People come to Utah for many reasons. At the top of the list, there’s completing a spiritual passage. Then there are the National and State Parks and Monuments, which are known worldwide. Skiing draws whole planeloads from large cities with no ski slopes. The first time my family went out of our way to visit Utah, we didn’t come for the art. But after we found a couple of lost petroglyphs in the desert, we spent the rest of our visit viewing as many of those as we could find. There has been art in Utah longer than there have been cities, with or without snow, in North America.
Of course not all of Utah’s artists were born here. Mercedes Nokyi Ng, whose exhibition, Recollection, will be in the Edna Runswick Taylor Foyer of the South Campus of Salt Lake Community College until April 28, describes herself as a Hong Konger, even though she now lives and works in Salt Lake City. Mercedes doesn’t conceal her concerns about recent conflicts between Hong Kong and the increasingly authoritarian Chinese government, so while she doesn’t say so in so many words, her recollections of Hong Kong, painted or otherwise, might be all she has of her homeland in years to come.
We start, then, with an urban landscape that could easily be mistaken for London’s South Bank promenade, familiar to Americans from films and television. The confusion is surely due to Hong Kong having been built as a colony by British settlers, but the body of water beyond the “Avenue of Stars” isn’t the muddy Thames River; it’s the Pearl River Delta and Victoria Harbor, dappled by the setting sun’s light. The painting is full of details, from the seats in the open topped tour bus, through the various planters and the individuals strolling along the promenade, all the way to the famous sky-scraper skyline in the distance. Each plant, each person, even each building seems observed and presented as unique. Yet for all her careful observation, Mercedes paints loosely, with thin layers of oil. She doesn’t look like a miniaturist, but the sheer quantity of detail in her “View From My Bedroom Window” belies its size: a mere 18 by 24 inches.
Such a relentlessly built landscape might be part of what appeals to Ng about Utah, or it might just as well explain why her dozen paintings are mostly of people, often indoors. “Boys With Apple” may suggest fruit, but in fact, above the prominent “Nike” inscribed on the shoes he wears, one boy is sharing his cell phone — in video mode — with his grinning buddy as they ride the subway. Then there are the consumer goods: between “After School Snacks” — shelf over shelf of colorful packages — and “Gummies Buffet,” her viewers may come to suspect that her choice of these subjects has more to do with the challenge of painting them than a desire to eat them. Somewhere between impressionism and pointillism, she seems to enjoy most the arranging of dabs of bright colors. Then again, there are three figures in elaborate, traditional costumes and masks posed in outdoor markets, making clear that while we’re not in Utah, if you substituted Western gear and farmer’s merchandise, you wouldn’t be that far off.
Mercedes Nokyi Ng, Recollection, Edna Runswick Taylor Foyer of the South Campus of Salt Lake Community College, Salt Lake City, through Apr. 28
Geoff Wichert objects to the term critic. He would rather be thought of as a advocate on behalf of those he writes about.
Categories: Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts
Thanks for this lovely review, Geoff, and the accompanying images. I will head over to see this show directly. You have, as always, intrigued me. As has the artist, Mercedes Ng, with her intelligent work, beautifully composed and colored.