Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Tyler Spurgeon's visceral reaction to deficiency
In Deficient, his current exhibit at Nox Contemporary, Tyler Spurgeon presents a series of semi-abstract paintings that probes the question of “who or what determines an individual’s value” in relation to a “societally imposed sense of inadequacy,” and does so in a frank and compelling way that challenges the viewer to find the answer. The paintings are not easily digestible. Executed in heavy, dark skeins of color, with slabs of meat or the skeletal and flesh forms of the human body as subject, they are not even easy to look at, and in order to engage with Deficient the audience must be prepared to grapple with work that is definitely not pretty, arguably garish, grotesque even -- a caustic commentary on the harsher aspects of existing in contemporary society. These paintings come across like a secularized and modernized Seven Deadly Sins, but less portentous and more nihilistic.
Spurgeon comes to Salt Lake from Chicago, where he studied at the Art Institute. He recently completed his MFA at the University of Utah and in this, his first solo exhibit in Utah, he reacts to what he calls the “soft violence” society wages upon individuals, where they are reduced to “their most basic component of value.” A series of smaller paintings showing hanging meat are an obvious symbol of a consumptive, reductive society, but in Spurgeon's larger works, where the human form is abstracted and blurred, lost at times in the violent paint application, Deficient comments on more than just physical conditions.
For his commentary, Spurgeon does not point the finger at “the man,” but instead looks closely at the individual, beneath the skin, at a visceral scale of flesh and bone, to penetrate to the core of the subject. At this level it becomes apparent just who or what is determining value and the answer is surprising. "Newton," a distinguishing piece in the exhibition, seems to reveal the “societally imposed” psychological loss of control and manipulation.|0| It is a frightening image: the figure seems suspended in space, as if he has lost the mobility of his limbs and ultimately his fragmented mind.
"Barye" is an image that seems to gauge how the individual exists in a reality where one is never alone, even from the self.|1| In it we see two figures in violent conflict with each other. They have been stripped to their skeletal structure, as happens frequently in these works, so that one gets a sense of the devouring conditions of an aggressive society based on the dynamics of difference. This is not a subtle conflict: the figure to the left seems to be coughing up blood and might seem extreme, yet it is often to an extreme that the individual is conditioned from such dynamics of difference.
An image that might seem even more grotesque and more caustic is "Mite," painted very abstractly in reds, blacks and yellows, and altogether a compositionally unbalanced picture.|2| Balance and consistency are not its intended representation, though, but rather gluttony and greed, lustful appetites, laziness and complacency. In the painting we see a shadowy figure defecating, and as one asks, “who or what determines the individual’s value,” one can only think of the missing denominator as “societally imposed” appetites and indulgences that cause one to debase themselves with such candor. It is an ugly picture we see and it is an ugly aspect of living in today’s world that causes many to fall prey to over indulging themselves in gluttonous living.
"Doite" is not the sort of painting with a content that is pleasant to deal with and is an open door to a cacophony of Freudian analysis.|3| Again, the picture is not balanced, with much heavy black to the side and a field of light blue to the upper right with a heavy blurred figure obscured in the blackness.The figure is groping its nakedness in the dark, hidden from the truth, just as we are unsure of how to address this painting. If one asks the question “who or what determines the individual’s value” and considers all things “societally imposed,” there is no limit to the commentary that Spurgeon is aiming towards; it is not pleasant and something we would like to avoid, but telling of today’s world.
One last image, more frightening than the rest, is "Bar," a portrait of sorts, ugly and morbid, a skeletal figure in abstracted bright pastel colors loosely and freely rendered that seems to laugh sardonically at the face of any who look into the blackness of the space which encompasses it.|4| Asking myself these questions, what is it that Spurgeon is trying to allude to with "Bar," the answer is only too apparent. I see fear. It is hard to miss. Even if I don't always share the vision, it is something that I can appreciate in Spurgeon’s work as good art, as an authentic, frank, honest reaction to the angst of the modern individual in a society at odds with individual worth.
Gallery Spotlight: Salt Lake City
Art Meets Fashion
(A)perture Gallery continues away from their brick and mortar
Galleries come and go. Others reinvent themselves. (A)perture has done something in between.
In 2008 Heidi Gress and Anne Cummings-Anderson opened Aperture Gallery in Sugarhouse. The not-for profit space, an extension of their public relations and marketing firm of the same name, was designed to provide a showcase for local emerging artists and create socially conscious exhibitions that would impact the community.
In February of this year, Gress and Cummings-Anderson decided to leave their brick-and-mortar space on 9th East, but they continue to operate with a similar mission. Focusing on their strength, which was always more the one time-events – openings for exhibitions that partnered with non-profits to raise funds and awareness – than month-long shows where you wait behind a desk for someone to come in, they now take advantage of pop-up spaces to impact the community and highlight local artists.
On October 15th (A)perture hosts Art Meets Fashion, an annual event begun in 2009 that combines local designers with local artists. “We've always believed that art in all it's forms has the potential to act as a catalyst for essential dialogue about issues that affect us all.” This year's event supports the YWCA.
For the fashion component (A)perture has invited six local fashion designers -- Andrea Black, DesNeiges Gregory, Danny Nappi, Andrea Hansen, Mary Rino, Roberto Leone and a selection of student designs from Salt Lake Fashion Institute -- to premier a new line of clothing. (A)perture began as (and continues to be) a marketing firm, so it’s no surprise that they have made promoting and documenting the event a priority. “Each designer has their own unique perspective and aesthetic that is presented on the runway and we capture this essence in a mini-documentary that airs prior to each runway show commencing.”
For the fine art component, Gress and Cummings-Anderson took on a stronger curatorial role, selecting twenty-five local artists and asking them to create works on a specific theme: Deconstructing Venus. “Narrative is the point of emphasis within the theme in which artists offer their critical reflections on love, beauty and the feminine,” Cummings-Anderson says. “Artists were encouraged to journal about their process, where they began and where they ended up. Personal experience with love, beauty and feminity emerges within the work and reveals very unique, conceptually driven pieces.” The artists selected come from a variety of stylistic approaches and use various mediums, including photography, installation and painting. The exhibit’s theme lends itself naturally to figurative work, which you’ll see, but Gress and Cummings-Anderson also intentionally selected “certain artists who focus on abstract designs.” As a result there will be several non-figurative pieces that “delve into the material in terms of motion, flux, strength and power. “
Don’t expect a simple cheese-crackers-and-grapes reception for Art Meets Fashion. (A)perture is throwing all their weight into one night and they don’t plan on wasting the opportunity. In addition to the exhibition, fashion runs and documentaries, the evening will include an Acoustic Music Lounge, sponsored by SlowTrain Records and SLUG Mag, and a variety of performance art, dance and music. The Art of Food & Wine, sponsored by Salt Lake magazine will showcase Tasting Stations from local award winning restaurants and wine pairings courtesy of Odom Spirits West.