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.


Namon Bills (Alice Gallery)



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.                    



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.    

Amy Tolk Richards (Covey Center for the Arts)

Amy Tolk

Amy Tolk Richards has a penchant for hay bails.  “Five Hay Bails” is a small scale painting that is a gestalt of composite parts containing richness of depth, abundance of tonalities, atmospheric use of hue, seductive simplicity, minimalistic relativity, and above all else, a crude, raw, rough, coarse earthiness.  This crudeness, rawness, roughness and coarseness is a direct result of the texture, visible to the viewer, that Richards creates, as her structure is not only reductive but the materials she applies are very limited with the appearance of having been scraped on the surface.  The texture is paramount in Richards’ compositions and creates an additional layer to what would be a lesser field of hay bails.  Along with the lush tonalities for the field and the heavy palette for the wood beyond, the texture creates an atmospheric layer of mood, a softness to the feel of the misty composition and for each of her canvases a very real microcosmic environment, which has all of the characteristics of real climate, be it an afternoon of sunshine by a barn or the dewiness of morning on a meadow.


Says Richards, “I control what I can control and then I try to manage what I can’t control.”  Of course, Richards is speaking on both an artistic level and as a mother, spouse and human being.  As simple and reductive as are the canvases of Richards, it is surprising to be able to recognize in them a distinctive signature style.  She may paint a lot of barrels of hay, but they are hers.  As much as Richards controls what she can, she says, “Other people are relying on me.  Art is freeing.  It helps me let loose more.”  Yet her work pervasively keeps to the concise and the meticulous.  Just how did Richards become a controlled painter resigned to let loose?


In high school in Nashville, Tennessee, a very Baptist area, the young LDS Richards with extremely high standards for herself says “I often felt out of place socially, not only because of religion, but because of values; I was scared to make the wrong decision, so I came close to erring on the side of recluse rather than going overboard.”


This was the first control mechanism for Richards.  As a young student she “felt my way out was through studying and I was voted most studious senior girl.  That was my reputation; it kept me safe.”  But it is not fair to ascribe the reticent and resigned student as Richards’ real personality, it was merely utilitarian and helped her feel safe in an atmosphere she did not completely trust as she used this persona as a control mechanism.


A different kind of control entirely would occur when Richards entered BYU.  “I think I was rebelling,” said Richards, “I was working so hard in high school.  I applied to Ivy League schools and they rejected me and I took an, ‘I’m rejecting you’ attitude.  ‘Why did I work so hard?’  I was sort of angry at the system.  ‘Why am I sacrificing when it doesn’t get me what I want’.”  However, as it turns out, attending BYU would be the very best thing for Richards personally and as an artist in a very singular way.


She says, “It was refreshing.  No one knew what I was like in high school, so I could reinvent myself, I could be my own person.  Before, I had been mindful of always pleasing my parents.  Now I could explore, it was OK if I wasn’t becoming the person I thought they wanted me to be.  Who is that person?  Someone who is more excited about having fun, experimenting, daring, I became a lot more interested in other people and became fascinated by being able to relate with people instead of just being this quiet person when there is so much to learn from others.”


Entering BYU was seminal for Richards, now on a secure level of control, where she could let her guard down in an atmosphere she could trust absolutely.  No matter how far she explored this reinvented self, still being the young woman of insurmountably high standards, she could trust that she would never be brought or go too far.  “I let my GPA slip, I lost my scholarship; in high school I would have been traumatized over this but it really didn’t matter anymore.”  Ultimately, says Richards, “I took classes for fun instead of ‘I need to stay on track’.”  This involved art classes.  This was an art renaissance reliving the creative and talented young artist she had been in youth, but now rediscovering it in maturity, and thus the art career of Amy Tolk Richards began.


To most, Richards’ “rebellion” would seem completely innocent, but to her it was a very real rite of passage to many things.  Her art did not go through a rebellion.  It remained and always would and might always remain in this vein because of these truths.  Richards thus became the “controlled painter resigned to let loose.”


