by Chris Brooks, Kent Rigby & Shawn Rossiter
In the art world, Utah has a reputation as a state of superb landscape painters. Some people are afraid that is the only reputation it has. Though the number of professional and amateur artists working with the landscape may outnumber any other genre, a quick look at local Salt Lake galleries and art centers this month will be enough to convince an astute viewer that Utah is the place for more than just landscapes.
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The first place you’ll want to look to get a sense of the variety of artwork produced and exhibited in Utah is the 2nd annual UNK Board Show. 120 international, national and local artists submitted 150 customized skateboard decks for this annual exhibit. Last year’s show had about 60 boards by approximately 20 artists. This show is definitely bigger and badder, and in the coming years will continue to increase in size and scope, according to UNK Gallery director Jeremy Herridge. Herridge came up with the idea for this show after seeing a board show online. “We like object driven shows, it gives artists a chance to break out and do something they wouldn’t normally do.” With the help of the internet, Myspace website, and the Blue Bottle Gallery in Seattle, Herridge was able to pull together a massively diverse show balanced by local, national and international artists.
Herridge’s exhibit favorites run the gamut of styles and artists represented in the show: from local artist and gallery owner Kenny Riches, whose piece, “Pity Party,”|1| is an acrylic and graphics symbolic work, to Polish-born German artist, Wlodek Stopa, who does large-scale public art and contributed “Dynamique Impossible X” for the show. |2| Todd Lawson, from Canada, submitted two pieces with rather pointed political and social commentary.|3| Mike Maas, from Tempe, Arizona, is another artist with two submissions, “Our Lady of Transylvania” and “Bad Karma,” both of which are somewhat cartoonish, if not slightly macabre.|4| With a show featuring this many artists in Utah there had to be a landscape or two. Laura Boardman, of Salt Lake City, painted “Low Clouds over Torrey.”|5| “Here’s an example of an artist stepping out of their usual bounds,” says Herridge. “Laura normally paints very controlled and tight oils on canvas.” But landscapes were definitely in the minority at the Board Show.
Kelly Dee Williams is a local snowboarder gaining some national recognition for his artwork. His “Untitled with Battle Sword,” another of Herridge’s favorites, features a carved wooden sword applied to the surface of the deck.|6| Colin Johnson, an east coast artist, created an amazingly complex mixed media collage, “Obsessive Skate Deck #1.” |7| The entire deck surface is covered with tiny bits of paper, fabric and photographs. Adam Ellyson, from Connecticut, also went all out, creating a fabric “Kozie,” a deck with wheels encased in a hand-sewn, cozy comforter. Finally, Derek Mellus, a local, created one of the more unique pieces in the show, a transformer type piece, “More Than Meets the Eye,” which transforms from a skate deck to a dog, to a super-hero, to a skier.|8|
Transformation is a theme that carries over into Dual Nature, the Ashley Knudsen exhibit at Art Access. Knudsen, a Provo artist exhibiting in the main gallery, explores issues of space and containment in a two-dimensional form in her paintings and collograph prints. Knudsen says that she has always been drawn to containers, vessels, boxes and bottles. To her, they represent order and structure. She explains, “These are the things that give me stability, yet with this body of work, I’ve taken the box, a symbol of order and stability and deconstructed it, broken it down and laid it flat. It no longer serves its function to hold, receive or protect its contents. These boxes now have a dual nature, thus the title of the exhibit.” The boxes become fascinating, flat abstract elements that, in the case of the collograph prints, stand on their own. In the paintings they interact with self-portraiture, a reflection of Knudsen’s interior dialogue and search for balance between the pragmatic and the visionary.|1|
Art Access II features an exhibit of photography by Emily Allen titled Strength in Tradition: Acrobatics in China. Allen photographed the children of an acrobatic school/troupe in a small, impoverished town called Liaocheng in China’s Shan Dong Province. Allen says, “The headmaster of the school told me that the students are trained in the old way meaning that they don’t use fancy equipment. He kept emphasizing that it is important to train children at a young age, as their bodies are more limber. These children were the hardest working that I have ever seen. Whether they chose to be in the school or their parents put them there, they are there. That’s their everyday reality.” The children are able to twist their bodies into fascinating contortions but it is the transformations of their faces — which at times look surprisingly adult-like, filled with pain, drive, focus and determination — that truly captivate the viewer.|2|
The Utah Arts Council’s Alice Gallery, located in the Glendinning Home, is generally home to traditional exhibitions, and on most months you would have a good chance of finding a landscape there. This month, however, a trio of non-objective artists has taken over the room, with startling effect. Cary Griffiths, Andrew Ehninger and Steve Sheffield each explore non-objective painting with a unique style, relying on gesture, texture and touch, respectively. Griffiths uses minimal means — sometimes only two colors, often executed with the flick of the wrist to create a single brushstroke — to carry his paintings.|3| The calligraphic aspect of his works gives the paintings an oriental feel. Sheffield’s paintings have an oriental feel as well, but this is achieved by a process of layering and delicate touches (like a Japanese screen). |4| Ehninger’s work, on the other hand, is anything but delicate. His surfaces are worked up to the point that they are sometimes three or four inches thick. With a palette delighting in chrome yellows, cobalt blues and magentas, he creates topographical paintings that call to mind mineral-stained, rain-eroded stone.|5|
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Rose Wagner Art Center
Despite these examples, some might still contend that the landscape overshadows all other art in the state. Jimmy Lucero, now showing at the Rose Wagner Art Center, is one of them. Lucero is a narrative artist whose symbolic paintings are done in representational manner using latex house paint. In the Rose Wagner Exhibit, he included a series of paintings telling the story of the narrative painter (Lucero) taking his props out to the Great Salt Lake, where he is eventually submerged in the salty waters. He dedicates the series “for all the narrative artists trying to stay afloat in the land of landscapes.” Childhood toys in unconventional settings populate Lucero’s paintings.|6| “My narratives began as stories about toys, placing them in humorous situations. As the work evolved, the stories became more personal. I began to combine ideas from works by master painters with my childhood toys to represent my past experiences.” For each of his works, Lucero has provided a detailed allegorical interpretation, including the historical paintings referenced, the different symbols of his personal narratives, and the cultural icons that haunted his childhood. Lucero has done everything he can to bring the viewer into his paintings (including, we’ll note, setting some of them in identifiable Utah landscapes).
