and the forces at play in Meastas abstract cognitive manifestations, which become purely emotional. After the death of his brother in 2001, his death motivated him to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. He applied for the Kimball Arts Festival and was accepted went on to sell work and getting into Utah Artist Hands Gallery. Pain is not all that Maestas’ work is consumed with, but in his most recent works, there is a tremendous forcefulness present as Maestas as of late has been facing his life head on. In “Road Paved in Gold” we see what might have been a road paved in gold, a hope that might have at one point given way to despondency. There is a darkness that consumes, and a light that seems to be losing its way to blackness. It is not a happy painting, one perhaps redolent of childhood recollections, when hope was brighter. In this painting, there is a sense of being consumed with spiritual, emotional and intellectual disturbances, and a feeling of being trapped in a space inside the mind and body, to what feels like light shrinking, and fading dimmer and dimmer as gradations of shadow overcome. But there is a radiant gleam from the right side, a pure light, saturated, where can be found a purity of optimism.

Meaning “House of Glass” in Spanish, “Casa de Vidrio” is a painting that is brutally beautiful and honest and like a house of glass, can be interpreted in various ways. For Maestas, he is a prisoner of anxiety and depression, in a subjective place that he can see out of but nobody can see in. With chaotic blackness above and devastating maelstroms below, what else is there? But for those with an objective eye from beyond, who can witness the sublime beauty that Maestas has created, it is all a matter of perspective. Many who see Maestas’ creations may marvel at the astonishing power and beautiful intensity and remark at his mastery of abstraction and the forcefulness of the emotion and do not realize the artist who created it whose art is his very recompense and release for his suffering.  

Says Maestas, “When you have anxiety and you are an anxious person and you constantly have to be moving, it’s a mental disorder, both anxiety and depression, and I think part of that anxiety comes from having that sensitivity to everything that is going on around you. So when I start painting, it’s kind of a release. But when I try to do it consciously, it does not work. The only way that it works is if you have the courage to start a painting- and the best paintings come from the journey, and never knowing where its going, and never knowing what is going to happen.”

Maestas also paints canvases loaded with color such as “Vida Mia Dolores” and this means, “My Love Dolores.” In the painting full of color one can feel this love Maestas has for his wife Dolores, a love from Maestas that is very real and potent and even though the canvas is very powerful, at times dark, it is passionate and overwhelms with vida as Maestas overwhelms with his own vida of Dolores and life and art.

Painting and art for Maestas is mental, emotional, and spiritual state of progression towards self-mastery and self-realization and he could not have one without the other. He says, “If I can get in a relaxed state of mind and start moving the paint around, it’s like music, it’s like jazz, this thing happens and I respond to it, then this thing happens and I respond to it. Anybody can do that, but what you can’t teach somebody is to know when to stop, to know when it is done, because it has been 20 years, the only reason my work is at where it is now is because I know where to stop. I know what the process is, but knowing where to stop is what most people can’t get. I’m still working on it.”

Maestas knows he cannot stop now as the journey of self-mastery continues and the adventure of creating fine art is just reaching its most fecund stages. Now, more than ever, is the time for Maestas to utilize the synergy of life and art and maximize on both and harness both to become a greater abstract painter and become a better man, husband, father, and self… as “the best paintings come from the journey, and never knowing where its going, and never knowing what is going to happen.”

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.

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.  

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

Luthor

 

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)

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.

Oonju Chun (Phillips Gallery)

oonju the great

Even to the untrained, unknowing eye, the art of Uunju Chun has an appeal to it that registers along with a level of Asian influence, specifically, a harmony achieved in a Zen Buddhist state.  Although Chun is Southern Korean, she is not Buddhist, but it is undoubted that her Asian heritage has been an influence and much of the mystery and magic of her work can be attributed to this ancestry.  But Chun professes an ardent love for the purely abstract uniquely as a form of art singularly and always has. 

 

Chun says, “I have always, even at an early age, found abstract images to be more beautiful and powerful than objective images. It was a natural course that took me to paint the way I do.  It requires absolute creativity to form something that, in real visual natural surroundings, does not exit. This method allows me to create something from absolutely nothing.  I find this method of painting to be more challenging, but also much more satisfying.”