Richards’ subjects are and have always been and will most likely remain reduced in structure; simplified paintings yet rich in nuance and gloriously textured creating a very real mood the viewer can appreciate. 

A particularly definitive painting by Richards is the small “Cow and Fence.”  It is quite simply a shadowed wooden fence in the foreground, a broad chartreuse green meadow, a girthy trunk of a tree to the right, a horizon line with most obscured other than the semblance of a farm rendered in miniature, and beneath the farm and next to the tree is the shadowed profile of a cow. 


What a simple painting and what an abundance of substantive personality this painting has.  Again, all is reduced in structure as well as being reduced in material.  Because of the precision but earthy rawness, because of the exactitude yet pastoral haze, the mood is palpably felt and this is due, again, in large measure to the texture that is created by Richards’ sparse methods, this texture visible to the eye evoking a smoky ambiance to the image that lends it the one-of-a-kind Amy Tolk Richards look and feel.


A categorical work for Richards is the delightful “Seven Hay Bales,” that seems to follow no rules and does so unapologetically.  This is a small painting that features seven hay bales composed in a skewed order, with much visual appeal.  What is the lifeblood of this painting is the vicissitudes of color found in the field: pea greens, corn yellow, rose pink, some white, and on a more refined level the texture that is created by the color that is incorporated onto the canvas, unlike the impressionist style, but with the most minute amount of paint, often the edges are bare and raw and the paint looks like it has been created with a palette knife. 


With this precision and exactitude comes incredible texture, earthy and gritty but sensual.  The bales themselves have a large amount of white, more rose pink, and pea green with corn yellow.  The flat end of the bale faces the viewer who can actually see the coarse texture that is so appropriate to the image ironically created by great finitude and not callousness.  Because the bales and the fields do not follow classical principles, such as did the impressionists or academic regulations, there is a marvelous charm and freedom with these precisely rendered small canvases that come to life with a distinct ambiance with a very real emotion. 


A mother of three children and with the demands of an internationally acclaimed artist husband keeping them perpetually swamped for time, Richards describes her current reality beautifully, again, on an artistic level as well as a mother, spouse, and a human being.  “Control could be a metaphor for me because a lot of the awesome things that come out could be just accidental; ‘OK, don’t touch that,’ so I manage the lack of control.  There are certain steps that I follow and others where I have to say, ‘If a surprise comes up, OK, let it go, or don’t touch it or change a thing.’”  Amy Tolk Richards keeps it real.

I Am Chris Purdie (Einstein Bagels Provo)

Chris Purdie 1:  For me I think it is a life long process. I might find my identity here in Provo but when I move to grad school my identity might become lost in a world and I might have to redefine where I fit and how I interact. Chris Purdie 2:  There are so many aspects of one’s core or essential self.  They are very contradictory, some are vulnerable, some are cruel, some are wise, and each role all relates to an aspect of an own personal being.  Chris Purdie 3:  Everyone has a different side of them that comes out depending on their surroundings. When I am at home I am at a place where I can be comfortable, where I can be Chris, a Chris that I am comfortable with, or when I am at a show, where I can talk about my art, I find that I draw in because this is a place where I feel uncomfortable, that this brings out the scared side of Chris, the upsetting frustrated side of Chris, or when I am doing my finances this brings out the analytical side of Chris. Chris Purdie 2: This project came from developing another persona in a way, letting someone else be Chris Purdie.


