15 Bytes | Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

A Disparate Cohesion: Lou Ann Heller, Judith Romney Wolbach and Jennifer Worsley at Finch Lane Gallery

by Kent Rigby

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Lou Ann Heller’s “Wyoming Exit”

Salt Lake area artists are very fortunate to have great non-profit galleries to exhibit their work in. Finch Lane Gallery has been one of the most coveted fine art venues for more years than most of the artists that exhibit there have been on the planet, let alone, producing art.

Administered by the Salt Lake Arts Council, the Finch Lane Gallery is also one of the favorite Gallery Stroll hangouts. Director Nancy Boskoff, and Arts Council Assistant Director Kim Duffin love fine art and really care about providing the highest caliber service possible. Their dedication to excellence is evident in every exhibit presented. Glenn Richards does a great job with exhibit preparation and hanging as well. The SLAC Visual Arts Committee does a tremendous job not only selecting the annual slate of exhibiting artists but also in determining which artists will exhibit together.

The current Lou Ann Heller, Judith Romney Wolbach and Jennifer Worsley exhibit, on display through the end of the month, is no exception. This is an attractive show and the work hangs very well together. Colorful, abstract oil paintings by Heller inhabit the east gallery, wonderful pastels drawings by Worsley reside in the west gallery and ceramic sculptures by Wolbach are placed in both spaces, visually connecting the different media and styles of the 2-D artists.

Content and theme also serve to weave the exhibit into a unified whole. Heller’s oils are landscape-based abstractions, Worsley’s pastels on paper drawings are realistic creek and riverside landscapes and Wolbach’s sculptural elements are also drawn from the natural world.

Lou Ann Heller earned a BFA from the University of Arts In Philadelphia in 1976 and moved to Utah in 1977. She worked as a freelance designer until accepting a position as a staff artist for the Desert Morning News in 1993.

Horizon is the primary structural element in Heller’s “Wyoming Exit.” Converging diagonal elements are suggestive of natural land forms. The colors are vivid but conducive to the elemental landscape abstraction. Colors are played upon colors and paint strokes upon paint strokes in an “additive” method, which provides a sense of linear movement. There is a reference to shallow planes which break through the over-all composition here and there, providing further reference to place and environment.

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Heller’s painting, “Stained Glass,” |1| is another strong, colorful piece and continues in the style of the large works. However, the title suggests perhaps a landscape seen beyond, through a stained glass window. Certainly the composition suggests both stained glass and abstracted landscape elements. Again, we see Heller’s additive technique of large, individual brush strokes, relating and reacting to previous strokes, applied over areas of “scumbled” paint, or washes.

In “North of Wanship,” |0| a smaller canvas, Heller shifts gears and provides a less abstracted rendering. There is also a greater sense of depth of field, with a sky and clouds in the background of a more clearly defined range of rolling hills, and a foreground of tilted planes and outcropping of rock.

These images, although abstract, seem familiar and friendly. It is easy to recall memories of similar Utah landscapes seen from highways during excursions into the regional hinterlands. The style of the paintings is also familiar, though personal. These are non-threatening works that would be very easy to live with. All in all, Heller’s paintings work and react well together and present a handsome body of work, representing the development of a mature style. Eighteen paintings are included in the exhibit, nine large canvases, two medium sized, and seven small pieces.

Judith Romney Wolbach is a ceramic artist working with hand built techniques in red and black clay, high fired in primarily a reduction atmosphere, with oxide finishes rather than glazes. The sculptures feature elements from the natural world and range in height from 12 to 33 inches. She began working with ceramics later in life and describes herself as being a self-taught artist, now experiencing the new thrill of discovery and a new passion.

Her pieces have been arranged to good effect as trios. The central and largest piece in one of these trios trio features a bird perched atop a lidded vessel, seemingly “crowing” its welcome of daybreak. |2| This is a well-formed and conceived piece and is attractive as well as lighthearted. The firing reduction provided the perfect oxide “patina” which fits the bird and vessel shapes in texture and scale, and increases the naturalistic feel of the piece.

