From the mountain nest that is Park City, the snowy roads bustle with ski-racked SUVs. Since it sits on a higher plateau than the smoggy Salt Lake Valley, the air is clear and you can see the tree-lined ridges above — a wintery second home for many people who fill the area to recreate or attend Sundance this time of year. In Julie Nester Gallery, Carol O’Malia and Brad Overton are exhibiting large-scale, naturalistic oil paintings that speak to the easy comfort and tranquility of homey spaces. Overton specializes in still life paintings of object collages (usually integrating vintage toys). He increases the magical quality of these works by combining unexpected textures and signs of the objects’ histories. O’Malia studies the soft shadows and lights of bedding and pillow folds, making large paintings of stacked pillows and ruffled bedding that the gallery says “are often purchased to be placed in bedrooms.” Both sets of work have pieces you could live with and develop family stories about over many years of holidays and peaceful moments with those closest to you.
Many of Overton’s collages feature figurines that speak to the American myth of the West and have an aesthetic resonance with the arty vibe of Park City’s architecture and mining history. The namesake of the show is “Pegasus,” a weathered lead figurine of a Boston terrier missing an ear, with a black and white feather attached to its back like a wing. A slingshot’s rubber bands and fabric hold go over the back of the toy. We can imagine the kid who created the missile spending hours firing the creature through the air. This is a reminder of childhoods filled with hours of nothing but a muse called boredom. Living at a moment when children spend more time in the virtual world and less making things with their hands, this piece looks like a creativity totem for kids and adults alike.
Although “Pegasus” is a canine disguised as a horse, “Fire Flier” and “Perfecto” are true horses made of copper and wood. “I rode horses full-throttle as a kid in Montana on cold mornings, tears from the wind running back into my ears,” says Overton. “The sun coming up through the trees as we ran is the last sun I ever needed to see, and I hope it’s the first one I see when I wake up from this dream. The exhilaration of being on a horse, so strong it feels impervious to nature, is to be free.” Both of these horses look handled and well-used, one carved wood like frontier toys of old, the green-hued copper equine like it came from a weathervane or metal fence.
More than just balanced compositions with decorative components, these paintings’ subjects also speak to Overton’s reverence for the animal that helped settle the Western Territories. “As an adult I was thrown by a horse because I forgot who I was dealing with, ad limped for a year. In these paintings, I intend to show my full respect and do what I can, in my way, to honor the horse,” he says. Each of these paintings also integrate Americana, including a Victorian-style tea tin with writing that says “Perfection: There’s nothing better.” This nod to a western past brings in a nostalgic element that sweetens the stillness of the pictures.
O’Malia’s work is set in a similarly domestic, interior world. The painted piles of pillows are imposing, with “Moving Mountains” measuring 60 x 60 inches, but also look inviting and relaxing — comfort and pleasure that need space and importance in our busy lives too. These skillfully rendered, rippling planes of soft fabric evoke pillow fights and being tucked into soft bedding by someone who loves you. The horizontal orientation and obvious weight of the feather pillows (an impression courtesy of O’Malia’s skill rendering minute details in oil) in “Landslide” make you want to slide into the comfortable pile and nap for a slice of eternity. The palette and composition give the viewer a chance to pause and relax mentally.
The soft, precarious moments of “Slip Sliding” speak to often forgotten, but savored private hours spent with those closest to you. From stay-cationing to calling in sick to watch the sun come up with your partner, these still-life paintings fold tranquility into their delicate rippling blues, grays, and dark shadows. There is also a feeling of quiet moments doing housework while kids or relatives go outside for the day. The works achieve an amazing amount of intimacy and impression of calmness at home for such simple and straightforward images of objects that we all see on a daily basis.
Both of these artists are experts at rendering details of their subjects that have a range of meanings and connections to imagined private moments. From the interesting, weathered quality of the figurines in Overton’s fanciful, conglomerate pieces to the particular fluffiness and weight of O’Malia’s pillows, each work is a testament to the careful observation of the artists and their ability to portray different textures with oil. Julie Nester Gallery, next to a vintage home store and a city-favorite health food store, provides art that families can live with and integrate into the fabric of their private time together.
Brad Overton/Carol O’Malia, Julie Nester Gallery, Park City, through Jan. 21.
Hannah McBeth studied art history, classics, and Mediterranean archaeology before getting a Master’s at Cambridge University. She enjoys writing, hiking, and traveling to far-off places. Follow her on Twitter @hannahmcbee.