The annual Dixie State University Art Department Showcase, held this year from April 15th to May 4th in the Eccles Fine Arts Center, Sears Gallery, is a must-see for a well-rounded view of contemporary art developments in St. George. The work exhibited has become more diverse over the last several years, due in large part to encouragement from faculty to experiment outside the typical southern-Utah-area content of traditional landscape and portraiture and now includes modern genres such as assemblage and installation.
One of the leading influences is this year’s featured faculty artist, D. McGarren Flack. Hired just three years ago, Flack already has made improvements to help prepare students to become professional artists both in technique and business practices. Flack offers a semester-long course titled “Business of Art,” where students learn about developing and marketing their artwork as a business. Working to align the drawing coursework with a broader standard of life drawing and anatomy, Flack introduced undraped models to the life drawing class— upending decades of classes using only swimsuit-clad models.
“[Flack] is a superb counselor, the best I’ve ever seen,” says longtime faculty member Glen Blakely. “He understands students’ needs, and knows how to get them to where they want to be because he understands the art market so well.”
While the long serene nude in the main area of the Showcase is more typical of Flack, who studied Illustration at BYU with an MFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of Utah, his featured series, titled Carbon (on display in the Eccles Grand Foyer of the Eccles Fine Arts Center, also through May 4th) comprises a series of five black-and-white paintings alternated with as many square-shaped carbon fiber sculptures. The paintings and sculptures clearly relate to, even rely on, one another, and are separated into two groups: a self-portrait of Flack and a portrait of his wife are arranged on one wall between three fiber sculptures, while three portraits of children, likely Flack’s own family, are arranged between two fiber sculptures on the wall opposite. The sculptures hanging next to the portrait of Flack himself are visually dense, complicated, and, one wonders, perhaps autobiographic. In contrast, the sculptures hanging next to the portraits of children are sparse and simply structured, the white space suggesting the freedom and malleability of youth and the rhythmic arrangement of the fibers a consistent routine.
Like the fiber pieces, the portraits appear technically methodical, with light brushstrokes giving the faces a modeled, sculptural quality with a somber black-and-white palette. Paradoxically, the subjects are oddly cropped and floating magic-mirror-like against the minimal background with expressions that are extraordinarily informal—pulling goofy faces at the viewer as though in a photo booth.
The works together lend themselves to introspection on the idea of the ego, in the Freudian sense of the word, with the paintings as an exterior mask, and the unseen experiences and nuances that comprise a subject depicted as so many interwoven fiber strands.
The pieces complement one another visually, as well, studies in value juxtaposed with studies in line. The sculptures, especially, are fascinating studies in the way pure line affects the space within and around it. The fainter replicas the fibers cast on the white walls they hang on, as in “Random 3,” give each sculpture a humming, vibrating quality, one that moves and changes with the light, again inviting introspection. The raw, elemental sculptures are clearly a new direction, or maybe a tangent, in Flack’s recent work. It will be intriguing to see how this experiment in line and value is incorporated in Flack’s work as a whole.
Alisha Tolman Burton has been an independent graphic design and marketing consultant since 2008, and utilizes social media heavily for online marketing strategy, particularly for non-profit projects, such as Art On Main and the Art Around the Corner Foundation.