The pandemic interrupted many habits and routines. Two years later, some of them are welcome losses, a few we may have resumed regretfully, while the resumption of others are joyful rediscoveries of the before times. Jaunts to the Salt Lake City Library, which for 70 years has provided excellent visual art exhibitions, is definitely one of the latter.
On the fourth floor of its flagship institution in downtown Salt Lake City, Neo-expressionist Layne Meacham fills the pristine gallery space with the raw drawing and textural surfaces he is best known for. His Mindfulness Highway celebrates the journey as much as the destination. The latter is evoked with simple shapes, and a reduced palette, referencing places like Yosemite and Bryce Canyon. It’s a simple, calligraphic reference in yellow, grays and white. They are context to set up the former: the journey. If at first glance mundane, these are ultimately more striking works: sections of asphalt seemingly lifted from the highway and placed on a gallery wall. Meacham deploys no faux techniques — meticulous painting done in oil or guoache meant to fool the eye. These are the real thing: asphalt, rock, debris, hung on a gallery wall. (And yet not the real thing: only the smallest of cars could fit between the yellow and the white traffic lines of these works.) Attention to detail — like remnants of fur from a presumably long disappeared road kill; or the ghost, the “pentimento,” of a former traffic line — keeps the collection lively and rewards attention. And titles like “Bike Path to Main Library, Downtown Salt Lake” or “Turn Arrow to Woodbury Holladay Quarters (old Cottonwood Mall)” suggest the journeys of the commuter are as important as the tourists’.
Linda Kohler Barnes’ display, five floors down, takes us through a journey most would probably prefer to forget. “Quaran Team: Watercolors & Haiku” features moose, rabbits, skunks, chameleons and other fauna stand-ins decked in masks or toilet paper, accompanied by the artist’s haikus (it’s also available as a book). “Alone and scraggly/Personal hygiene long gone/Quarantine just stinks” reads “Feeling Ostrichized.” The image of a mature elephant, with its child, hanging a “Thank you” sign outside its window reminds us of a brief moment of solidarity before the pandemic devolved into the toxic culture wars. It feels like a lifetime ago. The image of one masked zebra facing its unmasked brother feels all too contemporary.
Mercedes Nok Yi Ng, at the Anderson-Foothill branch of the library, takes us on a journey through space as much as time, to her hometown of Hong Kong. The city-state is a place so full of glass, and these paintings look like they are watercolors, all transparency and reflection; but they are oils, delicately handled and brimming with light and color: two green chairs in a light-filled restaurant, glowing soccer fields beneath glass towers and the night sky, a full palette of reds in a busy fruit stand — the paintings are overflowing with warmth and nostalgia.
Mindfulness Highway: Paintings by Layne Meacham, SLC Main Library, Gallery at Library Square, Salt Lake City, through Sep. 23
Quaran Team: Watercolors and Haiku by Linda Kohler Barnes, SLC Main Library, Children’s Gallery, Salt Lake City, through Oct. 14
Cognizance: Mercedes Nok Yi Ng, Anderson-Foothill Branch, Salt Lake City, through Oct. 6.
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.