Traci O’Very Covey’s sinuous line, which dances across the surface of her paintings to create overlapping and interlocking planes of color, will be familiar to fans of the Utah Opera, where for four years Covey used her unique graphic style to interpret the storylines of the company’s performances (as a designer she’s also been responsible for several books and created work for national publications). A number of Covey’s gouache paintings in this month’s exhibit at Ogden’s Gallery at the Station retain the crisp flat style of that graphic work: “Water and Air” is a puzzle-like composition executed in unmodulated hues in which forms of birds, clouds and fish push and pull past the painting’s two serene figures; and in “Woman with Flora,” a white line weaves horticultural motifs and a contemplative maiden into a series of unified arabesques, including the tendrilled whisps of the girl’s hair.
A new series of acrylic paintings by Covey at the gallery continue her use of swirling organic forms — which maintain an artistic tradition that extends from early Celtic art to the Art Nouveau movement of the last century — but opts for a much more layered and textured approach. Works like “Metamorphosis 10” and “Metamorphosis 7” highlight the differences and the similarities in these two bodies of work. The general swoop of the composition is the same. As are the organic, floral motifs. In “Metamorphosis 7,” however, it is texture, and semi-transparent layers of paint, that creates the sense of depth in Covey’s pieces — and which gets the works closer to the earthy, Arcadian sensibility Covey has always tried to evoke with her art.
Denis Phillips’ works on display at the gallery share with Covey’s graphic work a crisp line and use of overlapping planes, but to very different effect. In his long career, Phillips has never been tied to one form or subject. In addition to the non-objective paintings he is well-known for, he has painted landscapes and still lifes. But most of these, like the works exhibited last year at Phillips Gallery, have been stamped with his loose, bravura mark-making and floating layers of paint. The works on exhibit this month in Ogden, however, appear to be drawn with a compass or a computer program rather than the instinctual inflection of the wrist or elbow.
A number of smaller pieces are giclée prints of works Phillips has indeed created on the computer. After scanning images of his paintings, he splices them together and manipulates the result through Photoshop. They have a trippy ’70s feel, and appear at any moment to turn into psychedelic animations. The larger works on display are straightforward acrylic on canvas, but they have the same sharp edges as the smaller pieces. “#963” shares Covey’s strategy of shifting hues where different planes intersect to create a sense of unity and depth. Its hard lines, basic geometric shapes and use of primary colors straight from the tube are repeated in works like “#962” and “#313.” As “basic” as these elements are, the compositions avoid becoming static or boring, mostly through their play with weight and the dynamic pull between fore- and back-ground. Those who enjoy Phillips’s gestural paintings may find these works too distant emotionally, but an artist who is willing to experiment and shift gears even late in his career is always a welcome change.
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The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.