Enter the quiet Alvin Gittins Gallery in the Art & Art History Building on the University of Utah campus and your eyes are drawn immediately to the right wall. A massive 9’ x 32’ work of art, full of black and gray washes, lines, and squiggles calls for you to look at it. It’s part of the MFA show of David Habben, in the gallery through March 28, a massive backdrop to a series of smaller works, presented as a collection, none bearing official title, but each bearing charm and allure.
Walk through the free-standing walls of the gallery and you are presented with multiple opportunities to conjure up your own interpretations in this 48-piece series inspired by the incredibly expressive movements of the artists from the School of Dance. Principally a figurative artist, Habben was drawn to the forms and movements of dancers for his Master’s project, but knew that by interpreting them figuratively he would never be able to truly capture the art form that was presented before him. Instead, he began to explore the intricacy of the relationship between the dance and his drawings, the dancers drawing upon his work, and his work drawing upon their craft.
As Habben explains, the 48 smaller works are documents of moments in the presence of dancers and musicians, each brushstroke inspired by movement and sound. For a viewer, a unique opportunity arises in which movement is created on a still page. The eye can trace a line as it dances across the paper, creating its own moment in time as it resonates in a different way. While standing still in a gallery, examining a still piece on a page, a visitor can experience their own kind of dance and interaction with the piece. Though it may be different from the one that Habben first interacted with to create the piece, it links back to it at the core of inspiration.
The presentation of the pieces creates another level of movement throughout the gallery space. The viewer is led on a sort of journey, turning around corners to find one piece that is completely unlike the last, yet similar in unexpected ways. The only piece that is on a fixed wall is the large mural that is on the right when one enters the room. This creates a feeling of magnetism, being drawn from one to the other. While looking at the large mural, you always want to be peeking behind the corners to see the pieces that you might be missing on the other side of the moveable walls. While behind those walls there may just be an edge of the mural that is escaping from view.
One of the most entrancing aspects of the 9’ x 32’ mural is the fact that it was created in collaboration with the artists from the School of Dance. Everybody got to take part in watching their fellow artists work, and creating what they felt represented that well. Part of the beauty of the exhibit is that it offers you the opportunity to take a moment, to sit down, and to look at this piece, seeking what is behind the surface level. At first glance, it may just seem like ink on a large sheet of paper. Eventually, subtleties begin to reveal themselves. Not all of the ink is black. There are different kinds of brushes used. There are signature designs of different artists sprawled across the mural. There is language. There are animals. It is fanciful, and deep, surprising, and worth exploring. Not only did these artists all use their own expressions of art to create the largest piece in the room, but Habben was able to capture an expression of each of them in a smaller piece in his own way.
David Habben MFA Show, Gittins Gallery, U of U, Salt Lake City, until March 28, artist talk tonight, March 24, 5 p.m., Art Building, room 158, reception follows, 6-9 p.m.
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