Art Professional Profile: Salt Lake City
Eyes Wide with Possibility
Micol Hebron Brings Her Curatorial and Artistic Practice to Salt Lake
Micol Hebron, Senior Curator at the Salt Lake Art Center since August 2010, is surrounded by an audible buzz that is discernable from the moment she walks into a room. It could be the effortless way she conveys her fierce passion for art. Her intensity isn’t that of someone who is on their second pot of coffee, it’s an organic energy that is intrinsic to who she is as a person. You can see it in her eyes. Hebron has a thirsty sense of curiosity and a sharp intellect; as evidence of this a person needs to look no further than her vision for the Salt Lake Art Center.
“I see the art center as having maybe three primary objectives from a curatorial point of view. One is to bring in artists from around the country to inspire local artists and also to bring Salt Lake into the conversation about what’s happening nationally and internationally in contemporary art. Secondly I see the role of the Art Center as being a conduit for artists to gain exposure outside of Salt Lake City. If the Art Center can provide access to other gallery exhibitions or sister institutions that are similar to the Art Center in other cities, it can really function as an advocate for local artists to get shown elsewhere.” Third, she is also looking to “raise the bar by providing not only opportunities for local artists to show, but opportunities that are in fact competitive and in dialogue with the national art scene, so that artists recognize that when they show at Salt Lake Art center it is akin to showing at a major museum anywhere else in the country.”
A component of this larger goal is for Hebron to help the Salt Lake community to explore and embrace a wider range of art forms. She says the amount of talent and enthusiasm for art in Salt Lake is inspiring but observes that some of the work she has seen, while very well done, is often very “safe.” As an example she points to public sculptures in the area and observes how they adhere to standard conventions: they’re mostly bronze, monumental, and can be taken at face value. “Salt Lake City has an amazing community of artists. There are a large number of people engaged in the arts. They do seem to me to be favoring painting and traditional art forms so I would love to find a way to continue to support and grow the existing artistic energy that’s here into more and more diverse forms of art,” Hebron says.
Hebron and the Salt Lake Art Center are in a state of transition together. As new space is created at the Art Center and ambitious goals are established, Hebron has started settling in to a new city. While it doesn’t quite feel like home yet, she does compare Salt Lake City favorably to her former home. “One of the things I noticed and that I really love about Salt Lake City is that people do seem to take their time in a way that allows for appreciation of the environment of family life, of spending time with friends, of just being in the moment, and that’s something that you really don’t see in Los Angeles.” Hebron says.
As she finds time to be in the moment Hebron is also able to continue working on her own art. She is able to compartmentalize her work as a curator and her work as an artist so one does not interfere with the other. She says that being an artist “informs my curatorial ideology. I think I’m perhaps more sensitive to the way that artists work or the way artists want their work to be seen or treated in the institution.” But she is mindful that the two do not intermingle. .
“The reason I keep things separate is because as an artist I have very particular opinions and ideas and objectives with my own work, but that’s a fairly myopic strain of inquiry. Whereas as a curator I feel like it’s crucial that my interests are very expansive, that I’m looking at a variety of media, a variety of statements, and a variety of ways of working, not only ways that are related to my personal practice. I also think for that reason it’s really important that I keep myself out of it, that it’s clear to the public that my role as a curator has nothing to do with my interest in promoting my identity as an artist. Those are completely separate.” Hebron says.
In her own work, Hebron explores among other things, feminist themes, power, identity, and gender roles. “I do performance art and video but really I work in a variety of media depending on the project. My recent work has been photographic, as I’m investigating the ways that the female subject is absent from a lot of modernist photography and trying to reinsert her in a kind of comedic and intellectual inquiry into how a contemporary female might view a modernist history with regard to the body. Much of my work looks at the role of women in contemporary and recent history and art history, and I’m interested in the way that the female subject is empowered or disempowered through means of identity construction.”
Female empowerment comes through not only in her work, it’s also a striking element of Hebron’s character. She expresses herself with a fearless honesty that has nothing to do with a desire to shock or be subversive, even though what she says may sometimes be interpreted that way. At the core they’re statements that stem from genuine confidence that allows for complete self expression.