The next trio of figures is sculpted from both red and black clay and has a stronger, more “burned” reduction of the oxides.|3| This slightly metallic look provides a feeling of ancient ICON to the pieces, in keeping with the “fetish” theme. Wolback has developed a strong, very competent and controlled technique, which carries through to the firing. The variation of clays and firing atmospheres evident in the different pieces tells us that Wolback is very purposeful in her approach. The materials, designs, scale, and firing techniques are deliberate and well executed. The total effect provides a strong sense of “authority” to the pieces.

As mentioned in the preface, the deliberation of the selection committee is very evident. All three artists selected for this exhibit are women and all work with images taken from nature. Additionally, their determination to place Wolbach’s ceramic pieces strategically in both galleries serves to visually join the very different styles of two-dimensional artists into a more cohesive exhibit. Richard’s expertise in arranging the pieces so as to develop interesting dialogues between adjacent pieces is masterful. ”Glen Richards is without a doubt one of the best installers with whom I work,” complemented Kim Duffin of Richard’s installation skills.

Jennifer Worsley’s series of water-themed pastel drawings are also very competent and attractive works. From across the room, the drawings do not appear to be pastels. The tight and controlled rendering imparts a feel of photo-realism. However, as one approaches the pieces, the line work becomes increasingly evident, until lines become the primary graphic element.

Worsley’s convincing rendering of the water elements consists largely of swirly lines, which activate the surface and impart a heightened sense of motion and agitation. |4| The drawings are done en plein air and have captured the sense of place as well as time of year and day.

“June Evening, Parley’s Creek” provides a close study of water and rock, further evidence of Worsley’s draftsmanship and attention to detail. |5| The evening light has also been carefully rendered and convincingly captured. The coloring and shading of the rocks is wonderful and the layering and chalkiness of the pastels enhance the naturalistic textural and tactile feel of the organic materials and surfaces.

The “October Evening, Big Cottonwood Creek” drawing again shows Worsley’s immaculate attention to detail and concentrated effort to record the setting. |6| The soft, warm light says “evening,” and the colors of the foliage and level of the water says “autumn.”

While Worsley’s drawings are done on site and are representational and very descriptive, one can also discern the artist’s “eye” and deliberate compositional ploys to capture the viewer’s attention and direct their “eye” to look at the entire drawing. The compositions are organized in a circular manner. The line of a fallen tree reflects the incline of the creek bank directing the viewer’s eye uphill where rocks tumble into the water’s edge, directing the eye to the water which cascades downhill to a series of boulders, which direct the eye back to the creek bank and back up the sloping bank again.

Not only has the scene been captured by the artist, but also the viewer. One can imagine the quiet solitary contemplation of these works during a leisurely Sunday afternoon spent resting at home, as well as enjoying them during pleasant dinner conversation with friends and loved ones.

The optimum experience would be to have one piece from each artist for a balanced and harmonious ensemble. Barring that possibility, visit the Finch Lane Gallery as many times as possible between now and December 30.

While at Finch Lane, the intrepid art lover can also have a great time seeing the 22nd Annual Salt Lake City Arts Council, HOLIDAY CRAFT EXHIBIT and SALE, on the lower level.

This traditional Holiday craft exhibit is always very popular with area art and craft aficionados as well as savvy bargain shoppers. Exhibit coordinator Shaari Peddersen has done a great job bring together a wonderful and delightful collection of crafts. Craft objects from 66 artists will be available for Holiday gift giving, or a special treat just for your self.

Show highlights include: miniatures by John Anderson, sushi dishes by Sharon Bailey, tatted earrings by Lisa Bosworth, tree-top angels by Michele Debouzek-Dornan, silk scarves by Roberta Glidden, hand-painted Majolica by Diana Lea Hymas, carved dragons by Ray Kartchner, retablos by Peruvian folk artist Jeronimo Lozano, pottery by Sharon Brown Mikkelson, kaleidoscopes by April Motley, stained glass by Gail Piccoli, dried floral arrangements by Valerie Rich, bottle cap jewelry by Colleen Bryan Rodgers, hand-stitched leather bags and pottery by Wendy Wood, glass work by Dan Cummings, and many, many more wonderful items by local talented and creative craft artists, too numerous to mention.

This great fine art exhibit and intriguing craft show proves once again Finch Lane Gallery is one of the premier places to visit this month.

This article originally appeared in the December 20o5 edition of 15 Bytes.

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