Still Here

Still Here: Al Denyer

With our “Still Here” series, we are checking in with members of Utah’s art community to see what the past several months have meant for them. Originally from England, Al Denyer is an Associate Professor and Area Head of Painting and Drawing at the University of Utah.  She holds an MFA from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and a BA (Hons) Degree from Winchester School of Art, England. Her work encompasses the areas of drawing, painting, printmaking and installation.  

Al Denyer, a selfie in the studio

Like for many, the events of 2020 have caused considerable disruption, heartache, and stress in my life. As I look back on this tumultuous time, I could easily dwell on the canceled: travel plans, artist residency, exhibitions, conferences, kids summer camp, and school, as well as the loss of friends and family members. Instead, I would like to focus on the positives.

2020 has proved to be a year of transformation, and adaptation. At the start of the year, I embarked on the development of a new series of works that address the concept of “Borders and Boundaries,” with my focus being on how the concept can be interpreted physically (through mapping), and psychologically (through non-physical borders). I was lucky to have been awarded a Fellowship to complete this project from the University of Utah, amounting to a semester of release time from teaching. By March, I had completed many works in this new series and was sending images out to exhibitions.

The arrival of the Covid 19 restrictions and closures, effectively created more of a detour, rather than a hold in my life. Taking on homeschooling responsibilities, my studio time become more fractured and the ‘Borders’ series was put on hold. At the same time, several different project opportunities opened up. Artist Jann Haworth asked me to participate in the “Utah Women 2020” mural. Working on a full-size figure using the specified stencil technique, at a time when it was hard to find art materials, was challenging, yet incredibly rewarding. With this stunning mural now complete, I feel humbled to have contributed. The timeliness of this project could not have come at a better time and proved to me the value of “sidestepping” at times.

Watching how the city’s parks and public outdoor spaces were being so widely used, I started to consider how my work might translate to public art. When the RFP for two different public art projects in the city was published, I jumped at the chance to have my work included and was honored to be selected. Both projects will be unveiled towards the end of the year.

Since the start of 2020, I have been working on an exciting commission project (almost complete). Despite many gallery closures, my work was shown in; “Compulsory Measures” touring exhibition at The International Museum of Art and Sciences, McAllen, TX and Pauly Friedman Art Gallery, Dallas, PA. Closer to home, my work was included in the “Interpreted Landscapes” exhibition and “Right Here Right Now” at Modern West Fine Art, and Southern Utah Museum of Art. My work will be in the upcoming 2020 Utah Statewide Annual exhibition, which will be online. I am incredibly grateful to all those who have continued to keep gallery spaces open and found new and innovative ways to make gallery programming accessible.

The great thing that has happened this year is that so many art events have moved to a virtual format. I have listened to many artist talks, podcasts, and presentations. I recently participated in an International online drawing symposium that I’ve wanted to attend for some years, yet the timing and logistics of international travel have always got in the way. I’m looking forward to the first online version of the SECAC (South Eastern College Arts Conference) at the end of this month, an organization that I have been actively involved with throughout my career, and for which I currently serve as a board member. I’ve been busy lining up exhibitions for 2021 and hope to be able to travel again to see my family (I have a nephew that I’m yet to meet) and participate in an artist residency.

New skills I have learned this year; since the gym closed I’ve started running outside again, something I used to do many years ago, and it’s grown on me! I’m looking forward to ski season and hoping that the resorts can stay open throughout. I’m optimistic for the coming year and our resilience as individuals to find ways to adapt. Although this year has been challenging for many reasons, I feel so fortunate right now to be an artist, and to be able to come up with creative solutions. Onward!

In front of the “Utah Women 2020” mural

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