Painter, filmmaker, free-lance graphic artist, educator, and Director of the Central Utah Art Center, Jared Latimer can often be found huddled over a laptop in his limestone–walled basement office at the Art Center, a few blocks from Snow College in the Sanpete County town of Ephraim. He may be making a short film he will upload to the Web, or creating commercial images like those I found him working on recently: convincing satellite photographs of a not-yet-built island city in the Persian Gulf. It’s hardly noteworthy anymore how the Web allows a literally subterranean workspace to serve as the platform for a global vision, but Latimer has finessed this opportunity and his particular skills to enable him to manage multiple roles, each one of which is jealous of his time. Operating the Art Center is a full-time job, as are his commitments to the LDS community and his family. Throw in earning a living, and art—especially the demands of being one of Utah’s cutting-edge painters—could easily fall by the wayside. Yet Latimer continues to forge new works in the manner that has made him a respected member of a national network of young painters who foster and encourage each other’s work.
Latimer is the third director, each of whom was also a full-time artist, of central Utah’s only not-for-profit art gallery and educational center. Known locally as “the Quack,” CUAC is just part of the rich collection of cultural treasures that ornament Highway 89 as it threads the understated natural beauty of this narrow alpine valley. Travelers between Spanish Fork and Richfield gain access to the collective memory of the Mormon pioneers who settled the Utah territory over a century ago. Along the route lie such time capsules as the ruins of Thistle, the Fairview Museum and its Mammoth skeleton, the mercantile facades of Mount Pleasant, Spring City, the Manti Temple, and scattered among them, possibly the finest collection of indigenous architecture surviving from the European craftsmen who built as though eternity was to judge.
Jared Latimer grew up in California, his family moving from the urban south to the agricultural Central Valley and finally to bucolic Sonoma. By the time he returned from a two-year mission in Rome, his family’s migration had reached what now seems its foreordained goal: Utah. He had changed, too. The artistic riches of the Italian capital, in particular the privilege of regular access to the works of Caravaggio—who along with Delacroix remains his greatest influences—had led him to think of painting as a more legitimate vocation than building hot-rod cars. And BYU, always an ideal goal, was now close at hand.
Latimer shakes his head gently and chuckles as he recalls being rejected by BYU even as he was offered a scholarship by the school’s art department. “I got into college like an athlete,” he quips. But by the time he graduated with a BFA, figuration no longer held him. He was more interested in the ideas behind the paintings. Content was important, and he wanted to say real things. These goals pointed him toward the big art schools in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York. He ended up in the graduate program at Pratt Institute in New York, where he was just starting his studies in September, 2001, when he witnessed the events of 9/11, and found the theme that has shaped his painting ever since.
In the United States we like to credit our success to our virtue. We don’t publicly question the processes that produce our wealth and power. So it was that the events of 9/11 led less to soul-searching and self-questioning than to loss of confidence and increasing conflict between social and political factions. Latimer, though, is a trained artist: taught to examine circumstances and explore his responses. “I couldn’t not respond,” he says of the terrorist attacks and their aftermath.
Some of us identify it as characteristic of today’s schooled artists that they make art by formulas learned in art school, rather than by the seat of their pants. Of course, artists have always learned their skills by studying from older artists, but where once that involved learning with ones hands what a single master knew, it now means studying distilled patterns of conceptualizing and marketing a product. It comes as no surprise that Latimer learned to approach art making as a process of exploration—one that can be repeated, elaborated, and perfected—rather than as a purely personal search for mystical inspiration. Nor is it a judgment on his work to note the distinction. Art has been re-invented many times, and this is but the latest version.
If Latimer has a muse, though, instead of “Clio” she might be named “Anxiety.” “The idea that someone is currently planning (and) strategizing other assault leaves me feeling very uneasy,” he writes. “My paintings represent conflict. They represent both what I see in the world and the possibility (or) inevitability of what could happen.” The need to cope with uncertainty in an uncertain world led him to focus on the level of conflict that leads to violence, and to create a process in his paintings that mimics such clashes in order to resolve them. He hopes that by reducing his own internal strife, he can discover a means of resolving the larger conflicts that lead to bloodshed, and through painting he can express that breakthrough as metaphor.
As befits a man who not only makes art, but also teaches it, Latimer is articulate in explaining his process. He compartmentalizes conflict—which he doesn’t clearly distinguish from terrorism—into three stages. The first is planning: the choice of a target. While this could be ideas or values, Latimer has chosen to present locales—literal targets—usually places where he or his family live. The second stage is the event. While 9/11 itself was painfully one-sided, a ruthless attack on a defenseless target, Latimer arms both sides and lets the conflict play out in the action of making the painting. The third phase is resolution, effected by a third party not involved in the confrontation. He discovers this element in the course of working out the event.
