Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Storyteller Trishelle Jeffery Makes a Splash with Finch Lane Show

Trishelle Jeffery, “Morning Routine”

When Trishelle Jeffery enrolled in the printmaking program at Snow College, it was clear that she was already an accomplished artist who had come to art school to add some essential skills to her tool belt. She wasn’t the first artist to admit that she lives with periodic depression, but she is exceptional in that she understands how her cognitive and emotional cycles bring her to the drawing board and influence what she draws. Comics — the stand-up kind, not the bound books — will often tell you that a sense of humor is all that saved them from bullying, despair, and self-harm. Jeffery has that sort of humorous view of her life, that turns a dilemma into a discovery.

For example, when she was learning the exacting skills of the printer, an essential step in the education of someone whose practice pretty much demands duplication, one of her exercises foretold her future with remarkable foresight. In it, the adolescent version of her protagonist, who is of course her — up to a point — stands before a commercial display of training bras that fills the page and overwhelms the slender figure standing before their intimidating variety and sheer number. The print sounded a theme that, like a musical composition, supported the numerous variations that in time added up to her memoir and her assertion of herself: the episodic romp collectively titled “Best Breasts in the West.”

Comic production proves a point about art: that the appearance of simplicity is most often the product of complex and elaborate effort. In this age of Marvels, commercial comics generally credit a writer, whose indispensable labor will disappear into the final product; an artist, whose pencil will create the look of characters and events that fill the individual cells; an expressionist, whose ink and color work will bring dramatic life to the black and white outlines; and a calligrapher, whose lettering will bridge the gap between the background story and the visual fable. Trishelle Jeffery, like most non-commercial (and reader supported?) comix artists does all this herself.

Trishelle Jeffery, “Quick Trim”

If that doesn’t sufficiently elevate the craft of comic art in the view of severe critics (who are surely not 15 Bytes readers) comparison of two images here might. Both feature the by now familiar self-portrait of an artist looking into a mirror. Film actors and impressionists must spend a lot of time looking at themselves in mirrors, but not so much comix artists. No, the mirror here is playing the part of antagonist, the other person in the scene — as witness that in each mirror there is another face that it would be simplistic to dismiss as just a copy. Art museums contain no end of such images done by famous artists who thereby add themselves to the list of their famous subjects. But Jeffery has shown over the years how she enters into dialog with hers. It’s not an accident that in “Quick Trim” it’s her mirror-self that informs her she has cut her bangs in the wrong place — a classic, scurvy mirror trick.

There’s a wonderful, insider’s joke there as well. Comic characters must speak in dialog — words written in a variety of balloons — which being a convention is soon forgotten and largely overlooked. How very droll, then, that the searing hot expletive elicited by the socially costly error, when echoed in the mirror, is good for a laugh. As for “Morning Routine,” wherein her hair is yet undamaged, in which she flosses her teeth, the artist’s statement speaks of her wonderment that so much of life is thought inconsequential. Her drawing, however, proves subversive on that score. There are flecks of foam on the mirror that reveal how even the most trivial acts have consequences, and speaking of which, take away the floss and replace it with a cell phone camera: there you have the origin of the selfie and the end, for many of Jeffery’s contemporaries, of innocence and naivety.

Trishelle Jeffery brings a combination of modesty and self-confidence to her art, which enable her to feel vulnerable without being afraid to share it with her audience. The result is a multi-dimensional self-portrait, in print after print and page after page of candid images that focus on her without leading her to lose perspective. Consider, then, that artists are athletes whose labors generally both produce and benefit from strength, stamina, and precision, yet the exercises she shows herself doing here are likely to be the same sort done by her audience. She’s probably also witnessed other swimmers being splashed in the pool more often than it’s happened to her, but she brings it on herself, not to ask for sympathy, but to reveal a humanity common to both those who splash and those who are splashed in life.

Trishelle Jeffery, “Great Splash”

At the first University of Utah faculty show after the Museum of Fine Arts reopened, following the pandemic shutdown, she showed a page-length episode of her life in which Trishelle and Julie share a side-splitting video while watching their separate phones — an activity that older observers fear will alienates companions — and then briefly decide what to have for dinner. Once they’ve chosen, Trishelle downloads the restaurant’s app and orders their meals. “Are you gonna pick it up for us?” Julie asks Trishelle, whose body language reveals her awareness of the risk involved. “Yeah,” she says, and as they exchange expressions of love such an errand would not normally call for, Trishelle takes her neck gaiter from a coat peg. The gravity of the situation is conveyed by an overlaid image of her securing the garment beneath her hair and glasses. It can also be found in the work’s title, “In the Air Tonight,” and in all that happens, what it means, and what will follow: implicit in the almost subliminal means she has of telling the story.


Trishelle Jeffery: Care, Finch Lane Gallery, Salt Lake City, through Aug. 3

1 reply »

  1. On her Instagram page (which see) Trishelle Jeffery makes the indisputable observation that I say more here about her body of work than I do about this one show. For instance, I neglected to mention that “Morning Routine” is approximately life size, like standing alongside her at her mirror. So much for those who would reject “comix” as too small and trivial to be real art. Also, in a bravura act of bold precision, she places the successive frames of a comic in which she untangles her hair on a video loop and projects them fast enough to suggest the way movies emerge from successive images, yet slow enough to show they are perfectly matched individual instances. Apologies to the artist for having neglected to show how her art transcends the limits of genre. Which it surely does.

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