Layne Meacham is a child of the fifties. Not the fifties of Ike, apple pie, poodle skirts and crew-cut conformity, but the abstract fifties — the fifties of de Kooning, Kline, Twombly and Dubuffet. Meacham’s artwork is a synthetic form of abstraction, incorporating much of the advances in painting that occurred during the fifties and continues to inspire artists to this day.
To see Meacham’s current exhibition at the Artspace Forum Gallery is to trace the family tree of expressive abstraction. Meacham’s pedigree runs through de Kooning and Kline, and reaches back to the cave paintings probed by Cy Twombly, but his most dominant progenitor is Jean Dubuffet, the late twentieth-century French painter whose interest in psychology and the art of “outsiders” is so similar to Meacham’s own background. The difference, however, is that Dubuffet’s art brut, or “raw art,” was never so tasty as Meacham’s.
Walking into Artspace Forum Gallery and being surrounded by Meacham’s works is like being lost in a candy factory. A taffy factory, to be precise: its oranges and lemon yellows, magenta reds and pale greens hardened on to the surfaces of Meacham’s canvasses. Like the traces of hungry children passing by the taffy machines on a class field trip, the artist has scratched, embedded, swiped and otherwise manipulated modeling paste on to his canvas to create a sumptuous visual feast.
Technically, Meacham’s strongest trait in these works seems to be the push-and-pull (that painterly quality so favored by Hans Hoffman) that he is able to achieve in his synthesis of styles. His gestural brush work gives the paintings layers that recede into the surface, while the three-dimensional almost sculptural surfaces give the works a full-bodied form that won’t let the works fade into the walls on which they are hung.
Despite the varied influences in his art, Meacham seems a uniquely Utah painter, proving once-again that the rich variety of the Utah landscape inspires and infiltrates more than just the landscape painters. His surfaces reminds one of relief images done by Satellite of the San Rafael. The cracked layers of his impasto in works such as “Blue Mound People” (9’x14’) immediately call to mind a dried out desert flood plain in mid-August heat. And the artist’s scratchings and indentations in these once wet-now dry surfaces are like the dinosaur tracks that are scattered across Utah’s skin — a reminder that this unique beauty was once altogether different in its makeup.
Though many of the works in the exhibit remain purely abstract explorations of the pleasures of creating, referential symbols do appear. “Navajo House Blessing” remains in the same color-field and process-created works as the others but hints at a yellow sun, hills, trees and hogans. A sense of landscape, of directions, pervades many of the works. “Romanian Gyspy Trail” speaks of migrations and movements. “Land of Sirens” a huge mural piece, has a warm mystical feel to it, the magical quality of the Mediterranean. A soft magenta floats like a siren’s call over a pale sea of green — like drowning in a late summer romance.
Meacham has done his forefathers proud. He has successfully shown us that the tactile, sensual quality of making art is primary and that color and form and texture are sufficient to move the soul.
Layne Meacham “You Like What You Know” will be showing until September 15th. The Artspace Forum Gallery is located on the corner of 5th West and 2nd South in SLC — across from Gateway.
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.