 

To ground the methodologies of Chun from the mysterious and the magical to the realms of art critical theory, a terse quotation from Rosalind Krauss proves most useful to guide us in our investigation to realms of reason.

 

“Modernism, that is the ‘mainstream’ evoked by the history of books–the most coherent version of which is Clement Greenberg’s, but there are others–is seen as progressing in a straight line from Manet to abstract expressionism and beyond. The modernist interpretation of modern art, which is an extraction that dares not speak its name, partakes above all in an ontological project: once art was liberated from the constraints of representation, it had to justify its existence as the search for its own essence.”

 

Rosalind Krauss & Yve-Alain Bois’s “Formless: A User’s Guide,” 2000.

 

This comment is just what the philosophical complexity of Chun’s abstraction hinges upon within the being of the utmost in sophisticated purity.  This is what the essence of her work is concentrated to, the “constraints of representation… to justify its existence as the search for its own essence,” when Chun states with a Kraussian-like search for truth; “I relinquish the responsibility to create meaning, however on a certain level, that is the most meaningful aspect of why I paint.” 

 

Says Chun, “I don’t want to make any statements with my painting.  I am not a conceptual painter, but a spontaneous, reactionary painter. When I paint, it is a purely spontaneous visual response to lines, colors and composition.  I am not thinking on a conceptual level and I love that. It is liberating and exhilarating. 

 

For the purity of Chun’s work to function literally on the same level as cited by Krauss, as an enduring Greenburgian process of Modernism, measurable in Chun’s work, this is manifest in the artificial linearity as opposed to natural non-linearity that is a singular focus as opposed to conceptual manipulation towards a realization of “justifying (its) existence as the search for (its own) essence.”  Quite simply put, this is art that is linear and without alternate construct, recognizing only itself, a mirror reflection, art that is for its own sake, purpose and utility.

 

When Chun paints a canapé that to many may look noisy, aggressive, loud, vociferous, while at the same time fecund, ripe, full, abundant, lush, rich, and piquant, they are mistaken.  Because there is no noise but silence.  There is no fecundity but formlessness and anyone who may think otherwise has not understood the essence of Chun’s work. 

 

Chun, how is your work, in its own unique way, essentially a reflection of itself?  Says Chun, “My images lack any conceptual consideration, one can say it is less complicated, rather, quite simple in its essence. I cannot explain the meaning of my work because I do not impose any.”  Chun’s work, without conceptual interference, is allowed a formlessness as introduced by Krauss, made demonstrative by looking in a different direction, and there, Chun’s formlessness shall resound with more security.

 

Chun, how do you wish, in your body of work, to engage with your own audience, as an artist?  “My paintings are totally devoid of meaning from its creator. I think that is why it works better at striking certain ‘raw’ emotions. The emotional response is direct and immediate.  It goes from my eyes to directly to my heart.  It does not require mental interpretation.  If a viewer feels the similar emotional sensibilities as I do, then, my paintings have spoken to them,” says Chun.

    

Only in the silence, only in the formlessness is this kind of relationship possible and thus the formlessness is demonstrated.  We have a work of utmost purity, without the hindrance of meaning, that is able to be communicated by its author with its audience on a level that is exact, given this purity, thus demonstrating a fulfillment of the measure of the kind of formlessness Krauss is speaking of in her book.  The self realized essence is discoverable in a relationship with an audience that answers back with the same essence that it expresses, a mirror image of itself.

 

Further demonstration is found in the lack of any kind of structuralism, which is the designation for meaning.  Structuralism allows for semiotics and semiotics creates binaries of meaning that shift from authenticating to a challenging of one to the other.  Without any kind of structural implications, without anything read as symbolism, semiotics are disqualified.  This does not have to mean literal figural icons, but any form of visual structural signifier such as contrast of light and dark, balance, tonality shift, paradigm shifts, binary shift, tonal rhythm and harmony, texture giving designation, repetition, anything centering the attention such as angularity or a centrifugal area such as a concentration or boldness.  Without structural signifiers of any kind, the stuff that abstract work is quite usually replete with, here, no occasion is given for the structure to arise, thus creating no grounds for semiotic relationships and the development of meaning.

