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June 2011
Published by Artists of Utah
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Jeff Juhlin . . . from page 1

Juhlin studied art at the University of Utah for four years before moving on to the San Francisco Art Institute, which accepted him into their graduate program even though he never finished his Bachelor’s degree. His wife and sister joined him in San Francisco, where they spent their time learning weaving under the tutelage of some of the nationally-prominent weavers of the time. It was in San Francisco that Juhlin learned what would be one of the most formative ideas for his artistic practice -- that one is free to do whatever one wants in the creative arena. The Art Institute was much less structured than the University of Utah, and Juhlin found it unsettling at the beginning, but he gradually embraced the atmosphere of “…hanging out with classmates and very successful artists/professors, with six-packs of beer, just talking art, and then going off to paint and reconvening some days later to talk more art.”

When he finished in San Francisco, Juhlin considered teaching, but he didn’t want to stay away from Utah simply to get a job in the art field and “do the hustle” as he puts it. Instead, he returned to his home state with his wife and sister and together they opened a weaving store at Trolley Square that they ran for fifteen years. When the shop closed Juhlin worked as a carpenter and eventually established a business as a construction consultant, which he continues today.

While he was busy working in his “other life” to pay the bills, Juhlin continued to make art. Abstract art. “Abstraction is so important for me,” he says. “A lot of people think it’s outdated and it’s all ‘New Media’ now… but I think that abstraction isn’t dead, I think it’s still valuable and important, and in fact I think it’s coming back and being noticed more.”|1| His current paintings are rich in layers and details, blended colors and raised surfaces. Juhin says his work is very much influenced by the spacious feel of the Great Basin region of the West. He can’t imagine how any artist who lives here could not be influenced by it. It’s not that he is painting landscapes -- he even prefers to call the strong horizontal lines in his paintings “grounding lines” rather than “horizon lines” – but the colors, forms, textures, light and air of the region he knows so well pervade his work. |2|

“I just deal with space and textures,” he says. “Politics is not important in my work, narrative is not important, recognizable images are not important. Lots of people are fabulous at doing that, but that’s not what I am after. I’m interested in somebody getting something else from me, getting the experience of something different – lots of people are doing great things with all the new media – computers, videos etc., but I’m not interested in that. I just want somebody that sees my work to get an experience that they wouldn’t get anywhere else. When I step back and look at something I just completed I’m often amazed and wonder ‘How did I do that?’” |3|

Though painting was his first interest Juhlin ended up establishing a reputation as a sculptor. He has created both gallery pieces, elegant steel structures that swoop upwards in a dance of intersecting planes,|4| and public art pieces, like the two steel works at local fire stations,|5| whose mockups line a window in his Salt Lake studio.|6| Many artists would have been content to continue working in a field they had come to master. But when Juhlin discovered encaustic at a workshop in San Francisco ten years ago he embraced the medium and set about mastering a new form.

“You have to be brave to be an artist, I think,” Juhlin says. “When you look at that blank canvas or you go into the studio or even if you have an idea, you wonder ‘how am I gonna do this’, even if you just did a piece. It’s like starting all over again. Every single thing that you do is taking a risk –it’s danger, it’s uncertainty. If you can manage that and carry it over into the rest of your life you’ve got it made.“ That reaction of wonder at his finished pieces is what he believes keeps him, and other artists, going. He sees making art as a search, a journey where you never reach the end. If you felt you had arrived, you’d be finished.

Having learned encaustics at the beginning of what has become a wave of enthusiasm, Juhlin is now recognized as one of the leading encaustic painters in the country. Though it’s only been in the last fifteen years or so that he has become recognized as an artist, Juhlin feels his previous successes in other endeavors have served him well in laying the groundwork for where he is today. You could say that all his life experience has been absorbed into and percolated in his psyche, influencing his evolution as an artist. For example, last year he spent a month in southern France in an artist fellowship/residency program and says that that experience is just now emerging in his work and that some of that can be seen in the show at ‘A’ Gallery. He points out a series of works on the studio wall that were done in France – acrylic paintings, since the equipment necessary for encaustic work is difficult to transport and says the use of the colors in those pieces was influenced by the lush terrain of the French countryside.

Juhlin generally doesn’t do preliminary drawings or designs, but he does refer to previous works and feeds off them -- what problems they presented, how they were resolved, how they could evolve. This is why he likes to have a lot of his work hanging in the studio while creating new ones.|7| “But I don’t do the same thing for long – I move on.”

