Just eight years before his death at the age of 90, artist and photographer Gaell Lindstrom wrote: “Art starts where words leave off … I hope not to produce paintings that require words. I don’t think writers would want to write something that needed visual illustrations. A significant painting stands on its own … Words should not help.”
Strong feelings eloquently expressed in 2001, and yet here we are in 2020 holding a solidly researched, beautifully illustrated, and absorbingly written survey of Lindstrom’s life and work — containing essays by Dr. James Swensen of Brigham Young University, and the artist’s son, Dr. Braden Lindstrom of Dixie State University.
The paperback book runs 160 pages and sells for $50. It would be more visually satisfying if the book were a little larger than 10 x 9 x 1 inches — to better display the 130 illustrations, including 100 color plates, in the volume. But the cityscapes, landscapes, and photographs are a pleasure to peruse — to just sit with and ponder the work of this master of quietude. This writer confesses to having always appreciated Lindstrom’s watercolors, in particular: those staid farmhouse buildings in Logan fields or sometimes more colorful, complex San Francisco facades.
But start to read, say, Dr. Braden Lindstrom’s essay, and you are happily off into Gaell Lindstrom’s other world.
“I’ve only been arrested once in my life and it was my father’s fault,” Braden writes. How does one resist a lede like that?
“In the summer of 2018, while walking down a street near the International Bazaar in Urumqi, China, I spotted an elderly woman wearing a bright orange vest sitting in front of the faux brick wall of a health clinic. I hurried to change the camera lens (I had forgotten my father’s advice: put your zoom lens on the camera and leave it there), snapped a few ho-hum photos of her, and was promptly stopped by plainclothes police officers. Urumqi is the capital of China’s restless province of Xinjiang, the site of 2008 protests that turned deadly.”
Soon, there is a five-member helmeted SWAT team on scene questioning him and then different officers escort Braden to the city’s central police station. Only then, “did anyone ask to see my photographs,” he relates.
The story moves from there to Mexican streets and Utah ghost towns, to a short-lived American West postcard company run by Gaell Lindstrom, to Guatemala, Morocco, Sweden, France, Germany, and introduces Gaell’s traveling buddy, Logan painter Harrison “Grout” Groutage, and then to a mention of Henry James and Gaell Lindstrom’s syllabus for his art students.
And that’s the first page and a half of Braden Lindstrom’s contribution. You just can’t stop reading this stuff. And it comes replete with art, too. This makes the book particularly difficult to review because when one goes to check a quote or view an illustration all is happily forgotten for an afternoon — though one is (or should be) always conscious of that looming deadline.
Turning to the introductory essay by the noted Dr. James R. Swensen (author of Picturing Migrants: The Grapes of Wrath and New Deal Documentary Photography and In a Rugged Land: Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and the Three Mormon Towns Collaboration, 1953-1954, winner of the 15 Bytes book award for art book in 2019) we find that the artist grew up in Sugar House in Salt Lake City and began studies with J.T. Harwood at the age of 16. Lindstrom enrolled at the University of Utah to study painting and, while there, encountered such noted individuals as Mabel Frazer, Alvin Gittins (who painted his portrait, included) and, most importantly, LeConte Stewart and George Dibble — a true study in contrasts. (For this former Dibble colleague and curator, reading the many passages on George was like meeting up with an old friend: they exude warmth, accuracy, and reflect only the best of the many tales available.) After finishing his bachelor’s degree in 1952 Lindstrom began teaching first in Cedar City and then in Logan. He would remain at Utah State University from 1957 to 1984, during which time he completed an MFA in Ceramics from the California College of Arts and Crafts.
There is a whole biography presented in these pages, of course. But the fine essays bring the reader so much more: his teaching philosophy, his vision as a painter and photographer, his travels and studies with people abroad (particularly with Chinese artists), his personal background and his family life, his faith, his influences as an artist and much about his friendships with other Utah artists.
If you have any interest in Utah art and its lively history, or in Lindstrom and his work, or just want a good read to usher in the spring, this comes highly recommended. It’s academic without being a “tome.” The perfect adult bedside book — with magical pictures included.
A graduate of the University of Utah, Ann Poore is a freelance writer and editor who spent most of her career at The Salt Lake Tribune. She was the 2018 recipient of the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Artist Award in the Literary Arts.