 

Chun, if meaning is lacking in a state of formlessness in your work, what is the role, therefore, for emotional sensibilities?  Is there a role for emotional sensibilities?  “All art forms evoke emotion,” says Chun.  “You must feel a certain way when you see my work!”  Emotional reactions to abstract images are subjective.  They are subjective upon one’s own life experiences, cultural experiences, visual experiences, emotional sensibilities, etc.  My paintings become what each viewer gets out of it.”

 

Chun, how do you feel the ability to focus on your work for a show as prodigious as a solo show at Phillips Gallery has helped you develop as an artist and connect with it on a deeper level?  Says Chun; “I deal with self-doubt as an artist constantly, asking myself if my works are relevant in the current culture and how my viewers will react to my work and so on.   Having this show gives me a sense of affirmation about my work, that is, until I am faced with the next wave of angst and self-doubt.”

 

The opportunity to view a large body of Chun’s work has been a thrilling experience having been a long-time admirer of Chun and her abstraction.  Meeting and being able to discuss her work with her, being able to engage in a discourse between her and myself about her art, which impresses me so greatly, was an experience I shall never forget and Chun is most certainly one of Salt Lake City’s very best abstractionists.  The lesson I learned from Chun, something I knew but was able to define in her work, was the honor in the noble tradition manifest today in Utah’s contemporary abstraction, everything from Mark Slusser’s pein air painting to the total formlessness of Chun herself.  This is where the intelligence to make great art is found, this is where the mind is required to create understanding from formlessness. 

 

 

  

Hadley Rampton (Phillips Gallery)

Hadley Rampton

 

When Hadley Rampton travels to countries like Budapest, Turkey, Georgia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Armenia, she says “I am drawn to the old places.  There is history there.  When I travel that is what really intrigues me, that is what really excites me… and I also really love history.  I want to get to what the truth of these places is and that is what excites me when I travel.”

 

There is something very special about humanity, that through wars, recessions, famine, natural and human caused disasters, we can still, through it all, look to art and the messages it speaks, and at these peak times of turbulence, most often it will be about what it means to be human: truth.  More so is the phenomenon of the artist who herself, not a spectacle, is very private and personal, who through necessity, not self-imposition, lives a life that is the search for truth.  This is the undisclosed distinction of Rampton whose art is her means to find, to express, and to learn “about what it means to be human.”

 

Says Rampton, “These are parts of the world that were under communism and have strong senses of themselves.  Then you look back over the centuries and their history of invasion, by the Byzantine Empire, and then it was the Ottoman Empire, and then the Russian and communism, they all still have their own pride in who they are.”

 

For Rampton, these travels “are a better way of understanding the rest of the world than through the headlines.  I like to take the trains, I like to get past what is put on for the tourists, and to really get into what the real feel of the country is, what the real people are thinking there, and what their lives are.  I feel like for many this would be something very advantageous.”

 

It is decidedly advantageous for Rampton whom works in two primary modes.  The first is watercolor, which is the produce of her travels.  Watercolor has a magnificent history from major artists and artist travelers whom enjoyed the practical as well as aesthetic benefits of it.  Its malleability of application as well as practicality are very desirable for those who can appreciate milder tones and enjoy their structural interplay and relationships allowed.  These requisites define Rampton’s work who is an avid colorist and uses pen and ink to define all structural edges thus adding immense dimension and making the whole piece “pop!”  Her colors do not get lost at a distance but in her method stay true and strong, no matter haw far away the viewer may be standing. 

 

What a fine piece of Rampton’s oeuvre is “Adhan, At Dusk, Istanbul” watercolor and ink 12” x 16”.  One sees the 6th century Hagia Sophia presented in the distance under the late afternoon sun.  Truly an iconic image.  In this seminal work the viewer may see through the eyes of the artist.  This is not a Byzantine Empire or the world of Constantinople.  It is not the Ottomans or a country stifled by communism or any other totalitarian regime or Empire.  It is an old world.  But it is a post-Modern world like the rest of the world. 

