15 Bytes | Visual Arts

Tongue in Cheek and Tail Between the Legs

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A meandering in the thoughts and life of a 15 Bytes editor, including a coda, glossary and pronunciation guide and mention of artists as varied and talented as Brad Slaugh, John Erickson, Marjorie Mclure, Sandy Brunvand, Stefanie Dykes, Bob Kleinschmidt, Ed Bateman, and Amedeo Modigliani.

An art police. Now that’s what we need.

This is the type of idea I come up with when I find myself alone at one of the Artists of Utah board meetings. An art police — to patrol the streets and studios and galleries of Utah. To keep people honest, on the up and up. Make sure everything is kosher. Wouldn’t want someone putting “oil on canvas” when it’s really acrylic. Hey, if you call your work abstract expressionism, we want to make sure that thing is abstract and there had better be some expressive brushwork going on. Call yourself a plein air painter? I want to see some sand and tree branches mixed up in your paint. What happens when one of Utah’s One Hundred Most Honored artists dies or moves? We’ve got to have someone to verify the correct algorithm is used to find a replacement.

And there would be a postcard division in the art police – a special crimes unit, if you will. After all, we want truth in advertising, and someone to make sure postcards are accurate descriptions of the shows they advertise and not some nefarious deception to lure unsuspecting innocents (like all those galleries and venues piggy-backing on the SLGA without paying a dime of dues).

Hey, I know postcards are a tricky matter. Mistakes can be made. I have it on good authority that a large art organization in Utah ran over 1500 of their brochures with the website address spelled wrong . For my own recent show, everyone was invited to meet me at Gallery Stoll. Okay, go back. Read that again. Right, missing a little “r.”

So there are obvious mistakes and I don’t want someone busting down your studio door because of a typo. But what about the purposeful misrepresentations going on? Can’t have that kind of thing. It would ruin the whole reputation of our artists’ union. (Oh yeah, that’s another one of my brilliant ideas).

So, earlier this month when I picked up a postcard at our local P.O. Box and noticed a major typo within a pretentious exhibition title, I thought, “Aha! You see, this is why we need the Art Police.”

The show advertised Salon des Refusée, an exhibit featuring the work of Brad Slaugh, John Erickson and Marjorie McClure at Studio Nine. Now, there’s nothing more tempting (and pretentious) than sprinkling your art talk with a little French. ”Oh, I love to paint en plein air” and “Oh, her works has such a je ne sais quoi quality.” And don’t we all love telling people about our giclée prints. Apart from being a little too Jane Austen, and not to mention downright unpatriotic, with all those males and females and their need to get along, sprinkling your speech with a little French can be dangerous and potentially embarrassing. Take exhibit A: the “refusée” postcard. |2| In all its faux erudition it has an agreement problem – a plural article and a singular feminine noun.

So what’s the crime? Well, possibly multiple. Pretentiousness. Faulty grammar. Misrepresentation. Okay, but we’re not in some barbaric foreign land like France. We’re in red, white and blue America, where we believe “innocent until proven guilty.”

So I decided to get to the source and see what was going on. No, that doesn’t mean I went to check out the exhibit. That’s so yesterday, so 1950’s modernism. I didn’t even go to the artists’ studios. Just emailed one of them, the offending spammer, Brad Slaugh, who, I figured, either had the gall to send me a jpeg of a postcard with a typo that he hadn’t even bothered to fix or one that he simply hadn’t noticed yet.

As if trying to put him beneath a bare, glaring light bulb (like from some John Erickson painting) I began firing a series of questions at him in my first email.

ART POLICE: So, who or what got rejected? The artwork or the artists? How big does an exhibition space have to be to be called a salon? Will you be hanging salon style? And, hey, who’s your linguist?

BRAD SLAUGH: Don’t remind me about the French usage thing, which occurred after initially looking it up on the internet, seeing it spelled about five different ways, calling no less than two expert French speakers to check the spelling, all to avoid precisely what happened, which is that it’s wrong on all 2500 postcards we had printed up and mailed out.

I personally took/failed three years of first year French in high school and I’m sure Madame Morck, bless her longsuffering heart, would not be a bit surprised to see me massacring her language all these years later. She used to regularly have to say, “Silence (pronounced see-LONCE), Bertrand!” (we all had French names in Madame Morck’s class), until she would finally in exasperation shout ” Brad, SHUT UP!!! ”

Yesterday, after receiving an email for the show, a friend sent me an e-coupon to buy the Rosetta Stone French language program at a discount. All one can do at this point is say merde and move on, tail tucked suitably between legs.