Chris Purdie 5: I used to think maybe identity was having an internal identity and everything else was trying to come up against that, trying to break into that identity but in doing this show and doing the things that I have been thinking about, I think I realize more that identity is made up of your environment and the people around you. I remember this kid in the fifth grade who had tons and tons of quirks and everyone recognized his character and I remember at one point I realized I didn’t have these quirks so I started making some up.  Now that is past, but push and shove we take from people. Chris Purdie 3: I feel it is really important for us to understand the differences between different people and how each action that we have with someone affects the way we think.  Every person that I ever talk to in my life will change my life in some way and I think that by examining that closely I have a better understanding of who we are. Chris Purdie 4: For me, my identity came across more from my family, doing some genealogical work, hand-me-downs, collecting portions of my back ground and having them with me and now that I have nieces and nephews I am finding different things that are more inherent in me, in my family that come out, I see them do things that I do and I didn’t realize that- that’s me, that’s not something I collected from someone else, from  my family and that is something that is closer to me, my essence.   Chris Purdie 5: It’s kind of an internal reflection, so, how you interpret what’s around you, that becomes your identity instead of that you have something specific that everybody’s trying change, so I think there’s a lot of free agency that you are allowed to take in. I think we definitely have the ability to create these environments, like with music, or with art or writing, and this type of performance.


Chris Purdie 3: It is impossible for us to completely invent ourselves with out seeing culture, experiencing the effects of art or theater, even music; so it is our decision, it is how we react to the people we are talking to, the things we are experiencing. Chris Purdie 2: The media today has a way of pushing various options that a lot of people buy into. We construct our exterior persona and part of that has to do with marketing and what other people do.  It is important to remember that there are two aspects, there is the real you, the interior being, the essence of who you are, and then the construct you present to other people. That changes a little bit in how far you but into the commercialism of the persona, are you going to really take the whole package or are you going to try to select it yourself and kind of construct your own persona rather than allow someone else to construct your persona. Chris Purdie 1: I think there are plenty of people who are finding ways around marketing’s influce;, for me, for three years I have just tried my hardest not to push other people’s products, not to buy things with logos, not to buy into what everyone thinks is important but try to retain my identity in some way through that. Chris Purdie 2: I think there is a spark that I get from the idea of constructing a persona and being able to identify myself as an individual, or at least lean that way rather than buying into a market label. Chris Purdie 3: I think that the outside is a manifestation of what is inside; by seeing me, how I choose to present myself, you see a part of my soul, the way I present myself, the way I talk, this is all a manifestation of who we are inside.  Chris Purdie 2: I like to dress in very plain clothes, almost like a uniform, I like to be able to set my own standards for how I come across to other people. Chris Purdie 1: I think that ultimately I have to be myself.  Some people react to that differently, some people try to be somebody else, some try to come across as themselves, as an individual, this doesn’t change who you are and how you come across, these are two separate things.


Chris Purdie 2: In life we have to play different roles, from this time to this time they are this person, and from this time to this time they are this person so hopefully when they come to the show they will see  this side and it will relate to them. Chris Purdie 3: I think we are all essentially 100 Chris’s and we have to become one common thing that brings us together as Chris. Chris Purdie 2:  Maybe it’s just a matter of finding ties and commonalities between other people that bring us to that common reality…there’s the reality that we’re all individuals but there’s the reality that we have more in common than we have separate. Each one of us is Chris Purdie, in some ways that is very literal in that we have 99.9% of the same DNA, there are some very minor differences in that physical make up that I think it does get into existentialism when we talk about the individual spirit that makes each person different.


Chris Purdie 2: Ultimately, though, everyone is an individual, there is no getting around that, men can only sympathize with women to a certain point, woman can only sympathize with men to a certain point, we’ll never know what that reality is but we do know how it feels to be a human being and how to share these things…I think the key is empathy with another being allows us to understand that other being and allows us to understand ourselves in a more significant way.  Chris Purdie 4: That’s the way these portraits, the art work that the artwork is created for this show, the idea that we can’t really know what it’s like to be someone else, we can only know what it’s like to be us trying to be another person, it is a composite portrait, it’s the combination of two people, the performer with the artist and creating the portrait out of that unique perceived identity that happens and creating a persona or character out of that. Chris Purdie 5:  I guess the virtue of being a human being, we’re all such unique characters with experiences and the composite of all those is unique to each person so I think this project is an opening up on that and letting people in on my experiences, a kind of letting go, being stifled and this is all of me.