 

One can see in this painting the signs that Rampton sees, the bright colors of the automobiles, the youth with vivid nylon backpack on their backs, women walking about freely together with varying degrees of dress, a kiosk with a bright top serving refreshments for a hot late afternoon to a population that one cannot be sure is Turkish.  Where is Istanbul?  There is Hagia Sophia but what else is there to document Rampton’s travels… to tell her “I am in this great land of the Turks.” The reply is unequivocally “Where is the truth I seek?”

 

This great work of Rampton’s predates her current body of watercolors.  “Early Evening, Budavari Palota,” watercolor & ink, 12 X 16 inches, may lend an initial impression, that this, like the others in the series, is a romantic composition.  But any viewer, upon closer look, would be wrong with this inference.  Rampton’s color palette has changed, it is less Raphael, in his academic use of color willfully working with combinations and relationships, such as “The School of Athens,” as seen in Rampton’s early markedly stronger realism.  The new has playful tones of Watteau conducive to the grandiose settings.  To realize these watercolors is to recognize the realism that they convey and appreciate in their subtleties. 

 

In this plaza, with its historic monument and late-neo-Classical edifice, it almost resembles a history-piece, but not too distant from the frontal plane, sitting on the rim of the plaza, are two young women with their backs to the viewer, who are unmistakably 21st century in hair and dress.  This, as well as the exaggerated pen and ink that is Rampton’s signature method, is far more liberally applied here creating greater depth to crevices and breaks in masonry in and around the plaza creating the history in the past tense.

 

As exquisite as Rampton is with watercolors, she is equally adept with oils.  Her ubiquitous subject when she returns to her home in Utah is nature, primarily landscapes of aspen groves with a singular style, and as we will discover, approach.  She states, “this kind of energy, this excitement that I feel when I am traveling, as much as when I work with oils, I feel the same.  It’s exciting and I am energized and I want to do something with it.” 

 

This excitement felt for the vestigial remains of ancient civilization’s … this is the same for a grove of aspens? How can this be?  Says Rampton, “Whether I am traveling or up in the mountains and it is gorgeous, it is the same.  I grew up here, our nature is a huge part of who we are.”

 

In the dusty streets of Armenia, Rampton shies from the touristy brightly lit bistros and experiences the most essential Armenia she can.  What is essential about Utah to Rampton?  It is our nature.  It affects all who live or visit here and the honest manner that she employs in her brilliant work is true to the nature of Utah.

 

Rampton’s approach is not to paint the structure of a particular tree, one defined against the next, to form a grove.  Far from it.  Just as in her watercolor, Rampton is fascinated with color harmonies, contrasts, groupings, and looks to the light of day and the saturation upon the grove, to create a composition that when looked at, without the spindly delineated line of the tree, would be entirely abstract.

 

Says Rampton, “I am very much drawn to the abstract expressionists and their way of thinking, for example, this is paint on canvas, so I am drawn, especially with the newer work, to heavier brush strokes, much more broad so you are really thinking about color relationships and how to create these strokes, not blending.”  Further, “A lot of it is that I really enjoy different ways of applying paint.  I do love color so both in my oils and watercolors my color is enhanced, not in a fauvist kind of way, but I am always interested in color relationships.”  These very real aspects of painting are very much the proto-Modernist way of thinking, about considering the reality of painting and the reality of paint, as opposed to trying to fool the eye with illusion, using the same formulas the academies have taught since just after the Renaissance.  

 

As Rampton seeks reality in her travels, with every fragment of truth gained, she can learn about the people she meets and their ways of life, as much of this remains indigenous.  Rampton does not stop being a seeker once she returns to her home.  Her methodology to her painting of wild life seamlessly grants her recourse to her unending search for truth and deeper understanding of the world she exists in.  More importantly, and more fundamentally, she finds in her search, a greater manifestation of her personal, very private, very real, and honest reality.