The show will consist of paintings, drawings and monotypes by John Erickson, Marjorie McClure, and myself. There will be a fair amount of figuration represented, though not necessarily very conventional. I’m excited because the three of us have been friends for so long and have talked about having a show together for some time, and this opportunity just came up very suddenly. Should be fun.

Slaugh’s replies, and remembrances of my own High School French teacher, Mrs. Berkowitz (I kid you not, you can imagine the names we came up with), cooled my investigative ardor somewhat. I put the fingernail ripping pliers away and fired off another email.

AP: So, has Madame Morck been invited to the opening? And what’s with the microphone thing in Erickson’s paintings (I saw a couple at Finch Lane as well). Does he wanna be in a boy band?

BS: I have no idea how to get a hold of Madame Morck, though I understand she’s still in town as there have been sightings by other people in the recent past. At another gathering last year, again after several glasses from her native country, my friend Nan and I were trying to look her up in the phone book to call her and presumably sing her an off-key and tipsy tribute in pidgin French, but alas, no Fabienne Morck listing at all, probably to avoid just such an eventuality

Speaking of singing, John’s microphone is not for karaoke, as far as I can discern, but is the headset for his phone, which he frequently has on up there in his U of U Studio. Maybe he chats with friends while drawing, I don’t know, or just likes the cyborg motif of his self-portrait with that contraption on. I’ve never asked him about it, but it’s one of several charming idiosyncrasies from just about the most singular person I’ve ever met. Tracy and I are going to see New York Doll with him and his new bride tonight, and frankly he reminds me of what little I know of the movie’s title character. Maybe that will change after I see the movie, I don’t know.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Forget the Art Police. What we need is an Art Criticism Police. What kind of review is this and what does all this nonsense have to actually do with art?”

Well, okay, valid point. But, in my defense, what you have just read is a good literary impression of Brad Slaugh’s visual work. Like his writing, his visual style is strong and secure (well except when he confuses single French females with groups of them), full of wit, humor and genuine affection for his subject; and many of his paintings — his photo irrealism — are the skewed impressions of the people we knew in our youth. Slaugh’s subjects often include family reunions, remembered camping trips and even old school class pictures (is there a portrait of Madame Morck somewhere?) The works in this exhibit are not as kooky as some, but you’ve got to like a painting with a model in roller skates sitting beneath swordless swordfish, marlin or some other saltwater fish.

And yes, a number of John Erickson’s paintings feature the aforementioned headset and he is probably one of the most “singular” artists around. How many artists do you know have a work titled “Drug deal” — a night scene, looking like the steps of an Avenue’s home with the back taillights of a car disappearing off frame. (and in the vein of the art police, I checked on the labels, and yes Erickson does paint in latex — as in house paint — I took a chip down to Home Depot and used the color to paint our boardroom).

How does McClure fit into this whole thing? Her calm winter scenes are so nicely done I can’t find anything tongue in cheek to say about them. They do go well with some small landscapes of Slaugh’s from a trip to France. Yeah, France. I think he goes there every year with Patti Kimball and Stephen Washburn. Don’t worry. I don’t think they rely on Brad for translation.

Second Movement. Più serioso. Mais pas beaucoup.

Brad Slaugh’s email stuck in the back of my brain, and as you saw from my few comments on the artists, I did actually make it to the show.

It was about 9:20 Gallery Stroll night. In galleries across Salt Lake, the cheese and grapes were gone, serious collectors had already retired for the evening, and the only people left in the galleries were young college students with no place better to go and gallery staff itching to turn out the lights, lock the doors and uncork a bottle or two of wine they had secreted away into some corner, far from the reaches of the freeloading “Gallery Stroll trash” who show up every month but never buy anything. I was bushed from standing up straight, smiling, and replying to the few who bothered to ask about my work at an opening at Utah Hands. I was on my way home, to the wife and kid in Sugarhouse, and, passing by Ninth and Ninth, I noticed the lights still on and some hanger-ons still hanging on at the Studio Nine, a hair salon moonlighting as an art gallery.

