How does one harness the imagination to the point where it traverses the divide between a free flow of excessive creativity and provocative fine art? Gia Whitlock’s canvases currently on exhibit at Salt Lake’s 15th Street Gallery suggest an answer.
A multi-media artist who experiments with materials and media, Whitlock likes the idea of working by what she calls “impulse.” With paint, glue and wax she responds to different visual scenes, moving materials across her surfaces until they find the right place. In her previous encaustic works her impulse led her to adhere to the borders of a map filling in zonal regions with crude wax of delicate color juxtaposed with line drawings of landscape of the most abstract kind. She featured one, or combined the two, for a dual approach to the land that was playful, with a deeply organic visceral resonation.
Currently, Whitlock’s “impulse” is focused on structures, whether the natural structure and function of a plant or the artificial construct and mechanism of architecture. These two confines provide loose reins to keep her bounteous imagination within the limits of aesthetically pleasing compositions. The resulting images are as fun and free as the nature they reflect, and as layered and modulated as the architecture they respond to.
Through an array of materials, primarily cut-outs, Whitlock’s images evoke a theme rather than represent a scene. Her subject might be an individual structure or a building block, a seaside scene or an arboreal image, all played with freely by Whitlock’s bountiful imagination.
While these multi-media images are totally abstract and nonrepresentational, their expressive choices and use of symbols provide a radiant appeal to the imagination so that the viewer gets the sense that one work might be an ocean scene, one might be an urban scene, and yet another a verdant garden. For instance, the flowing line and the variety of cool hues of blue and green in “Ocean” evoke the abstract sense of a seascape without depicting any specific locale.
Whitlock’s ménages of map segments, ticket stubs, newspaper remnants and letter scraps may appear to be arbitrary formalist exercises. But the artist actually follows her models very carefully, working from a reference image and replicating it through her paper cutouts. An excellent example of this is “Shift,” a work inspired by the mix of trees and architectural ruins in Rome’s Forum. The palette is more naturalistic than most works, with patches of dark earth, a band of vegetal green, and light shades of tan and cream. Although one will find here no reference to Corinthian columns or entablatures, one will find an overall expressiveness of a specific locale, fueled by structure and imagination.
This free-flow of imagination is a paramount factor in the creation of Whitlock’s images. As an artist, she is also interested in the mingling and the expression of the natural — represented by the botanical — and the artificial — the architectural — and ways this might be expressed. In many of her images chooses to unify both themes.
A painting like “Protea” is inspired by the naturalism of a flower, infused with lucid color and the vivid shapes of it. “Spinner,” a bright and cheery scene has a sense of the manufactured and is in fact inspired by an aerial view of the Alaska State Fair. The lines are particularly angular and the colors unnaturally bright. “Swish” is inspired by both the natural and the artificial; a beachfront scene provoking ideas of umbrellas and buildings, a charming image with warmer tones, and softer curves juxtaposed against strong lines.
Here, as in most of Whitlock’s new works, the structures of the natural and the artificial are synthesized in her mind and on the canvas to create marvelously appealing abstract multi-media works. They are more than enough reason to refresh yourself at 15th Street Gallery this hot summer month.
Ehren Clark studied art history at both the University of Utah and the University of Reading in the UK. For a decade he lived in Salt Lake City and worked as a professional writer until his untimely death in 2017.