There’s one life-size, cast-bronze golfer in the middle of this gallery, and a mysterious cut-out of a doorway, which staff-only can enter, behind a counter. Which leads one to feel that a mysterious and dreamy, miniature game of golf is being played here, in/at Salt Lake City’s Brushworks Gallery. Most of the paintings (with some exceptions: an enormous painting of the Grand Canyon, for example) tend to small, even miniature, as in born-in-Russia Olga Hegner’s flowers (“Sunflowers in Cut Glass Vase,” “Roses in Crystal”).
One of the most charming pieces in the gallery is “Buddhaphant,” a small sculpture set in the lower part of an open metal display shelf, floor-level. Small, brooding, an homage to a faraway place, “Buddhaphant” is made by the same sculptor, Gary Lee Price, who made the giant standing metal golfer, leaning on his club (“At the Tee”).
Many paintings tend toward ricochets of blues, as they portray coastal crags, canyons, rocks: nature. As in Brian Blood’s seascapes, rich Californian crags jutting into water — “Afternoon at Perkins Point” and “Emerald Waters, Point Lobos,” with its sea-water of dark turquoise bouncing off of crags, but purer lighter blue water beyond.
When buildings appear in these paintings, they are usually distant buildings, with a sharply lonely/utilitarian aspect, sheds that seem like weary but enduring mother figures, or beached ships in dry harbor. A California plein air painter, Jason Situ (born in China, once an art student at Guangzhou Fine Arts Institute, now American) has gathered a whole, small, painting around one deep-maroon-roofed utility building somewhere in Borrego Springs, California. Nearby, buoyant clouds of rabbit brush, or chamisa, bloom their yellowish-green bundles of puffs of incredibly sweet-smelling late summer flowers, casting shadows the same maroon as the roof. In between, the ground looks to be baked dry. Yet beyond (like a waiting patient giant blue animal, ready to be saddled) are mountains. Mountains which promise more mountains, but also coolness, rain.
Or, just land and clouds: in “San Gabriel Valley, California” Situ’s clouds as big as dragons, or just-passed-by gigantic airships, are painted as they move. How does a plein air painter paint fast-moving clouds? It might be a skill like being good, as a cowboy, with a lasso. Situ has it. Small, dark, fitful-looking trees are on this painting’s horizon; silhouettes, they seem to be gazing out at the broad sunset beyond them, dramatic as all of a ship’s signal flares rocketing up from somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.
Michael Stack, a painter living in Taos, New Mexico, suggests, it seems, in his oil-on-board painting “Illuminated on High,” that his Southwestern American rock formations are studying to be cloud formations; that the clouds above are doing their best to sculpt themselves into a copy of the rocks below.
In “One” manufactured-realist Wendy Chidester has painted one glossy, perfectly centered-on-canvas gumball machine. A one-penny, one-gumball variety. You waiting for exactly one gumball to drop is a faint, humorous reminder that our human fates are one by one; our timelines are one by one; yet, our fates and timelines, in some ways, are all the same. We’re historic batch replacing historic batch: almost factory lots.
But nature persists. And at this gallery, now, if you look around a corner and down a corridor, there are actually three golf-course paintings, all the same (small) size, all untitled. Painted by Gary Max Collins, they’re sweet as cowboy songs, primitive, almost childlike, in style. The greens are jewel-green. Paint smoothly applied, each brings you to the feeling of island or new land which golf courses, and golfers, surely have always sought.
All around in this gallery are islands, continents, suddenly yours to explore, as far as your eyes can see. The dream of landing, arriving, in a new lush or rocky land, of adventure — this is Gatsby stuff.
Group show, featuring Brian Blood, Laurie Kersey and W. Jason Situ, Brushworks Gallery, Salt Lake City, through Oct. 13.
Rebecca Pyle is a writer and an artist with work in dozens of art/literary journals, in the United States and also in journals (in the English language) in Hong Kong and the U.K. and Northern Ireland, Belgium, India, France, and Germany. She graduated from the university the Wizard of Oz adored, the University of Kansas, where she studied art and lit. See rebeccapyleartist.com.