Bridge Academy . . . from page 1
In the twentieth-century, the German Expressionist school Die Brücke
-- the bridge -- emerged as a crossover from the more representational work of artists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner to the fully abstract Wassily Kandinsky. "The bridge" was the foundation that conjoined two developing standards of form and two separate ideologies. Provo's Bridge Academy, located just west of the University Avenue railroad overpass, has a similar dialectic: the link in the equation that unites evolving standards of form with unlimited ideology. The Academy seeks to reinvigorate traditional devices in order to enable students with a greater freedom of expression and arm them with rudimentary tools of art to achieve "limitless possibility" and a surer ground for "personal expression."
I spoke with Jeff Hein, whose original Hein Academy in Salt Lake is the nascence of the now Bridge Academy, and his colleague and co-instructor Sean Diediker.
It was exciting to speak with both, whose aims and projections for this ground breaking academy are firmly grounded in their uncompromising standards and philosophy. These four instructors are not merely academicians, lost in antiquity, oblivious to the present. They are promoters of a methodology which not only replicates the past but endorses its methods for today's innovations. Theirs is a pure form of art, galvanizing form and aesthetic in a synthesis addressing art for its own sake, asking questions as the Modern's did.
The traditional art movements have a sure placement in today's global art community and academies and ateliers which promote classical methods are not in short supply. They engage in a dialogue with the past, promoting studies that can be traced to the Greeks and the tools which reach even farther back to earlier civilizations. Basic early methods, focusing on naturalistic representation utilizing the primary artistic principles of color, light, perspective, chiaroscuro, modeling, etc, form the basis for these academies. They also study the greats of the history of art and learn fastidiously the manner in which they manipulated these basic tools of artistic form. In most cases copying is encouraged. However this is far from what the Bridge Academy advocates. The means are taught, but not the ends.
The Bridge Academy promises to be no simple traditional academy but a concept in and of itself, uniting a strong emphasis on skills embraced by standard academies but promoting an active engagement with the artists' vision, creativity, and inspiration. "How much better work could there be if the artist has had all the tools they need to be innovative," said Hein. "No one form of art is superior but the artist deserves to say whatever they want to say.
According to Hein and Diediker, their experiment is to marry classical training with current subjective approaches to art. With the tools learned at the Bridge Academy, artists, whether they choose to utilize traditional representational methods or more subjective approaches, will emerge more well-rounded, prepared and efficient artists, equipped with all of the tools necessary to reenact whatever vision may be occurring in their creatie minds. The Academy evaluates each student, when they enter their course of study and throughout its duration, to determine their needs and assignments. Students are expected to follow an intense course of study, which will take approximatley four years to complete. The four instructors visit with the artists on a regular and rotating basis.
All instructors of the Academy promote traditional methods- it is the core of the curriculum at the Academy. However, as Hein stated repeatedly, "I feel art throughout history has been a conversation, contributing to the aesthetic of art, a conversation pulling from one artist to the other, adding to each other, adding input: a response from the artist before. We need all these tools. Even if the art is abstract, how much better work could there be if the artists had all the tools?" It is logical that those participants of today's art community who are motivated by either representational work, abstraction or conceptually-based, non-representational art and rely on history for inspiration have greater license for full freedom of form and a path to more freely promote their expression.
To a greater or lesser extent, all founders of the Academy embrace the invigorating forms and concepts of the Modernist period. Hein says Barnett Newman is one of his favorites and Diediker appreciates many of the masters of the last century, including Joseph Albers. For them, modernism can be seen as a symphony of aesthetics, one branching to the other, adding to the aesthetic possibilities that can be explored at the Academy. Most founding members of the Bridge Academy, however, have a certain pessimism with much contemporary art and how it is approached today. What is lacking, implies Hein, is that bridge from the past to the present, a loss of fundamental artistic principles as an entity in an art which can be hollow. The "bridge" these artists and instructors hope to build is one that might imbue today's artist with a greater freedom to express their subjectivity, in conceptual work, landscape, sculpture, or any chosen medium.
They also plan to give their students a bridge to professional careers. In addition to the four instructors the Bridge invites nationally-recognized artists to visit and lecture, expanding the scope of the Academy's educational opportunities. They also invite art professionals from galleries and institutions to visit with students and share advice.
Today's insatiable art global community demands art of all types, all forms, infinite ideologies and methodology; none is better than the other. Yet there is absolutely, within that colorful art world palette called post-modernism, good and bad art and good and bad artists. Good art strengthens the community while bad art too often diminishes the integrity of art and gives the public and "outsiders" more cause to call all artists, critics, historians, and curators etc., quacks. Too much art today lacks integrity, both in form and meaning and this is good for none of us.
The Bridge Academy, an experiment in strengthening form while promoting greater freedom of ideological expression, assures that integrity. It is sorely needed and very welcome as a "new kid on the block" in the offerings already available for emerging artists in Utah. More so it promises to be a veritable giant in the community, encouraging an intense four year study of artistic tools which, unequivocally, can lead to a better artist no matter which school or schools of art the artist tends to adhere to. This is a bridge to strengthen artistic practice, breech divides between different artistic “persuasions,” and inevitably for the outside community as a whole create a greater appreciation of good art.
||J. Kirk Richards . . . from page 1
Richards’ aesthetic has fed itself on late nineteenth and early twentieth-century styles that hovered on the outside of Modernism’s mainstream. His works are somewhere between the tonalists and Salon painters of the turn-of-the-century, and the more sensual and line-oriented schools represented by Art Nouveau and the German Secessionists.
