Confusion. The title of the 14-portrait exhibit by Tyler Bloomquist sums up the main emotion felt by many people faced with a violent confrontation between civilians and police, particularly when someone is killed. Bloomquist’s main goal with the portrait series is to capture the frustration and charged atmosphere surrounding the most volatile and violent moments, and he does so by mixing and blending multiple media over one another. Each layer of color, presented using a different medium, serves to add more confusion and complication to what begins as a simple portrait, and instead creates something far more complex than a person smiling placidly from a canvas on the wall.
The narrative Bloomquist creates through his work is different from the traditional one often heard when discussing police violence. Not only does Bloomquist explore both sides of the story – presenting an equal number of portraits of those slain by police, as police who have been killed by civilians, but Bloomquist also changes the traditional use of stereotypes. While he uses bright, vibrant colors to create his portraits, his portraits are not inherently about the color of the people who were killed. Instead, the colors capture the emotions that were most raw and intense in the most violent moments. For example, in “Deborah Danner,” bright magentas, reds, and sepia tones are the prominent colors of the portraits. She is smiling. Bloomquist has created the portraits in a way that uses color to tell the story, instead of using the portraits to make a comment about color.
In all the portraits at the Fice Gallery show, the people are smiling. Bloomquist has created images of them to portray the violent ends of their lives using peaceful, happy images – a stark contrast that adds to the confusion that Bloomquist is trying to draw from his work. This narrative between happiness and death radiates through each piece, making them seem innocent at first glance, and giving each a far deeper meaning beyond the surface.
Another focus for Bloomquist is the way in which such violent acts slip from our minds so easily. To express this erasure, he uses bleach on the portraits to cut swaths through the layers of color, leaving behind faded, blurred portions of the images, and sometimes nothing at all. In this way, Bloomquist comments on how the news has muted our reception of these deaths, and though they are unnecessary, we still do not hear about them. We take them in stride and categorize them under the movement that they best fit under, losing the people, their faces, and their names. Bloomquist has recaptured 14 of these people, spent time capturing their faces, their smiles, evoking their lasting memory in beautiful, striking colorwork.
Through his use of color, bleach, and portraiture, Bloomquist has created a new commentary on an ongoing issue. Confusion, at Fice Gallery, Salt Lake City, until June 19th, manages to open a new door, and cast a look back at some of the people who were lost unnecessarily in acts of violence. Bloomquist has refused to let them be forgotten, and he has captured them beautifully, smiling, in vivid color.
Andrea Wall is a graduate of Southern Utah University with a BA in Creative Writing, and minors in both Ceramics and Theatre Arts. She completed an honors thesis that focused on the synthesis of literature and ceramics. She plans to attend graduate school to pursue a Master’s degree in ceramics, and to work as a studio artist and writer.
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