It’s difficult to assess how a person’s core is shaped, because it’s more than one simple life event that makes us who we are. Instead it’s a myriad of experiences that have an influence on us, and Hebron’s life is full of unique events that have brought her where she is today: She was raised by a mother who was empowered by her intelligence, a woman who was among the first class of women to be admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was raised by liberal parents in a tent in the woods where she learned to shoot deer and had a very direct, intimate relationship with nature. She attended Montessori schools where she was taught the world is a resource, one she was invited to explore and investigate. As a teenager in the 1980’s and 1990’s she watched the world transition from being analog to digital and she experienced a world that was the antithesis of the one she grew up in. That age celebrated consumerism and decadence, and she was drawn to academics, earning a earning a BFA in Fine Art, Summa Cum Laude, from UCLA and an MFA in New Genres, also from UCLA. She stayed in the City of Angels to teach, curate, write, and practice art.
To list the events doesn’t quantify the experiences, but instead gives you a small glimpse of Hebron’s background, and she is happy to share stories from her past. But when she talks about the Salt Lake Art Center and all that she plans for it, she leans in closer to engage in the conversation, her eyes grow wide with possibility, and that inaudible buzz around her grows louder.
Hints 'n' Tips
Painting Things vs. Painting the Way Things Look
The task of painting in a painterly way is a very different concept from what most people think. For one thing, it is less about “things” being painted, and more about the way light affects these “things.” That is why a typical architectural rendering, though usually correct in detail and scale, is seldom on the level of fine art. Also, painting light effects is just as concerned with how much to leave out of a painting as it is with how much to put in. I often get the question from students -- “What about all the details?” -- as if that is the most important thing to consider when painting. My usual response is, “If you can paint the scene correctly with regard to how light is affecting the various forms in the painting, the details will take care of themselves.” To the student, details are all those objects that will make their pictures more realistic. The problem with this type of thinking is that these “things” become a sort of parts- list (assembly required) mentality that obscures the real job of the painter. It is extremely likely that approaching the task in this way will satisfy some obsessive compulsive urge in different people, but it won’t make a work of art by their simple inclusion. So with that understanding, think atmosphere, think light and think about this envelope that surrounds and affects everything it comes in contact with. Think about the special way those objects in a particular scene look due to the interaction of this substance, rather than what the various objects are in a sterile environment.
In painting, there are five elements or tools that can be used to accomplish the desired result. These five tools are all we artists have to achieve success. Whenever there is a failure to get the job done, it involves one or more of these measures. There is one other thing though, which provides the inspiration for handling these five tools and that is the ability to “see” clearly. Another way of putting this is to have a visual understanding of what you are seeing and then have the ability to translate that into paint using the five tools. Seeing is directly tied to the five areas; to understand the tools, in a way, is to understand “seeing.” I’m sure this all sounds very cryptic, but it is actually not all that complicated. When we artists look at a scene we try to break down the visual information in terms of drawing, color, value, edges and textural effects. These considerations in turn become the five tools we have to work with. Visual realities can be approached in these terms. While the non-painter looks at a scene and uses descriptive terms like pretty, beautiful etc., the artist must concentrate on the drawing possibilities – (size, shape, design), color considerations, (temperature, saturation….), value possibilities – (how light or dark in relation to….), edge control – (hard, soft, broken……) and lastly texture or (brushwork…… thin, thick, dry brush, fluid stroke….) By thinking in these terms the artist can create the sensation of beauty through how these different elements come together. Knowing these elements and using them when critiquing your own work is also a way to isolate problem areas of the painting and have a concrete way of pinpointing parts that don’t work.
Yesterday I got out to paint with some friends and had a discussion on some of these ideas with fellow artist Aaron Bushnell. He made the point that we are not really painting things, but the way things look through the eyes of the artist. He told me of a conversation he recently had with a friend who told him that he thought computer graphics would someday surpass and replace painting since they are so accurate. Aaron made the point that this would never happen for one main reason: it’s the lack of perfection in a work of art that actually lends to its charm. It’s that human fallibility, the lack of perfection, coupled with the artistic license that the artist brings to a painting that makes it unparalleled to a perfect mechanical rendering. It was a good exchange on art in general and one of the reasons I like painting with other artists on occasion.
It would seem that history has a way of repeating itself after all, when you consider that the same warnings were given to painters when the camera was invented. I have a feeling that we fine artists have nothing to worry about; beware architects!