Flanked as it is by the Jordan River Parkway’s tangle of box elder, cattails, and saltgrass, the Day-Riverside branch of the Salt Lake City Library is a fitting venue for the vibrant riot of nature in the paintings of Jerry Clifford.
A native of Northwest Michigan, Clifford became enamored of the outdoors wandering around the abundant lakes and deep woodlands of his home state. Those settings have remained an inspiration for his expressionistic and abstracted paintings. But he has also come to know the landscapes of the intermountain west: first in Colorado, where he went to university and eventually settled; and, since his retirement in 2019, the landscape of his new home in Utah’s Kamas Valley.
Clifford’s canvases spring to life with bold strokes and an expressive palette that seeks to capture not just the visual splendor of the landscape but also its emotional and atmospheric essence. In “Floating Tree Tunnel,” sunlight filters through a dense thicket of trees, illuminating patches of vivid greens and yellows. Clifford’s use of color is dynamic and intense, reflecting the lushness and vitality of the scene. His brushwork is loose and energetic, giving the foliage a windswept and almost tactile quality, as if the leaves are rustling in the breeze. This work is flanked on the left by “Floating River Bank,” a painting that veers closer towards pure abstraction, and on the right by “Franson Trail,” where trees in the foreground are rendered with more precise strokes, suggesting a closer presence, while the background merges into a tapestry of color, where the individual elements are less defined, creating a sense of depth and distance.
A trio of paintings hung on the library’s west wall venture into an uncharacteristically cool color spectrum, capturing the rugged and majestic terrain of the Rocky Mountains. Here, Clifford’s brushstrokes become broader, more sweeping, suggesting the vastness and the wild, untamed spirit of the high altitudes. These works, reflective of Clifford’s collegiate background in art and ski racing, blend his passions into a visual symphony of texture and movement, mimicking the rugged surface of the mountains with layered, interwoven strokes.
Spanning nearly two dozen works, the exhibition features both large acrylic pieces and smaller, intricate watercolors nestled among the library’s bookshelves. Clifford’s larger works revel in unrestrained brushwork, while his smaller pieces introduce a deliberate ink line that tames the wildness with precision and clarity. A half-dozen small screenprints finds the artist’s celebration of the wilds of nature becoming crisp and solid.
Overall, Jerry Clifford’s paintings are a vivid dialogue between the artist and the natural world rendered with a fervor that invites viewers to not just see but to feel the landscape.
The Wildness of Nature: Paintings and Prints by Jerry Clifford, Day-Riverside Branch, Salt Lake City, through Mar. 17
The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.