Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Essences of Life on Earth at 15th Street Gallery: Memmott, Gerrard, Call & Egbert

Aaron Memmott, “Autumn Twilight,” oil, 40 x 48 in.

Probably all the important essences of human life in this world can be summed up by the works at 15th Street Gallery: paintings of humans’ cities, paintings of humans, paintings just for the joy of painting and vessels made from clay.

Most of Aaron Memmott’s paintings (“State Street Rising,” “Autumn Twilight”) have wet, gleaming streets in common; one shows a bit of Salt Lake City’s Eagle Gate (which, with its vast dull green copper swooping side pieces, always looks to this reviewer much more like a vast dull-green seagull in flight) and the state’s capitol building; others depict busy downtown traffic intersections. Dull purple shadows, almost exactly the color of under-eye shadows in a human face, suggest, as the rainy streets do, fall, even when autumn is not in the title. (Or does Memmott always shade in a blueish-grayish purple? It is a sweet and solemn color for shadow. Memmott lists one his influences as Wayne Thiebaud, but Theibaud’s almost electric-periwinkle-blue shadows are not here: Memmott’s shadowing colors are wonderfully different from Thiebaud’s.) One delight in this group of paintings, and a departure from the cityscapes, focuses on a single roll of Lifesaver candies, upright as a signal flare; around the unwrapped tube are three candies of creamy white, dull red, and dull frost-purple. Without using a single bit of metallic paint, Memmott still shows us, through reflections and shadow and a myriad of colors, that the inner wrapper of the Lifesavers roll is unmistakably silvery, metallic; and the zig-zag peel-away from the roll is so perfect, with its ragged inner layer of white mixed with the tin foil, you can remember how it felt to peel it away, to find which Lifesaver color was first. Another delight is Memmott’s small “Closing Act,” where it’s clear the painter is excited by the face-frontal triangularity of the single building in the painting: forming that suggested Parthenonic triangle are very dark support lines or wires, in the air, tautly holding up a chimney or brick pillar at the center of the building’s roof. From the building’s roofline to top of the canvas, Memmott has laid down a bold opaque Egyptian-blue paint for sky: beautifully countering that brilliance is a wide stretch of dullest, darkest mud brown through the street, crossing straight east to west on the canvas, giving the painting a great and somber weight.

Trent Call, “Turned Back,” oil, 30 x 30 in.

The human forms in this show are painted by Trent Call. One perfectly square painting, “Turned Back,” shows a woman in a pose which suggests, in its grace, a flower twisting upward to bloom. In “Front Room,” a nude figure is in a cozy setting, a cat and a full-to-the-top cup of tea on the floor just below the spot where she is seated. Jagged, edgy corners suddenly appear in many spots in these paintings, even along the outer outline of the figures. Call, who, in addition to traditional painting techniques, is interested in screen printing, graphics, and comic techniques, has added these sharp, sometimes brilliantly orange or green sharp square edges throughout the paintings. They emanate from an almost-invisible grid of small squares working its way through all these paintings: everything can be graphed, Call seems to say, even the human body.

Alex Gerrard’s glowing, reflecting work might be the dream of standing water after rain. She pours thick slowly-drying resin over her (mostly) very large paintings as they lie flat: after four hours’ drying time in her studio, they can stand. Even titles like “Your Body is the Divine Portal” and “Dying Eros” do not upstage these works. These clear-resin embedded/encoated paintings have a much different glimmer than glass: there’s a creaminess, as if it’s a clear amber formed by time. Gerrard says in her artist statement that this “in-the-present” work requires from her an intuitive continuous “call and response” and “a deep listening.” The result feels like deep visual listening: as you pass one of Gerrard’s large works, with its underlayment of sanded paint-pigments (the painting which was the beginning of the work, pre-resin) your shadow crossing through it/past it looks a lot like a shadow in a pond, or like something fleetingly, surprisingly seen on a security camera — dark and sudden in its movements.

Alex Gerard, “Temple of Fire,” resin and mixed media, 30 x 30 in.

The pottery pieces here are by J. Amber Egbert. A group of white pieces to one side of a shelf, a group of black pieces on the other side, they look like oversized chess pieces somehow bred with old and homely British chimney pots. The potter has let them have an appealing, earnest, subtle lumpiness, but yet, most of their forms are classic, simple, sometimes with plaintively shy end-pieces, or handles. The white pieces are a creamy eggshell-white. The black pieces have a creamy matte surface, also, as if a weary, peaceful coal has been pulverized and is part of the glaze, or as if they are made of black soap. Many are made without a potter’s wheel — instead, coil by coil of upward-building clay, smoothed by hand by the artist. Still, here and there, you detect slight bundled-mummy ridges: Egbert has made a strength out of not over-working any piece, letting methods show.

To great effect one large, exceptionally lumpy two-toned pottery piece by Egbert is between two vast paintings by Gerrard. Turn the corner, and resin-embedded paintings by Gerrard intermix with Call’s nudes, with surprising crisp angles and colors. Across the gallery, cityscapes by Aaron Memmott glow, their streets ashine at dusk or night. The world is a good place, has spun correctly; fall is here.


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