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 November 2010
Published by Artists of Utah
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Brian Christensen . . . from page 1

Over the years Christensen's work has included ceramics, steel, plastic, bronze, glass and found objects. He often employs a variety of materials in a single piece. He refers to a recent sculpture, "The Waters of March," as one example.|1| "At one point this was just a cast figure that could be just a piece in and of itself. That's the only thing that's cast out of bronze. Everything else is forged out of steel. So I'll combine materials that way. It's a good example of how I started with the casting and built an environment for it."

Although Christensen doesn't consider himself a conceptual artist, concept often dictates the form of his work, including the materials he uses. He cites a variety of 20th-century historical influences from the formality of movements like Constructivism to the concept-driven representation of Surrealism. "What it boils down to is that I work in a range between representation and formalism. … It's almost as if I'm taking, say Anthony Caro and Marcel Duchamp, and … it will range from being similar to those guys to actually blending them in some cases," he says.

Christensen's stylistic range includes non-objective formal work, such as "River Rouge," |2| as well as more representational figurative work, as in "The Waters of March" — and everything in between. "Gusher" |0| represents elements of both styles. "In "Gusher" I'm using figurative elements in a fairly arbitrary and formal way, just the way that I would arrange and balance elements in a purely non-objective composition.|3| So despite ["River Rouge" and "Gusher"] looking a bit different, there is some cross-over," Christensen explains. "I'm not a conceptual artist and I'm not a minimalist — not like the piece is a sort of self-contained spectacle, but rather a collection of balanced parts."

The word "collection" describes not only his finished work, but also an important aspect of Christensen's working process, where found objects play a central role. "Materials are important. Just to take "River Rouge" as an example, I'll try to find materials that can't be reproduced. [The piece is] made out of heavy plates that I couldn't have altered that way in the shop."

Christensen's penchant for collecting things informs and inspires his artistic process, where often an idea or series of ideas will form around a particular object. "The central object might be like a found artifact, or it might be something that I render realistically and it acts as a centerpiece, like a brain or a life-casting of a hand. I literally treat those things as if they were found objects, even if I made them," he says.

Some of Christensen's recent work, including "Provo Strata," incorporates ceramic and glass shards he found at the site of Provo's old incineration plant.|4| "It's literally an archeology site, although it's recent history — 50 to 75 years ago," he explains. "It gives you this really verifiable insight into Provo's culture: what housewives valued in terms of color, and the memories that people have with these specific soda bottles and advertising and so forth. … The authenticity of those actual objects is really important."

From everything he's picked up, both physically and stylistically, Christensen hopes to provide a rich viewing experience for his audience. He describes his work as "hopefully something that you don't read as a one-liner, but rather that you come back into it and take different things away from it."

With this in mind, he tries to imbue the work with layers of meaning. "If it's readable in a glance for me … I feel like it will be the same way for other people," he said. "And if I have layers of meaning, going from formal aspects to psychological aspects … I think that they on some level translate to other people as well."

His interest in psychology stems from a desire to reach viewers on an emotive, even sub-conscious level. "I'm interested in universal narratives. … So what I'm after is an image that not only has meaning for me, but can become a sort of touchstone or an archetype that will get at elemental and universal feelings and emotions that other people will perceive or feel rather than consciously identify with. … I want to set up a sort of authenticity or legitimacy in form and concept that might affect somebody on the inside," he says.

This interest in psychology and meaning has found expression not only in a variety of materials, but a variety of media as well. Christensen collaborated with BYU graphic design professor Brent Barson on "Precept," an installation which used sculpture, sound, text, lighting and space to question how the mind perceives various stimuli.|5-6| Christensen said he has more ideas for installation, and in the future may branch out into video and projection as vehicles for expressing his concepts.

What Christensen says in reference to looking for found objects applies not only to what he's picked up along his artistic journey, but also to what viewers may pick up from his work: "Once in a while you find some great things. The search is part of the art."

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake
Color on a Gray Wall

The Gray Wall Gallery just opened in August and it is already adding some much needed color to Pierpont Avenue. The old hot spot for Gallery Stroll has been looking a little lackluster lately but walking in to Gray Wall gallery will take you back to a time when Pierpont felt urban, hip, and entirely one-of-a-kind.

The first thing you will see as you approach the gallery is the gray sign out front with a graphic of what looks like a section of stone wall with a chunk missing. Itís minimalist and simple. The gallery space itself is small but inviting. Tamara Fox, co-owner of Gray Wall, really brightens up the place when she comes in to work, and not just because she turns on the lights every day. She greets people at the door with a genuine smile and may even offer a cup of coffee. After Tamara makes people feel at home she gives them plenty of room to browse the gallery but never moves too far away to be available for questions. If you ask she offers an answer with infectious enthusiasm and lends interesting bits of trivia, like the fact that some of the zippers on Jason Wellsís messenger bags are salvaged tent zippers.

One of the most prominent pieces in the gallery right now is a collection of 8" x 10" canvases by Erica Harney who made her Utah debut at the gallery this month.|0| The arrangement is reminiscent of one side of an unsolved Rubix cube, bright inviting squares that offer up a puzzle. With Ericaís paintings the challenge is figuring out what portmanteau is represented on each canvas. A portmanteau is two separate words combined to create a new word with its own meaning, for example the words Tiger and Lion are combined to describe the offspring of the two animals, a Liger. For Ericaís particular project she asked friends to give her two nouns off the top their head and then painted her interpretation on canvas. One could spend the better part of an afternoon gazing at this collection, trying to guess which nouns are represented.

Near Ericaís work are creations by Jason Wells, an environmental artist who often works with found objects and creates everything from illuminated paintings to the earlier mentioned messenger bags. His paintings are reminiscent of kaleidoscopes. He works with geometric shapes in vivid colors that create intricate patterns and tease the eye in a way that makes them impossible to glance over. The messenger bags sewn and designed by Jason hang near his paintings. Itís a tactile experience to browse through them, your hand is likely to brush over recycled sacks that once held coffee, or run over what feels like slick vinyl.

Other work on display includes Sarah Cuvelierís ceramics,|1| charcoal drawings and ceramics by Tamara Fox, photographs by Guadalupe Rodriguez, large scale portraits by Jacob Shirley, and Daren Youngís paintings of the Grand Canal in Venice.|2| The Gray Wall is an eclectic gallery that showcases a range of artists and different mediums. Tamara along with the other founders, Sarah Cuvelier and Matthew Hall, cooked up a gallery with a lot of different flavors. It could have been a recipe for disaster but instead they created something that will have people going back for seconds.

Gray Wall Gallery
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