I ran upstairs to the show, smiled, shook a couple of hands, did my quick tour of the place and headed down the stairs and out the door. I had probably done the whole thing in less than two minutes, but, even so, I might have looked at the pieces only slightly less than everyone else who had been there that night. It’s just I hadn’t hung around to eat their food and chat up my friends. Or so I told myself.

Someone else, though, wasn’t buying it. Dashing out the door to my large, lumbering sky blue 1989 suburban, I heard a husky female voice behind me. “So, that’s how long it takes to write a review?”

I stopped in my tracks, pivoted and saw a darkened figure, puffing on a cigarette, step out of the shadows. For a second I thought I might be in some corny 50s film noir. “Well, no, I mean I’m gonna come back,” I began, but then dropped that line, figuring it wasn’t worth it. I could tell that my interlocutor had found a good supply of the secreted wine, so I picked up on the general tone of the conversation. “Well, yeah, you know all the shows are the same,” I said, tongue firmly in cheek. “I can crank the suckers out in a few minutes. Just have to change a few names and titles.” The shadow lurker, picking up on my theme, or simply opening her mind in a moment of in vino veritas, “Oh yeah, I know, was it awful out there tonight or what? I went to a few places. Just group shows everywhere. I mean, what’s the point?” I concurred, but what are you going to do. C’est la vie. Happens every November, like clockwork.

The final stragglers straggled out, made plans for the next non-gallery tapas of the night (I’m not sure where but, there must be some place all the cool Gallery Stroll people go after Gallery Stroll, right? To compare notes and maybe sprinkle their conversation with a little French? If not, there should be) and I excused myself to go home.

So, two weeks later, when I walked into the GROUP show at Saltgrass Printmakers, who do I see presiding over the whole thing but the same shadow-lurker of Gallery Stroll night (I’m not going to name names but in all fairness I should say it wasn’t Sandi Brunvand). My cheeks were making so much room for my widening grin that my tongue had little room to plant itself anywhere. I thought I might even stick it out, but from the expression on shadow-lurker’s face I could tell there was no need. The irony was not lost on her.

But, in the month of group shows, this, at least, was a group show that made sense. Printmakers are a group animal (gazelles? zebras? water buffalo? I’ll leave that up to someone else). They are not the solitary male lion painter wandering the savanna of his studio alone, laboring over one original to be sold to one collector, never to be seen again except by the occasional dinner companion. Printmakers come together. The very nature of their work means that more pieces are seen by more people and that interaction is especially important for them. Though some, like Bob Kleinschmidt, have their own fully equipped studios, the equipment necessary for printmaking requires that most of them work in groups, at universities or with a master printmaker.

Saltgrass serves this need, providing a place for professional artists, as well as learning amateurs, to develop their printmaking skills. And Secondo Piatto (which, thankfully, was spelled correctly on the postcard), which is up through January, is their second annual fundraiser. Each participating printmaker in this GROUP show donates a certain number of prints, six of which are for sale as part of the fundraiser. Each artist takes home a batch of prints by their fellow printmakers.

It is a group effort and a group result. If anything else, printmaking is a conversation between these artists. Some painters keep their methods or mediums a secret, as if it were some guild knowledge that can’t be shared lest it be replicated; but, squeezing by press and design table at the opening, I hear the printmakers in attendance openly discussing method, tools and technique.

The works at Secondo Piatto are smaller than those a couple of months ago when SLAP (now there’s another job for the Art Police – what does it mean to be the Salt Lake Associated Printmakers when some of your printers come from Provo and Logan?) showed at the Patrick Moore Gallery. More appropriate for the medium, it seems. Prints, after all, are small, portable, things. They are supposed to be viewed from up close; you want to see the texture of the paper and smell the ink. Glass does a lot to deflect this, and though an example of each of the prints submitted was framed for display, luckily unframed sheets were available for purchase.

I took one from Ed Bateman home. |3| Bateman’s pieces are meticulously crafted works using all digital means. His piece for this year’s fundraiser features a can of condensed milk, its label printed with the Deseret alphabet – a pet fascination of the artist. Last year, I’m told, Bateman donated a Deseret spelled Campbell soup can image.