Chris Purdie 1: This show is how these personas connect, how we interact with each other and we become a part with each other, influence each other.  With this project what I found is that I was able to see how other people see me in some ways: really uncomfortable, nervous, meek, and then talking low and slow and I sound kinda of stupid so I’m finding these things that I don’t know about myself, and I’m like…”oh, I don’t know if I want to be me,” and then getting up and not knowing how to act.  Do I keep doing those things, maybe there’s going to be some things I might alter but I’ll wait till after the show is done.




Chris Purdie 1 : Chris Purdie

Chris Purdie 2 : Brian Christianson

Chris Purdie 3 : Lisa Stoffer

Chris Purdie 4 : Carl Hoiland

Chris Purdie 5 : Ashley Mae Christensen

The Ascension of Classical Arts: An Interview with William Whitaker

William Wittaker


Provo based artist William Whitaker is at the pinnacle of his profession: artists trained in the Classical tradition and painting of the highest standard. A dominant force in Utah and globally, he began water color at the age of six, fell in love with figural drawing, which has progressed to a career which has placed him among the very best in his field.  Whitaker believes that “the value of painting is to be found in its spiritual power.”  His views on Classical art are formulated through many years of study, practice and training and his perspectives on the subject are insightful and informative.  Mr. Whitaker now spends his time in his studio painting, training a select and very talented few students, and has been painting portraits of dignitaries in Utah for many years, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints’ Prophet Gordon B. Hinkley.


Ehren Clark:  To introduce our readers the nature of Classical art and its tradition and yourself being on the forefront of this tradition, as a painter who continues to practice using the methods of the Classical, how do you approach painting?


William Whitaker:  I let it lead me.  I don’t know what I am going to do from moment to moment or week to week.  I am no longer afraid of that because I have done this now for so many years. I have always drawn well and concentrate on technique.  I could draw well growing up at a time when Abstract Expressionism was flying high and what I was doing was declared dead and was never going to be used again.  People with these skills were no longer going to be necessary.  You didn’t need to draw anymore.  I had that skill and I wanted to exercise it and I was driven.  There are many kids out there interested in the Classical technique; when I was young there was nobody so that is a big change in the world.  In the future people will be interested in what people are like; anything that shows our ways, our thoughts, the way we live, our humanity, because that is what we value from the past.  We look back at a Vermeer and people are just fascinated and not only his paintings but the world of his paintings.  There is a magic there.


E.C.:  How is the Classical tradition alive in Utah and flourishing here and elsewhere?  Also who are some painters who are progressing this type of art in Utah and how are they progressing it?


W.W.:   Utah has always been a hotbed for artists here.  And I really didn’t realize this till I moved to Arizona, where, in Phoenix, which was very primitive in culture, so we have long had a tradition of the visual arts.  Some of my heroes, and remain my heroes are Doug Snow and Alvin Gittins, who was a genius who nobody appreciated at the time.  Gittins was the best in the world and right here in Utah!  (Note:  See also Kamille Corry, Joseph Brickey, Jeffry Hein, Paul Nielson, and Patrick Devonas).  In the Springville shows I am overwhelmed by all the work done by young people; very strong, the variety and seeing new things.


E.C.:  What do you see as the primary difference between conventional painting and painting that has been done by someone schooled in the Classical tradition?


W.W.:  Has to do with someone’s academic training and possibly more talent too.  We all come into this field with varying degrees of what we think of as talent, which is the ability to draw strait.  Everyone comes from that at different levels and you put an apple down and some people can draw it better than others, or well enough.  Nobody has enough native ability- everybody who is Classically trained is forced to exceed their native capabilities and that is the big difference.  That is what is going on here and so a lot of people who are doing very well in the galleries and have a lot of wonderful talent can do what they do and make it look lovely and pleasing to most viewers but it may not just be, say, olympic quality.  Classical training by itself can only carry you so far, yet basically it is designed to teach you how to see better.  Once you see, then in theory you can do whatever you want to do.  But that will take other talents and a certain kind of imagination.