Showing concurrently with Lucero is contemporary sculptor Court Bennett. Bennett has a playful and imaginative mind and his works inhabit a strange world in which cocoons and pods can be created using electrical plugs and screws. Some may remember Bennett from his 2005 show at the Finch Lane Gallery West, where he created a reptilian skeleton out of PVC pipe and an alien-like creature out of a vacuum hose and cloth. Bennett’s sculptures use everyday materials, including denim and corduroy pants, thick cord rope, screws, and plastics. Most of his works have a soft earthy feel, because of the material, but, as Bennett says, they “stutter-step along the uneasy edge between beauty, menace and humor.”|7|
Humor, without the menace, is prevalent in the work of the late Harry Taylor, which is represented in a two-person show with sculptor Cordell Taylor this month at Phillips Gallery. A Detroit native and graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, Taylor was art director for Meridian Publishing Co. for thirty years. He is best known for his woodcuts, which have been exhibited internationally. The artist was afflicted with Lou Gehrig’s disease and as his illness progressed he adapted to it and developed new ways of making art. His work was always characterized by strong design and a playful wit and often influenced by the aboriginal art he came across while serving in the South Pacific during World War II.|8| He shares the space at Phillips Gallery with sculptor Cordell Taylor, well known for his abstract metal sculpture and furniture characterized by clean lines, simplified forms and marvelous surfaces.|9| This exhibit also features collographs, 2-D versions of Taylor’s sculpture.
As you can see, it seems like we could go on and on with a list of non-landscape shows. In fact, you might be hard-pressed to find a landscape in a gallery this month.
Salt Lake Art Center
Lest you think January is merely an aberration in a generally landscaped year, we’ll note the two artists of international reputation being shown at the Salt Lake Art Center in February. Recently opened on the street level gallery is an exhibition of the “zebra stripe paintings” of Sophie Matisse, granddaughter of Henri Matisse and step granddaughter of Marcel Duchamp. Matisse has become well known in the New York art world for her reinterpretations of iconographic paintings in which key participants or elements of the paintings are absent (missing paintings?). Her “zebra stripe paintings” are a combination of these deconstructed paintings with layers of a second painting or design.|10|
Beginning February 10, the main gallery of the art center features works by Robert Motherwell, the youngest and most prolific member of the Abstract Expressionist group and a resident of Salt Lake City in his youth. Motherwell was one of the more scholarly members of the New York school and helped to articulate their aims and methods to a worldwide audience. He is best known for his long series of “Elegies to the Spanish Republic” executed over a forty-year span. Elegy #126 from 1976 is included in this exhibition.|11| A number of Motherwell’s collages will also be featured. The collages were a method for Motherwell to incorporate autobiographical material – his favorite cigarettes or book publisher – into his work.
Collage of a not quite so international reputation will also be on display at the Patrick Moore Gallery beginning February 17th, with the opening of Shawn Rossiter’s Choice & Chance exhibit. Rossiter, who exhibited a 30 foot pastel drawing last year and promises to create an even larger one for a show at the Art Barn in September, will be displaying some abstracted pastel drawings and paintings as well as recent collage works which incorporate materials from games of chance, album covers, wallpaper and art history books.|12|
Utah Artist Hands
Also coming up in February of a non-landscape variety are the works of Szugye at Utah Artist Hands. Szugye’s paintings of jazz musicians, jazz bars and nightlife might lead you to believe that he is a refugee from the disaster in New Orleans, but Szuyge has been in the Utah scene for a long time. He paints the early jazz scene, hoping to capture the inclusive quality – integrated women and men from across cultural and ethnic backgrounds — that jazz music promoted. His artistic process, with an emphasis on rich color, ink detail, art deco references, and texture, mimics the era’s aesthetics.|13|
At the Rio gallery in February you’ll find Chimera: Fur/Feather/Skin/Scale, a group show of area artists Trent Call, Leia Bell, Jenny Lord, Tessa Lindsey, Dana Costello, David Ruhlman, Toby Putnam and Sri Whipple. The show’s title refers to the chimera of Greek mythology, a fire-breathing animal with a lion’s head and foreparts, a goat’s middle, a dragon’s rear, and a tail in the form of a snake; and to the modern scientific usage of a human or non-human “individual, organ, or part consisting of tissues of diverse genetic constitution.” Each artist will render his/her version of a humanized animal within boundaries of the four subcategories: fur, feather, skin and scale.
Need we go on? Landscapes are a dominant part of the Utah art scene, but if you think that that is all there is to Utah art, maybe you haven’t been paying attention.
This article was originally published the February 2006 edition of 15 Bytes.
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.