Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Cary Griffiths: Abstractions in Music and Paint

Every artist dreams of finding his/her “voice” – that unique way of expressing that thing that drives them to create art. Salt Lake City artist Cary Griffiths has found a voice that is as musical as it is colorfully visual.

In a style reminiscent of Jackson Pollock, he drips acrylic paint on the prepared canvas in patterns that may seem haphazard but are quite deliberate. The results are richly layered, dimensional paintings that may evoke a kinesthetic as well as emotional response in viewers.

As an abstract painter, Griffiths challenges himself to paint what he feels rather than what he sees. He finds expression through a process of meditation and listening to music. “I like to turn all the lights out and turn on some jazz, and I meditate on what kind of day it’s been. I put on music that either follows the mood of the day, or that alters the mood. Then, as I’m meditating, colors come to mind as well as patterns of lines moving.”

For example, his painting “Black and Tan,” was inspired by the accidental death of a friend’s child and the emotion-filled funeral that Griffiths attended. “I went home, got a glass of wine, and put some soothing music on, but it didn’t help. Then I did a sketch that’s kind of like a blueprint. I usually let a sketch set for a while, but [in that situation] I couldn’t do that. I got out a canvas and started painting.”

Griffiths’s paintings evolve over a number of days or weeks as he responds to previous layers with new layers of dripped paint. Often his paintings have eight or more layers by the time he declares them finished.

Of his process, Griffiths says, “When I paint I almost always feel a beat, a rhythm in what I’m painting. Often a melody as well. As I paint I feel lifted and lyrical. I think the variety of form, color, and content in my work reflects that I hear and feel what I paint. I have been working on creating a visual image of music as a path by which a viewer is able to move into this exquisitely expressive style of modern abstract expressionism.”

A worthy goal, but will it play in Salt Lake City? Griffiths is the first to admit that his work might be a little too “out there” for the average Utahn’s taste in art. Nevertheless, he shows – and sells – his paintings in Palmer’s Gallery and Art at the Main. Still, he senses he might do better in a larger, more sophisticated market, which is why he is testing the waters in Philadelphia, New York City, and internationally.

As with any marketing venture, you take risks when bringing your fine art to the world market. Griffiths admits he’s learned many lessons and some the hard way. Emboldened by a successful group show in Philadelphia where he sold a painting, he began exploring the New York market. He researched galleries in magazines and the Internet, downloaded applications, and began sending them out.

“Some galleries didn’t answer my application,” he says, “but most of the curators I’ve dealt with have been very gracious even if they didn’t like my work.”

Eventually, he was invited to exhibit at a gallery in the Chelsea district, one that asks the artist to participate in the cost of the exhibit and related publicity. Though some artists argue one should never pay a gallery to exhibit, Griffiths has found it a positive and useful experience. “For the investment, you’re getting all the publicity, including articles in magazines and other publications, an opening reception with refreshments, and a catalog.”

And, of course, exhibiting at a Chelsea gallery provides lots of exposure to not only potential collectors but others in the art world. Griffiths was invited to exhibit in another New York gallery after his initial exhibit. And it was the curator at his New York gallery that suggested the opportunities to exhibit in London and Portugal.

This is where Griffiths learned a hard lesson. He says he should have known better. “When I was a production manager for an engineering firm, I learned that in some countries you have to pay a little extra money to the powers that be to get your things through customs.”

Having momentarily forgotten that business lesson, Griffiths was distressed to learn that his paintings had not arrived at the Portuguese gallery but had been sitting in customs for two weeks. “I had to ask one of the Portuguese artists participating in the group show to take some cash to the customs office and get my work out.”

Closer to home, Griffiths’s work has been popular with Art at the Main visitors. This month (June 15 – July 11), he is the featured artist at the gallery, which is on the street level of the main Salt Lake City Library (210 East 400 South). Titled Searching for the Abstract Interior, the exhibit will feature musically titled works (“Body and Soul,” “Composition in Black and Blue”) that Griffiths describes as “melodic abstractions.”

“I leave the interpretation of this art, and the journey into it, to the viewer, believing that each person views art in his or her own way; however, the musical titles may be a nudge onto the bridge.” Griffiths will welcome conversations with visitors during Gallery Stroll on Friday, June 19, 6-9 p.m.

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