Stefanie Dykes’ prints often feature reworked elements of medieval and renaissance book design. In her piece for the show, “Should We Have a Passion for Watches,” she takes the marginalia of manuscript art and puts it center stage.|4| This is not unlike what she and Sandy Brunvand are doing with Saltgrass, taking what is sometimes considered a marginal art form — something serious artists only “dabble” in – and putting it center stage

Sandy Brunvand’s piece is done using traditional enough printing techniques, but she has collaged various printed sheets, in a very rough manner (if I were in Art Police mode I would check to make sure “staples” was included in the media description of her tag). |5| The result is an interesting observation about the printing process of using multiple runs on one sheet, but here Brunvand separates the runs and prints one of her runs on waxed Japanese papers that are fairly translucent and sets it on top of the other. It is very similar to her painting, which often involves collage and found materials.

Many of the pieces in Secondo Piatto have a light, playful feel, though in some the play may be irreverent, as in Beth Collier-Fogdall’s “Pius Bovis,” |6| or satirical, as in Sam Wilson’s piece, “A t-shirt design, what a relief,.” The styles range from the warbly, expressionistic figure in Veera Kasicharervat’s “Mystery Woman,” |7| to the photographic collage elements of Justin Diggle. |8|

If you’ve got some extra cash this month my personal suggestion would be to donate it to Artists of Utah so we can hire our first Art Cop so he can start hitting the streets and revoking people’s Artistic Licenses and enforcing the Plein Air Act; but if you’d like to take something home for your money and still give to a good cause, you might head down to the Saltgrass watering hole and see if there isn’t something you like. And be sure to stop in at Studio Nine and appreciatively gaze upside down at a Slaugh, McClure or Erickson original as your hair is being shampooed. Take it home with you and you can see it right side up.

A Coda: Now, at the end of my meandering, after having unjustly abused some fine artists and fine artwork and having liberally sprinkled my text with my own pretentious foreign language references, I sit back and await the flurry of letters to the editor pointing out my own typos and misrepresentations (because I’m sure there are some — probably in English, no less). But, in the Babelling spirit of this article, and to aid in the elevation of your dinner conversation, let me offer a glossary and pronunciation guide before closing.

Salon des Refusés : Salon of the “refused” or “rejected”; an exhibition held in 1863 by decree of Napoleon III for the artists who had been rejected by the jury of the official Salon.

salon style : refers to the manner of hanging paintings common in the 19th-century French Salon — floor to ceiling, one on top of the other.

coda (KOE- dah): an Italian word meaning ” tail,” as in what Brad Slaugh stuck between his legs after the postcard debacle. In musical terms it is the closing passage of a movement.

tapas (TAH’-pahs): my most arcane reference, you won’t need this word unless you find yourself checking out the night life in certain parts of the Veneto region in Italy. Fare le tapas means to go from one locale to the next, a reference to the Spanish culinary experience of tapas.

giclée (zhee – CLAY): an inkjet technology used to produce a very detailed reproduction. Be careful about being too snooty when using this term because in French it means spraying or squirting and is used by that baguette loving people to refer to aspects of the sexual act.

Amedeo Modgliani : 20th-century Italian artist. This has nothing to do with the article but is a pet peeve of mine. I have found myself snickering again and again whenever I hear people mention how much they love “Moe-dig-lee-ahni” with a loud, guttural hiccup in the middle there, when that “gli” sound should actually glide in the back of your mouth – like tagliatelli. I’ve laughed to myself more than once thinking, “Sure you love him. You can’t even pronounce his name right.” But then, when I found that everyone was gleefully gurgling the middle of the name, I began to say, hey maybe they’re laughing at me? If you want to make sure you are dropping the names of some of your favorite art references correctly, I found this pronunciation guide online (though I won’t vouch for its correctness).

And here’s my last bit of gratuitous linguistic showmanship. It seems everyone these days is having a special, private opening on the Thursday night before Gallery Stroll. To be really oh so cool and refined we should start calling this type of reception a vernissage – literally “a varnishing” – that’s what they do in France. Just ask Brad Slaugh. He would know. Speaking of Brad, here was his final email in our exchange:

BS: For the record, after seeing the movie, John Erickson doesn’t remind me much of Arthur “Killer” Kane, and it’s difficult to imagine him with lipstick. You should see this film if you haven’t yet. It was a trip.

This article originally appeared in the December 2005 edition of 15 Bytes.

Categories: 15 Bytes | Visual Arts

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