Aaron Ashcraft (Finch Lane)

Aaron ashcroftIt is an awesome experience to see art and life come together in a way that seems nothing short of naturally organic.  The ceramic sculptures of one of Utah’s very finest and most well and diversely educated sculptors, Aaron Ashcraft, brings his craft to full life-like fruition with ceramic work that speaks as if it were ideologically voiced in the vocabulary of the tradition of historic sculpture and formed in a manner that melds this tradition with the fibrous being of nature, not as we know it, but as history once found it, with its own temporality and its own geology.  It speaks its own language calling from another time and another place, haunting and distant, yet brought very present by the hands and spirit of Ashcraft.

 

“Whenever you talk about ceramic work, there is a historical element.  If you take a ceramic piece that is several hundred years old, it is no longer in the society that it is created of; it has a certain separate nature from everything else in and of itself.  So you can only view it as the object you are looking at now because you have no context, no way to really relate to that previous society.  Inevitably everything is taken out of the society it is created of, but is still has an inherent quality in and of itself,” says Ashcraft.

 

Ashcraft speaks of existence in the same breath as he speaks of ceramics.  The University of Utah BFA, BA, apprenticed, mentored, partnered, workshop trained and now master who will not claim so as his sculpture is an eager work in process, uses ceramics, above and beyond anything else, says the artist, to “create a surface to make marks on, but at the same time there’s something beyond that surface.” 

 

Ashcraft’s pieces might be circular hollowed disks on a wall, they might be squared off log-like shapes slightly bowed and set at angles stacked one atop the other, they might be tall ever-so slightly curved towers with sections of the form cut away adding definitive dimension, or they might be tower-like miniatures at irregular heights each leaning moderately one way or the next.  But more than the form itself is what is happening on the form, and more essentially, what is happening within.

 

There is a distinctive poetic visual lexicon used here by the artist and one begins to see methodologies of Zen Buddhism take form and ideology.  The motifs… marks… that you see, you see repeatedly, and assembled meticulously in sections on each piece.  There is no mass diffusion of anything like a collage of visual elements, but an orderly and organized visual compendium of pattern, line and texture.

 

Says Ashcraft; “I like the suggestiveness of the natural environment in the pieces.  I don’t necessarily need to define everything as a realist painter would.  I like a suggestion to hint to the viewer something that is an indication of the natural.  I like that sense that gives the pieces life.” 

 

And nothing that a “realist painter” could possibly do could give more life to these ceramic entities than they entail by these indications of nature.  These suggestions, or marks, include waves of line that mimic either the sands of a desert, sea, or a manicured Japanese Zen garden; thin lines of a different hue, texture, width, that imply more of a rhythm and exactitude; an irregular surface that has humps and is glazed and colored in a lichen green implying just that or more so, moss growing on an old formation with water gliding over it.  But most dramatically set and cutting to the core of the structures like veins giving life to the body of each are bold black painted on fissures that find their way breaking through the surface and cutting one way or the next. 

 

Says Ashcraft “The structures exist before they go into the kiln.  The last thing I do is the brush marks.  All of the brushwork you see happens right before I put it into the kiln.  I want spontaneity after all of the time structuring these pieces.  I want an immediate effect.”  These painted fissures, in reality, allow for the implication of the essence of being of these entities.  Says Ashcraft they look to him something like the dry caked mud of a desert floor.

 

“It takes on a purpose of its own,” says Ashcraft.  To be true to the reality of the work, they must be recognized as the bearers of marks of a life beyond ours and a space and time different from our own just as “a ceramic piece that is several hundred years old, it is no longer in the society that it is created of; it has a certain separate nature from everything else in and of itself.”

 

In this sense and only in this sense, can the full aesthetic measure of these pieces be fully realized in the context introduced by Ashcraft.  Given the marks of time past; the waves made, the lines carved, the moss grown, and the fissures as dead as the dry caked mud, we observe these objects as if figuratively decontextualized and literally recontextualized by the artist to today’s contemporary eyes.  But it is our eyes that must adjust and the viewer of this poetic form must learn to see it on its terms, on Ashcraft’s terms, if the fullness of beauty contained is to be recognized.