“I think flowers represent our universal desire to appear like we have our crap together,” observes Emily Fox King, whose majestic floral still life paintings in oil on canvas declare that Spring has sprung at Phillips Gallery – while outside, Nature waffles between snowstorms and 80 degrees.
“These flowers represent life, relationships, the raw guts of our lives, sticky and awkward in places. Yet, stepping back, a gorgeous and vibrant scene comes into focus,” Fox King writes of her sumptuous (and frequently enormous) paintings that start out “messy” and directionless; thin layers of oil paint are built up and ultimately resolve into pure delight: heavy, brightly colored flower heads — on occasion distinguishable as roses and tulips or else (more often) something nameless — but always discernable as flora and gathered tightly together in a bunch. Vase optional.
A favorite work, “My Condolences,” effectively conveys that sad sentiment by the mere inclusion of a single, muted reddish-violet flower at the bottom of an otherwise more pastel grouping.
Fox King grew up in Pasco, Wash., received her bachelor’s in 2006 from Western Washington University and, in 2010, earned her MFA from Brigham Young University, Provo. While keeping a disciplined studio practice, the artist teaches painting and drawing at Ogden’s Weber State University. Her works arise from “chaos, beauty, and conflict that I see in our world and echo my personal life as I age, trading the naivete’ of my youth for wisdom,” she explains.
Her bold paintings share the upstairs gallery with the subtler, more abstracted and often lighthearted works of Ogden resident Meri DeCaria, who has served as the uber-competent director and curator at Phillips for, as she puts it, “the better part of its existence/my life span.”
It’s a lively exhibition overall — beautifully hung and somewhat difficult to write about. A more marginal show is easier to discuss than one so fine that nearly half the works sold at the opening. “We were very pleased,” says the gallery’s always-understated Hadley Rampton. “It was a good turnout.”
DeCaria shifted her palette with this show and jostled my perspective of her work. Her color combinations never have seemed so conscious or so utterly tossed off. Several complex landscapes and an intriguing cityscape lend weight to her expected whimsical floral paintings while many delightful birds kick up their heels at all the joyousness going on about them. Images of modernism inspire this artist — there are stripes and dots and totems, and one memorable work is an homage to Miró — carefully crafted so as not to step on hallowed toes. DeCaria’s mind fascinates.
The artist attended The Pratt School of Design in New York City in 1983, received an AA in 1986 from the Philadelphia Art Institute and a BFA from the American College in London in 1988 (wouldn’t one have enjoyed knowing her then?). Her extended involvement in Utah’s visual arts community consists of several commissions and/or collaborative projects. Her work is widely collected privately and is also part of the Salt Lake County Permanent Collection, the Utah Arts Council Permanent Collection and the Eccles Community Art Center Permanent Collection, among others.
Late Sunday afternoon I found myself downtown, peering on tiptoe through Phillips’ plate-glass windows, seeking added inspiration for this review. The sun made the windows all glary and I only determined again that the show was perfectly hung and truly a must-see. So do go. It will put some Spring in your step. Even if it should snow. Again.
Meri DeCaria and Emily Fox King, Phillips Gallery, through April 14. Showing concurrently downstairs in the Dibble Gallery is Celebrations, watercolor paintings by Wendy Van de Kamp.
A graduate of the University of Utah, Ann Poore is a freelance writer and editor who spent most of her career at The Salt Lake Tribune. She was the 2018 recipient of the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Artist Award in the Literary Arts.