Once again, Saltgrass Printmakers has mounted a show that everyone in the Utah art community could profit from seeing, that UMFA or UMOCA might well feature for a season. It’s not just that Wayne Kimball and Bob Kleinschmidt are emeritus heads of two of Utah’s foremost print departments—Kimball at BYU and Kleinschmidt at the U—making their side-by-side appearance a revealing look back at a moment in recent history. It’s also hard to imagine two more contrasting approaches to art making. To see two consummate craftsmen, each a master, yet each confidently and entirely negating whatever the other foregrounds, is to humble our preconceptions about art and open our minds to our one unlimited resource: creativity.
Among thirty-four prints in three rooms, works by both artists are intermixed without fear of one being mistaken for the other. Most viewers will find Wayne Kimball’s sophisticated lithographs initially more approachable. His full-color images fit together like fine machines, their polished surfaces recalling greeting cards and decorator art, which he jazzes up with contrasting textures and multiple dimensions literally cut into a traditionally flat medium. Rounding out the look are architectural–styled framing devices and display fonts, ensuring art that is ready to go, and belong, anywhere.
By comparison, Kleinschmidt takes a low-tech approach, dilute black on off-white paper, that deliberately strikes the eye as funky or primitive, either way connoting candor and direct, honest expression. During the ’60s crafts revival, when many pilgrims to art were genuinely rough and unsophisticated, work like this argued the primacy of what the artist brought to the page, and sincerity was thought to be lost with each additional layer of technique. Kleinschmidt’s signal accomplishment is to keep this authentic feeling intact, in spite of the awesome sophistication visible in his playfully amateurish renderings.
The two differing techniques don’t just show off the artists’ individual working preferences; they serve contrasting aesthetic purposes as well. If Kimball captures the eye first, Kleinschmidt’s art comes across faster, presenting a self-portrait, or semi-fictionalized memoir, as charming as it is accessible. His self-portraits recall Rembrandt’s in the way they don’t just show us the look of the man, but each encapsulate the life-experience up to the moment of its making. Humble details—the hair on the back of his head, the ‘very old sweater’ he wears to pose, and personal idiosyncrasies like a ‘portable blessing’—come along interspersed between large, revealing anecdotes. One, simply titled “Sheep,” shows the artist with the animal literally on his mind, while my favorite, “We Used to Dip Sheep,” captures him staggering under the weight of a half-dipped sheep that he seems about to draw with. No doubt a younger artist with less talent would feel it necessary to do so for real, and call it a performance. Study his feet here, or his hand clutching a small mummy in “Somewhere in Utah I Was Telling the Bees.” The chemical process that produced that sensuous, geological flesh texture, so easily overlooked, contrasts deliberately with the leaded glass look of the bees, which otherwise suggest a simple rearrangement of his nearby beard, carried across the short distance on the breath of his telling. This is art that cannot ever be used up.
Kimball’s images, on the other hand, defy those viewers who prefer representation over abstraction simply because they can recognize the subject matter, even when they have no idea what the point is. The merely-descriptive title, “Emperor and Someone Else’s Horse,” for instance, refers to a pair of frames erected above a zebra-skin rug, separated by an Egyptian-looking tree, the entire ensemble floating illogically on a reticulated background. In one frame, a familiar Roman bust has a carved stone spiral for a pedestal. In the other, a horse looks over a fence rail. The Roman is Constantine, who split his empire in two and founded the Eastern capital that bore his name. The horse comes from a Western landscape. Here in a few square inches can be found the inviolate mysteries of past and present, east and west. Someone else’s horse? How about someone else’s life, made of the same elements—trees, rugs, horses, haircuts—yet mysteriously, irreducibly isolated from each other. It’s a safe bet that within each of Kimball’s meticulously rendered scenes, similar matters lie coiled for discovery and contemplation.
BYU has become the nation’s foremost center for teaching computer animation, and perhaps a hint of why can be found in Wayne’s Kimball’s exquisitely convincing illusions and theatrical stage sets. Bob Kleinschmidt counters with folksy stories: pictures that say, ‘I was there: This is how it felt.’ If they have anything in common, it could be what someone once called the Surreality of Everyday Life. That, and a wall in a former bungalow, on a side street in Sugar House.