Painted, the artist says, during a period of immense trial and emotional pain, “A Lucky Life” is a surprisingly bright painting. In the bottom left, the bulbous and cuddly figure of a bear plays a game with a lovable cub, the frolicking figures enshrouded in patters of brilliant Mediterranean blue and enveloped in ripples of teal green. The nucleus of the form is a joyful and tender one, the two animals united in a world of their own. Above, an expanse of yellow tones play across the breadth of the masonite surface, separating the bears from a magnificent high summer sun. The scowl on the sun’s face does little to diminish the warmth of its energy, which pulsates throughout the painting. Representing a spiritual journey of healing for artist Maureen O’Hara Ure, this is a painting not to be conceptualized, nor to be analyzed or compared, but to be felt. It is one of a number of impressive works now on exhibit at Salt Lake’s Finch Lane Gallery.
Each of the works in Ure’s current exhibit, Here Be Monsters, have their own journey — a history, a heritage, a provenance that is densely organic, abounding in a play of mystery and fantasy, the product of an admirable imagination and a skillful sensibility that manages to evoke harmonies of emotion throughout large spaces. Like organisms, these paintings have the quality of being alive. Not only do the spun patterns, randomized line and oblique tonality convey a sense of narrative to support the subject, but the canvases themselves have a narrative element in their being that is more veritably literal than the imagery conveyed.
Consider the exquisite work “Seeing the World.” The substrate is a masonite board that has passed through different phases of O’Hara Ure’s authorship episodically for the past decade. Like many of the pieces in the exhibit, “Seeing the World” exudes an otherworldly quality, created as layer upon layer of paint is put down, sanded in parts over the years, and reworked. With a laissez-faire manner, O’Hara Ure works the intricacy of her line — and the line in between the line — her tonalities, shading, textures, pure and mixed colors, leaving much to serendipity, adding here and subtracting there, while a slow morphing occurs. The works remain always open to further working, finished only when a work is sold and out of the artist’s hands.
These living paintings engage a variety of related subject matter, and Ure’s current exhibit is a menagerie of amorphized wild beasts and fowl and other quizzical creatures of the utmost curiosity. Many of these creations reflect medieval imagery from historical woodcuts, the exhibit’s title referencing the open, unknown areas of early maps – Here Be Monsters. Ure is drawn to these beasts because they allow her to experiment with their shape and sensibilities. Her living canvases, in turn, allow Ure to build and develop these unique creatures over the years, evident in the astonishing details that take time to develop. The subjects manifest an abstract but fluid and organic nature, while flora and fauna weave through the paintings in strange and fascinating patterns.
Perhaps the most distinctive painting in the show is a diptych hung in one of the gallery’s corners. “Under a Full Moon Part I and II,” is touched by a meandering line of curling patterns, festooned by blooms of the utmost delicacy. In this garden imagery, one may clearly see the evolved and evolving nature of the living painting, manifested sometimes in sinewy and winding foliage, and at other times, massive and obscure floral decoration. This garden is rich and lush, refined in the manner of the English, created over time with randomization. And indeed this painted garden has also been created over time, a living painting that O’Hara Ure has worked here and there, left for a time, and then focused on concertedly for a duration. With each working, the image becomes more and more refined, distinctive, eloquent, harmonious, sensual and emotive. It is the living painting that manifests the quality of the aged garden, something tactile and tangible.
Here Be Monsters was curated in conjunction with long-time professional collaborator Katherine Coles, an exceptionally gifted poet. One might be tempted to discern parallels between the poetry and the painting, and though they function collaboratively, the poems exist as objects for their own sake, adding a further layer of organic narrative.
In the many, many features I have had the honor and pleasure of contributing to 15bytes for the past seven years, perhaps the works I review build upon my psyche and play with my emotions in a manner similar to Ure’s reworking of her masonite surfaces. Relative to a limited few local artists whose work is as exceptionally strong, I find in Ure’s current exhibit the most fascinating, emotional, captivating, entrancing, mesmerizing and generally distinctive work in recent memory. I marvel at her imagination, stand in awe of her skill and patience, and respect her integrity for this body of work with such character and dynamics. Ure is to be commended as one of the very finest of our local art community who, while teaching at the University, seems to work tirelessly on an oeuvre that emerges with a sense of the personal, as extensions of herself. It is no wonder that after vast amounts of time spent with these canvases, O’Hara Ure might develop closeness, a special charm from within for marvelous monsters and painting that is as alive as she is.
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.