Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

A Refreshing Inversion: Lane Twitchell returns to Utah with “eye-popping aides for critical reflection”

Utah in winter presents not an altogether pristine landscape if you ask a local meteorologist. As those who live here can attest, the Wasatch Front is no stranger to temperature inversions that trap colder, smoggy air beneath a warmer air layer. The resulting haze is not only unpleasant; it can be dangerous to one’s health.

Fortunately, not all inversions are unhealthy or unpleasant. Some are downright intriguing, colorful, and refreshing. Case in point is Lane Twitchell’s artistic Inversion, a fascinating exhibit currently on display in downtown Provo until the end of January. According to Brad Kramer, proprietor and gallerist at Writ & Vision, “for the purposes of this show … ‘inversion’ carries three separate, but not unrelated connotations.” Namely, an inversion can be an obsolete term related to homosexuality, a pattern marked by reverse symmetry (such as might be seen in a photographic negative), or—last of all—a political take on the meteorological phenomenon described earlier. All three of these themes factor strongly into the works that currently line the walls at Writ & Vision, a purveyor of rare books and fine art.

Although the artist Lane Twitchell currently calls New York his home, his formative years were spent in Utah — first as a native of Murray, then Ogden, and finally as a BFA recipient at the University of Utah. Twitchell’s national critical acclaim is noteworthy, as is the inclusion of his works in venues from Washington, D.C.’s, Corcoran Gallery of Art to the Museum of Modern Art. By returning to Utah, the artist and his works appear to have come full circle.

Reflective of his Utah heritage, Twitchell has placed several youthful landscapes in seemingly random areas throughout the Writ & Vision galleries. Of course, any randomness is an illusion. By arranging a placid, quasi-pastoral landscape adjacent to works that explode in color and pattern, Twitchell‘s statement may be less about visual variety and more about old ideals juxtaposed with new realities.

Within Inversion, one encounters continual contrasts and more than a few puzzles. Some puzzles are purely logistical, as evinced by the fact that no artistic name plates are on display. Instead, visitors are provided guide books that describe each work’s title and physical location (e.g., front gallery, main gallery, upper gallery). Confusing as this logistical approach seems, it does come with a hidden benefit — simply trying to match each work’s title with its location slows visitors’ physical progress, thereby allowing time for greater introspection. Indeed, some of the most revealing moments come by viewing smaller pieces tucked into various nooks, crannies, and corners of the already eclectic space like the playful series of prophet mashup portraits stuck in bookshelves or several comic works hovering over a stack of Mark E. Petersen books on the floor next to a pile of colorful pins.

Alongside earlier works and so-called ephemera lie the most obvious show pieces of the exhibit, including several large-scale mandalas of incredible detail. In Writ & Vision’s full-color folio that accompanies the exhibit, noted art critic Christian Viveros-Fauné provides a vivid description of these mandalas:

Like the Freudian mind or some ancient city—take Imperial Rome, as a best example—Twitchell’s cut paper compositions accrue, detail upon careful detail, into a portrait of the collective unconscious as a teeming image cauldron, a type of tenement housing for the visible.

Viveros-Fauné also refers to Twitchell’s largest works as “eye-popping aides for critical reflection,” which they certainly are. Complex, yet inviting, each of the larger works references a kind of frenzied Scherenschnitte technique coupled with a kaleidoscopic, refractive design that teems with color, vibrancy, and intense detail.

In the same publication, gallerist Brad Kramer references Twitchell’s former Mormon faith and his current Buddhist practice, both themes that arc over the entire exhibit and resonate strongly in each piece.  But, as Kramer puts it, “a mere exposition of the ideas found in Lane’s show do a tremendous disservice to the work itself … Forget color theory and unusual technique: these are paintings you want to rub your face against.”

Impressive though these vibrant showpieces are, the smaller works also have much to say about Twitchell’s artistic journey as a gay ex-Mormon. For example, as visitors climb the stairs to the upper gallery, they encounter several inviting works mounted on a door leading off from the landing. In tandem with both pieces mounted on the door itself, visitors will also see a handwritten note inviting them to open the closet door and view other works. A closet door? What better tongue-in-cheek symbolism can there be? Be prepared to smile at the contents of the closet, by the way.

Important to the name of the exhibit, two mirror-image works can be seen in the upper gallery: Test Pattern (aka ‘Inversion’), which features a blurred angel Moroni composed of horizontal stripes on a black background. In the second version of Test Pattern, the angel is clad in gray stripes against a cream background. The symbolism and symmetry should both be obvious.

All in all, Twitchell’s complex relationship to his former faith provides a fertile field for self-expression and layered meanings. Indeed, as the gallery’s website indicates, “this exhibition represents the artist’s latest, and most autobiographical, exploration of (all aforementioned) thematic threads.” While time and space doesn’t permit a full verbal explanation here, let’s just say this is one inversion you definitely don’t want to miss.

Lane Twitchell’s Inversion, January 4 – 29, at Writ & Vision, 274 W. Center Street in Provo, during the hours of 1–6 p.m. and by special appointment (contact Brad Kramer at 801.647.7383).

Ruth Christensen writes full time for Imagine Learning, an education-based software company in Provo. She also works as a freelance writer, musician, and teacher after having taught vocal music for many years at BYU, UVU, and SUU.

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