by Geoff Wichert
I’m suspicious of anything calling itself an art festival. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s Pasadena’s world-renowned Pageant of the Masters, with dressed-up volunteers posed in three-dimensional tableaus based on famous paintings, or the local fair, anywhere, at which children get their faces painted while their parents try on various hand-crafted looks for their homes, gardens or themselves. My wife, on the other hand, worked her way through high school and college painting faces at events in Payson. She also patiently indulges my indefensible desire to stroll galleries several times a month, so when she asked if we could go to last week’s Utah Arts Festival, I had to agree. And I’m glad I did.
Organizers of the Arts Festival have done several things that make their event stand out from the usual ‘artsy’ fair. Make that ‘fare,’ because the menu here includes a sufficiently broad range of events to guarantee that no level of taste or experience feels excluded. Wrapping the Festival around and through the City Library, with its strong outreach programs, engaging the City College’s writing program, and getting even the most esoteric arts organizations in town, like UMOCA, to join stalwarts like Art Access in hosting the kids‘ activities were all choices that helped bring art into focus as an actual presence in the event, rather than being just its theme. Further helping to remove the quotation marks from the title ‘Art‘ Festival was the invitation of numerous working artists who regularly show in local galleries. One of the first things serious artists learn is that such events rarely pay back the price of participation; convincing them to participate went a long way towards balancing the familiar with the novel and making the latter seem less intimidating, less disappointing to those hoping to find pleasure in the experimental as well as the entertaining.
Even as the Arts Festival was taking place, two of its invited artists who were meeting the public in their respective booths were also featured in 15 Bytes. By showing in separate, but back-to-back booths, Blake and Cat Palmer gave living form to Shawn Rossiter’s account of how they meld collaboration and independence in their various projects. Another well-known artist couple who have appeared in these pages, Marcee and Ric Blackerby, shared a booth. The art was primarily Marcee’s, while Ric displayed the real-life original of one of the many themes of his popular art: his delight in his life’s companion.
At first glance, the realistic paintings of David Estes might have seemed a conventional part of just about any arts festival . . . that is, if the first glance hadn’t included “Secular Saint,” his approximately life-sized depiction of a modern crucifixion on a hospital bed. Along with Eric Benroth’s “Frugal Meal,” Estes’ confrontational image was one of two gut-punches at Utah ’11, the Utah Division of Arts and Museums most recent Statewide Annual Exhibition. Another artist who showed alongside Estes in the Rio Gallery is Dave Borba, whose charming sculpture of a bird, its wing bandaged, but still flying with the help of a steampunk mechanism—helped in turn by viewers turning a crank—proved that a work of art can address nature and real life without rubbing the viewer’s nose in it.
In his booth at the Festival he showed a range of painted carvings and unique castings, including his metaphors on the human heart and his witty take-offs on vintage ads brought to three-dimensional life.
Then there’s E. Clark Marshall, a potter sufficiently prolific to be showing with Paul Vincent Bernard at Art Access while filling a booth at the Festival. I’m always intrigued by Bernard, but as I moved from work to work in the gallery, I noticed the platters and pots functioning like 3-D punctuation, articulating Bernard’s weighty painted sentences. The language metaphor turned out to be appropriate, for once past their muscular forms and raku-like splashes of color, they turn out to have come into being as supports for calligraphy the artist found in manuscripts left behind by significant figures in Renaissance art. At a moment in history when art increasingly forces us to choose between beauty and content, these small pleasures sit quietly on a shelf, owning the space around them, content to display but not explain their secrets.
Geoff Wichert has degrees in critical writing and creative nonfiction. He writes about art to settle the arguments going on in his head.