In the Springville exhibition, a painting of four young girls with instruments stands out for its attention to detail and concentration on realism. The rendering shows that the artist is in command of his manual skills, and compared to the looser nature of most of the works in the exhibit, gives one the impression that it was a commissioned portrait and hence realism was paramount. This piece does share with the rest of the works in the exhibit a palette dominated by rust, mauve, pink, blue and greens. “Cherubim and Flaming Sword” is another work that is tightly rendered. Three floating figures, lit by the glowing sword they surround, hover in front of a tree. The cherubim are angelic, not in the sense of having wings, but in that they are each sweet adolescent figures, hardly the type to frighten off a grown man and woman hungry for immortality.
Religious art is often dismissed as mere illustration. To do so, however, is to ignore many marvelous pieces from art history. An artist engaged with religious and spiritual materials can speak through many voices. These voices can be illustrative, as when they express doctrine or dogma; but they can also speak to the personal and at a pitch that goes beyond the religious to the spiritual. Richard’s “Hosanna Shout” depicts a specific Mormon ritual, but one does not need to be LDS to sense the joy exuded by the jubilant figures or enjoy the formal qualities of the flash of white handkerchiefs against the muted colors of Richards’ palette.
Richards’ voices can be seen in his three depictions of Jesus, each dealing with his role as a Savior figure. In one, he is dressed in blue and red robes, stands in an indeterminate space, raises one hand and points to the wound in his palm with the other. This is the type of work that gets mass-reproduced, to hang in the homes of the pious. It is a declarative statement “I am your Savior” that doesn’t say anything particularly interesting. In another, a figure who is obviously Jesus, is shown in a dusk light, in a giant tub, his white skirts raised, their hems a pink hue, his feet pressing grapes. The same basic message is conveyed as the first, but this work has personality the feminine touch of the pose, the soft quiet easiness of the lighting. Lastly is "Healing III," a considerable different work in execution and tone. On rough hewn wood, Richards sketches out an architectural setting in which he places an upright figure who reaches his hands out to another kneeling figure. The painting is rough, the details unfinished. Other artists would pay attention to detail, to depicting an exact scene from the gospel, showing Jesus’ outstretched fingers. Richards has given us none of that. He has deflected our gaze from the details of the flesh in the moment to give us the outline of the experience. In fact, the painting is dark, as if through the painting the artist is striving to see or reveal the spiritual experience of healing, but in the words of St. Paul, he sees only through a glass darkly.
By contrast, "Every Knee Shall Bow," the largest if not the most ambitious piece in the exhibit, is full of light. A central Christ figure, in red, is encircled by innumerable kneeling figures forming a series of rolling hills about him. The whole painting is executed in a soft tone, the figures barely defined, a head and a body achieved with a swoop here and there of the brush. Unfortunately, despite the audacity of its size, the piece is the least successful of the exhibit. There is just not enough of interest in the painting to justify its execution. The undifferentiated figures that form one mass around the central Christ figure makes me assume that the artist is trying to convey the idea of a future paradise of homogenous figures recognizing a common savior. But I think the more compelling point of the scene is that everyone, in their individuality, would come together in the recognition. Unity in diversity is compelling. The scene as it is reminds me of a Talking Heads song: "Heaven is a place/where nothing ever happens."
Richards' other large piece, depicting the miracle of the fish and the loaves, is the the most compelling of the exhibit. Like Healing III, this work is done on thick, rough, charred wood. The outlines of figures is the quickest of brushstrokes, a circle or semi-circle to indicate a head or shoulders. It is almost an afterthought to a large work that concentrates on tactile experience. Various collage elements creating textural quality that gives the piece an aesthetic involvement lost in "Every Knee Shall Bow." Fish are depicted by two basic fish-shaped pieces of wood sticking out from the surface of the painting. The basket containing the loaves is parts of an actual wicker basket, attached to the surface of the painting. In the body of the piece, and the bodies of the crowds, the artist has collaged scraps of newspapers. One reads "A Grand Occassion," while another is a mundane listing. With these formal, modernist elements, taken from the playbook of Picasso and Braque, Richards is able to get at something of the gospel story he is depicting. Jesus, at the height of his popularity, reveals his power to satisfy the physical wants of his audience and causes a stir among the people. It is a very human, very political, earthy story. But it is not the story Jesus has come to tell, and he is ultimately abandoned when he directs his audience towards a spiritual rather than a physical salvation. The painting points to a conflict of voices between what the people want and what they need.
This exhibit makes me think that there is a similar struggle of voices going on within the artist. He paints defined works that express concrete statements to a receptive religious audience. On the other hand are these darker, undefined and possibly more honest works that struggle at a mature grasping of one's being in the world and being in the spirit. The two-self portraits in the exhibit may be revealing in this respect. The first, of Richards at 23 (the age when most Mormon med marry, pursue a career and start a family), is a delicately rendered portrait of the artist, palette in hand, ready to face the world. The second, of the artist at 32, is less defined. One eye is rendered in a manner similar to the younger portrait, but the left eye dissolves into a mass of blurred brush strokes. The painting does not reveal a lack of confidence as much as it recognizes that in being in the world one sees sometimes through one vision and sometimes another, and the truth is found at the convergence of the two.