E.C.:  Many are unaware of the Classical tradition.  How do you see painting, even that which we may label as post-modern or contemporary, indebted to this tradition?


W.W.:  By 1970 or 80, the Classical arts were so far gone that it was in danger of being totally lost.  Very few people today understand the proper use of light.  Everything that had been built over four hundred years was tossed away, deliberately thrown out.  It was good to be naughty.  The young people love to shock their elders…actually, to tell you the honest truth kids who are (now) doing the Classical work are shocking their elders who love the museums and art establishments today!  These are the guys, my generation, who are out there saying painting is no longer viable.  There are a lot of kids who say that is crap.  That’s something we never did, we would never talk back to our teachers.  Anything we are doing today is looked upon by the culture as irrelevant- what I do and what these kids are doing.  Movies, everything they go to look at are movies.  That is art today.  They see the Classical world come forward, say, since the days of Giotto…and they turn off visually.


E.C.:  In a post-modern context, how have the Classical arts adapted to the plurality of the post-modern and what are some contemporaneous variations within the Classical model?


W.W,:  If someone sits down and says “all right, I am going to do this,” puts a title and figures it all out, they’re not going anywhere.  That is something that they have done outside of the art.  Just the word- any title that we stick on anything- whether it be Classicism, Expressionism, Impressionism and so on, all those things were not put there by the artist.  You get somewhere going through the system and that person is an individual, like we all are, and if that person is true to themselves they will follow their feelings, they will let their art lead them.  Have something to say, have something to express. Lets pretend their might be only three basic classifications or two of Classical contemporary work, or maybe 10,000.  I think if an artist is well trained, I don’t believe in holding it down to the Classical, for example if I’m training anybody at all I think every individual needs to do this (Whitaker points to a figural study).  After they have this training and they can see, who knows where their art can go, I mean it can go in ways that nobody’s yet ever conceived, and I think that’s wonderful.


E.C.:  How is the nature of Classical art different today than that of the pre-twentieth century canonical rejection of the Classical academy?


W.W.:  First, we can be thankful they have changed because until now, they have changed because the world is so much more complex, more sophisticated.  They did not have access to the mass of visual stimulation that we have from childhood.  We cannot be what they were and they cannot be what we are, and it’s just the nature of the world.  I think frankly that the best is yet to come.  If we can get people out there who are allowed to do what they really want to do, and the world is so wealthy that anybody can do what they want to do, and some of these people in ways nobody is yet thinking about, that’s what’s wonderful. And all kinds of ways, it doesn’t have to be paintings on the wall, who knows what it can be.  But we have all kinds of skills and tools. Nobody ever imagined that they would ever be able to have, when I was not very much younger than I am now, imagine ever needing a personal computer.  Nobody ever dreamed that they would ever be able to use it in the ways they do today.


E.C.:  Do you see this as a growing phenomenon, especially here in Utah?


W.W.:  All over the world I am in touch with people; in Iraq, Iran, Indonesia, Kuwait, all over Europe, and I even have had emails from Africa and there are people everywhere interested in Classical art.  I don’t know why.  It’s just what’s happening today.  The kids- there’s enough of them- they’re going to grow up and the art world will be very different because of those people and those that succeed are going to have some real visual credentials.  The average lawyer, doctor or engineer who does absolutely miraculous things will instinctively see an artist who is highly skilled as well as artistically sensitive- in other words the best ones are going to be very popular.  Because of the ability, there are people that are buying their art and that is something we will see more of in the future because more of these people who have never had any art training are going to want something they know is really good.