Latimer’s locale is usually seen from above, as if through a bombsight. It could look just so from an airplane, though it sometimes resembles a map. Occasional elements, like the house in “Salt Lake,” are seen in perspective, but these have more to do with the second phase. Once he has set the scene, conflict begins between his two principle techniques: painting and drawing. Of course the literal-minded may object that both elements are painted, but what he means is not the actual method of paint application, but rather the mental and artistic process that precedes the brushing on of paint. That house in “Salt Lake” (below and to the right of the airport), the sphere in “Ephraim–Eastside,” |2| and the geometric armatures that appear throughout are all examples of the most essential thing that artists do: abstracting the three-dimensional world onto a two-dimensional surface. This drawing results in a network of lines, which usually don’t exist in nature, but stand for edges and represent contours flattened onto the drawing surface.
Drawing contrasts with a painter’s depiction of three-dimensional forms by the use of shaded areas of color to directly mimic their impact on the eye. As Hans Hoffman, one of Latimer’s influences, described this process, “in nature, light creates color, while in painting, color creates light.”
In Latimer’s painting, these two quintessential artistic modes of representation vie for supremacy on the canvas. Their struggle often takes graphic form, as the drawings leap forward from the illusionary surface of the painting, or painting appears to come forward and cover part of the drawing. As in real life, the locale often suffers most from these battles. The overall depredation of one part of the painting by another—the appearance of layers either covering up, or seeming to peel away to reveal what lies beneath—is one of the signature gestures in painting today, and may either delight or frustrate viewers.
Or it may do both. Suggestive as it is of historical processes, like the way ruins poke through modern landscapes, its legitimacy stems from philosophy as much as from practice. As today’s artists see it, if the essence of drawing is abstracting lines out of space, the essence of painting is mark making. Of course neither of these actions is unique to a medium: a pencil can be used to shade in a shape or make pure marks, while the brush can draw a line. The problem is that marks take on virtues of their own. A mark—whether made with pencil or brush—can be beautiful in itself: even more beautiful than the subject matter it intends to serve. When this happens, it can become precious. Even before then, the problem with any one mark is it precludes another mark from becoming. The dilemma for the maker, then, becomes a struggle between the mark he makes and the one he could have made, or might still make. One solution for this problem—a way in effect of keeping marks in perspective—is to erase them. Of course if every mark were erased, nothing would be left. So some get erased, some are covered up, and others are appropriated into other figures. Thus the conflict—and the search for resolution—goes on.
The resolution of one of Latimer’s paintings is always dependent on what the conflict has left behind. His theory calls for a third party, but the nature of the specific third party is predetermined by the theory and example of Abstract Expressionism. “Resolution of the conflict of drawing and painting,” he explains, “comes about when line becomes mass and volume.” Thus the spiraling knots seeming to grow organically across the surface of his most recent works. These figures, which remind me of finger-painting in its most essential form (a resemblance I find as exciting as the artist finds uncomfortable), come in to resolve such artistic questions as composition, balance, and dynamics. In essence they span isolated instances of art making across the canvas and unite them into a single, energetically active whole, unity being a goal of both society and art.
Latimer developed his work ethic early. After graduating from Pratt in 2003 he took a job teaching in Ohio, where his wife, Nancy, had family. Soon he was teaching painting and drawing in four separate college art departments, and Italian at another. He was also working as a driver for United Parcel Service. At Pratt he’d met two other Utah artists—Chip Rich and Adam Bateman—and it was Bateman who now intervened to offer a ticket back to Utah. If Ohio presented less of a target than New York, Utah looked even better, and Bateman, who had built CUAC into the State’s finest venue for new art, wanted someone who was like-minded, while also likely to fit in, to take charge when he left.
In 2006, Latimer and his family made the move to Spring City, where he and Nancy are raising a son and daughter and supervising a troop of Boy Scouts. After a year of pre-existing commitments, he now makes his own plans at CUAC. In addition to his freelance graphic jobs, he teaches at both B.Y.U. and Snow College. The former is an 80-mile commute over the Wasatch Mountains, while the latter lies a block from CUAC’s back door. He credits support from Nancy, a smart and sophisticated companion, for making it all possible. It’s obviously true. But it’s also clear that where many would say, “That’s enough,” for Jared Latimer it’s only a foundation. For a man who felt offended by the indifference of many at BYU to the student art shown on the Provo campus, who built a separate gallery for his BFA show at Pratt in order to force viewers to commit to it, and who says it “feels healthier that everything I do is connected with art,” being only “connected with art” will never be enough. On some level, everything he does is so he can stand at his easel, and turn it all into paint.
Geoff Wichert has degrees in critical writing and creative nonfiction. He writes about art to settle the arguments going on in his head.