Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Feast and Fast; Jennifer Barton, Sunny Taylor, Carolyn Guild

A lot can go on at the Springville Museum of Art. Sure, the Soviet era realism and impressionism never seems to find its way into storage, and when the annual Spring Salon and the Religious and Spiritual Art exhibits are hung they stick around for extended runs, but most months, like this month, the museum hangs six or seven shows in galleries on a cycle as short as the moon’s. Which means, if you’re not careful you might miss something.

Jennifer Barton

One thing not to miss is the current exhibit (in what I used to think of as the main gallery, back when the Museum’s entrance was to the north) of works by Jennifer Barton and Sunny Belliston Taylor. Barton and Taylor are both accomplished artists, playing, at different levels, with abstraction. In Barton’s works, objects and figures float in nondescript spaces, full of subtle textures and abstract developments. Her work in this exhibit is split between a series featuring various renderings of a young woman, and still lifes in which domestic objects, mostly scissors, play off each other in formal variations. Barton’s figures are never fully developed. Only a small portion ever seems to be concrete or “finished,” the rest fading into strokes and smudges. It’s not like a traditional figure study, however, where the rest appears “unfinished.” Barton’s figures were never meant to be fully concrete. As if to drive the point home, some of her most cursory lines sit on top of, rather than beneath, the “finished” work. The works with scissors and cloth and spools of thread bring to mind a domestic setting; but the pieces give way to the background’s surface play as much as to the objects, making one wonder if the tools are being used for practical or playful purposes. Scissors and thread can be used to make collages or sew dolls as much as to hem skirts and stitch curtains. In one work, a bowl of untouched pears floating above a pair of scissors suggests that whether her tools are being used to create clothing or art, the act is as necessary to life as food.

Sunny Taylor (who I always want to call Belliston, if only because her maiden name reflects the dynamism and play of her work so much better than her quotidien married one — no offense Justin) appears to have taken the three simple strips that appear in Barton’s “Elizabeth Series III,” found a way to make them reproduce, and, like a curious biologist with unlimited grant resources, sets about pushing the simple organisms to an endless –and captivating — series of combinations. The strips twine into nests, bend like straws, and swirl in a vortex. They are one with the ground, sit atop it, or fade into darkness. They can be dappled and stippled, stark or shaded. Sometimes they are even simply thread sewn on the surface. They are always inventive and a pleasure to look at.

Next door, the retrospective of Hilma Mole Payne (covered elsewhere in this edition) shows a classic Utah landscape artist, as good as, if less well-known, than many of her contemporaries. As if to emphasize the advantage of having so many shows in one place, the exhibition of J.T. Harwood paintings upstairs allows us to see Payne in light of her teacher’s work. Though Payne’s works look better (fuller) in person than in reproduction, they pale against her teacher’s (but how many of Harwood’s students ever outshone him?). The Harwood exhibit has culled works from the last dozen years of the artist’s life. They must have been comfortable years, because as these works attest he was able to spend an ample amount of time in Europe. The oils show a painter in expert control of his medium, from the depiction of an encrusted fountain in Paris to the wonderful attention to light in his coastal scenes. My favorite pieces, though, are the collection of drawings in an adjacent gallery. Executed on dark papers, these pastel, pencil and crayon works are given only hints of light and color, leaving the rest of the space untouched. They are lovely and evocative postcard scenes, charming for their simplicity; for what they say and don’t say; for what they leave out, and what they demand you fill in.

Restraint like this gives art a touch of grace many artists never achieve. Carolyn Guild achieves a type of grace in her photographs by purposely choosing to restrain her work to the shades of traditional black and white photography. With some subjects this might not be noteworthy, but since Guild captures the landscapes of the west, her monochromatic act of faith renounces one of her subject’s most obvious strengths — its wonderful palette. Some of her photographs play to the medium’s logical strengths: The dripping icicles against a dark background in “Clear Spirit No. 11” or the patterns of bare trunks against white snow in “Bugaboos: Queen of Spades” are wonderful studies of contrast, pattern and form. But when Guild shoots places in southern Utah like Bryce, Canynonlands and Arches, she foregoes the colors that most of her peers use to dazzle. In some respects, though, we see more, not less. Since we aren’t giving in to an orgy of color, in “White Rim – Island in the Sky” we can concentrate on the pattern of undulating crests and in “Fractured Shadows” we are more attune to the textures of the rock, sensing the abrasive surface beneath our fingertips. In both cases fasting can be feasting.

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