Juhlin has exhibited at a number of venues across the country: in San Francisco, at the Space Gallery in Denver, Colorado, and at the Dialogue Gallery in Roanoke, Virginia. He was invited to be the visiting artist at the HVI Art Center in Maui, Hawaii and plans on returning next year. Here in Utah he has had shows at Finch Lane, the Eccles, the Salt Lake Art Center and Art Access. His most recent show at ‘A’ Gallery opens this weekend, and much of it has already sold.|8|

Juhlin’s presence here in Utah is one of the main reasons the Kimball Art Center’s rooms will be filled with encaustic works this month. His connections with Daniella Woolf, author of the book “Encaustic With a Textile Sensibility” led to the gathering of works by all the artists featured in her book (including Juhlin). Juhlin was also a significant facilitator for the Kimball FUSE show, which is on display through July 24th. He co-curated it with Kimball’s Director of Exhibitions, Erin Linder, and in the exhibition of 17 Utah artists you’ll find a number who first started heating up beeswax at a Jeff Juhlin workshop. Juhlin says he loves teaching – “As every teacher says, you always learn so much from your students. It’s so healthy to do that” – and plans on continuing to do with, “but I just don’t want it to interfere with my production.“

And Juhlin plans on producing for quite some time. When asked what he plans for retirement he responds, “The same. I’m never going to retire.” He spends time now building a small home and studio in Torrey, where he can soak up more of the landscape, and getting into his Salt Lake studio on a regular basis. This is a former cement works building with plenty of room to work in, and great south light to make the wax shine.|9| It stands next to an empty field that abuts the railroad tracks and interstate, but he still fears development may eventually push him out. For now, though, he feels lucky to have it and to be able to do something that he loves. “That’s one of the good things about being old,” he says somewhat wryly. “I appreciate it much more than I would have thirty years ago.”

Exhibition Preview: Salt Lake

Frank McEntire at Nox Contemporary

Frank McEntire is the rare courageous artist for whose aesthetic mill everything is grist. He overlooks nothing, even the clouds of language, abstract words, that trail his artwork until they eventually burn off under the heat of gallery lights. Left behind are exquisite objects originally encountered as discards. McEntire transforms this raw material, its former meaning dissipated like vapor, into talismans: reinvigorated vessels filled by, and with, his faith. And his faith is uncompromising, encompassing the recognition that we humans spend too much time living by symbols, arguing over symbols, fighting on what we think is behalf of symbols, and not nearly enough time in touch with the transcendental facts these symbols set out to represent.

reliQueries, the title of his upcoming show at Nox Contemporary, is an example of Frank McEntire’s hunger to refashion whatever he finds, not just lending it a new purpose, but refurbishing it, using his skill to bring out the craftsmanship that went into its original construction. Reliquaries are sturdy, albeit precious vessels that derive a transient value from the rich materials and skill employed in their making, but acquire their lasting value from their originally mundane, carnal contents: a fragment of skeleton, a scrap of textile, something left behind. In his assemblages, McEntire seeks to find and set forth the limit of exchange between sacred value and secular price. In an overwhelmingly materialistic age, when the street corner preacher is as likely as a broker to advocate material goals, when investment and accumulation are considered equivalent to prayer, Frank McEntire challenges us to distinguish price from value.

Reliquary for a Host of Broken Hymns

To do this requires courage because no object, least of all one of veneration, ever entirely loses its power over holder and beholder alike. In an age of insecurity, no one is allowed to disrespect anything that someone, somewhere, once respected. We decline to throw out the bath for fear of accidentally discarding the baby, and so our world of discourse has gradually filled up with bathwater. Abraham Lincoln said, “As our situation is new, so we must think anew and act anew, and then we shall save our nation.” But it often seems we cannot do anything anew, so crowded is our public space with mental furniture we cannot use, but lack the clear judgment and decisiveness to move aside and stride past.

The service that McEntire performs is to burn away the excesses of piousness, especially where they cross the line into material expression that lend themselves to misunderstanding, that tend to stick around beyond their useful life, in order to let the real experience emerge. His works function on two levels simultaneously, at once representing objects on which reverence can be focused, and at the same time calling the attention of the reverent to the transfer. “Be aware that this memento is not the experience it memorializes, any more than a photograph of a loved one is what one loves.” At their best, the mechanism by which Frank McEntire’s art accomplishes this double duty, connects this double awareness, is laughter.

Immaculate Conception by Frank McEntire
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