The artists who recently completed three public-art projects for the state of Utah appear to be as interested in the possibilities found in the sheer scope of the works as in the commissions they received for completing them.
“Finding a place for a really big piece of artwork is hard,” says Michigan artist Dan Roache, who created “Sights and Sounds,” a 93-foot-long painted aluminum mural for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind in Salt Lake City. “The opportunity to do big stuff is usually in the public art realm.” Roache, in fact, has done enough big stuff in the state – four projects to date – that his niece, who lives near Draper, told him recently he was “getting to be a local artist.”
In addition to studying art, through his college years Roache also worked as a skilled machinist in the tool and die industry, painted signs and did construction work. All of this served to acquaint him with materials and techniques not found in college art studios and which come in handy when creating public art projects. In Utah, he has created a small metal-relief work for the Health Sciences Building at Salt Lake Community College in West Jordan; one called “Utah Road Trip” for the Department of Motor Vehicles in Draper; and “Home Flag” for the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs in Ogden. “I hope I’ve addressed the needs of all those spaces where I’ve put public art,” he said in a telephone interview.
The most recent commission was interesting to him because he was trying to address all of the population at the school. But given the location, it was out of reach of anyone touching it. “I wasn’t able to make anything tactile. But I made something that included the blind population through Braille and other compositional items,” Roache says. He used the color palette that was in the building itself and painted the semi-abstract metal piece with “automobile-type paint, which I usually use in my work.”
Weston Lambert, who moved to Utah two years ago from New Orleans and shares space in Spectrum Studios, South Salt Lake, with glass artists Dan Cummings and Brian Usher says he, too, wanted to create “Reconnect,” at the West Valley DABC store because working on a larger scale “presents challenges I don’t encounter in my smaller gallery works—challenges that I really enjoy solving.” He adds that a good portion of the DABC project “required coordinating various fabricators/manufacturers—engineers for the foundation, concrete workers, welders for the internal structure, stone masons for the cutting/coring of the stone, monument movers for the installation, water-jet cutters for the glass, advice from glass fabricators from New York to California. It’s a huge undertaking to make sure it all gets done and done on time. I love the process and the fact that if you collaborate with others, you can create amazing work that you couldn’t accomplish on your own.”
The former professor of practice in the glass program at Tulane University says he also views the work as a sort of public service. “Everyone should have access to art, and while Utah has some great museums I don’t think most people have the luxury/time to visit them, so having art in public places is really important to me. I also appreciate that you’re writing about these three commissioned pieces because most viewers don’t ever really get a chance to understand the context of a piece.” His works are typically half glass/half stone. He casts the glass to fit the stone and then grinds them into one seamless form.
“I’ve been making work with glass and stone for over 15 years so the reason for these materials runs deeper than just this commission, but something that appealed to me about using stone in this setting is its proximity to mountains—the South is pretty much a giant mudflat, so returning to a mountainous region [he is originally from Bellingham, Washington] made me feel like stone was particularly appropriate. As for composition, I chose to use two stones because I felt that together they represented people/figures interacting—something that’s vital to our culture and that we see less and less of with the growing use of technology and social media.
“I wouldn’t expect viewers to extract this idea from a cold read of the work, but it was part of my thought process while designing and executing the pieces. There’s also the inherent contrast of the materials that appeals to me—we know natural stone to be durable and timeless, whereas glass is a product of manmade processes and is considered relatively fragile. Interestingly, when you laminate glass it’s incredibly strong, even ballistic proof. Combining the two materials also expresses my fascination with the intersection of the natural world and the manmade world, and how we negotiate that relationship as a culture.”
Douwe Blumberg (pronounced “Dow,” a Dutch name) is a bronze sculptor who trained horses for 18 years before he turned to art. He created a 20-foot-tall face titled “Convergence” for the Unified State Lab in Taylorsville, scale being necessary to visually compete with the strong architecture and building size at the site.
Best known for his statue of a soldier on horseback commemorating Special Forces operations in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, Blumberg has received more than 200 commissions and a number of awards since becoming a sculptor in 2000. He attended USC and studied at the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, located in the mountains above Palm Springs, California.
In an artist statement Blumberg explains that the crime lab, medical examiner, and agriculture/food labs housed within the building share similarities: “They all are searching for truth and answers using pieces of information; in essence, they are solving puzzles.” The answers to which, he adds, are always related to people.
The gender-neutral face, composed of a “lace-like metal skin” formed from thousands of metal rings of different sizes, gazes skyward. It presents an incomplete image, a puzzle with missing pieces, “subconsciously inviting viewer completion, thus creating engagement and intellectual interaction,” says Blumberg.
The piece is viewable from 360 degrees and allows the passage of light, “making it a highly ‘experiential’ work as different views and affects are discovered,” the artist explains.
These projects are funded by the Utah Percent-for-Art Act, a 1985 law which designates 1% of construction costs of new and/or renovated state public buildings is added to the project for the purpose of commissioning, maintaining and conserving site-specific art at, on, or in the facility. A list of the 10 state public-art projects currently in process, as well as public-art opportunities in the state, can be found at https://heritage.utah.gov/arts-and-museums/public-art
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.