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May 2012
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
Page 7   
Neil Hadlock - Photo courtesy of the artist
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Exhibition Preview: Salt Lake
Iron, Stone, and Bent Steel
Neil Hadlock Ninteen-Ninety to Now

Frank McEntire: Describe your studio.

Neil Hadlock: My studio hasn’t changed much since my first workspace in Tucson in 1969, where I was a graduate art student at the University of Arizona. My studios all have been similar—a clean area for books, paper, drawing materials, flat files, and a work area with steel layout tables, welders, table saws, hoists, furnaces, forges, and hand tools. Usually, music is playing, any number of employees and friends are visiting, and Karen [his wife of 45 years] is always there—my best friend and insightful critic .

FM: Where did you grow up and what was your family like?

NH: St. Anthony, Idaho, where I was born, is a small town in the southeastern part of the state which serves loggers from the surrounding mountains and farmers along the Snake River. My paternal grandfather and father were blacksmiths there. My mother was an English teacher and my maternal grandfather was a mural painter. I grew up believing I could do anything I wanted, and I became an artist.

FM: How did you get interested in art?

NH: My background did not include a traditional exposure to the world's best art and philosophies. I got to see and read those things after experimenting with materials and working in my own way. I was interested in metals and paint, as they were used to build potato-digging equipment, long before I used the same materials to make art.

FM: You once said that your first trip to Los Angeles and your visit to the county museum led to an “epiphany,” which enabled you to see the relationships between the materials used in St. Anthony’s rural life and art making. What happened from there?

NH: When I attended the university, the academic emphasis was on literal meaning and explaining life through realism and didactic images. The Vietnam War was on, and a lot of imagery made statements about the war, politics and religion. I wasn’t interested in the literal expression of those concepts—I preferred the poetics of color, form, texture, structure and sensory communication. I still work with the belief that these elements create works which communicate universal aesthetics. If a viewer tries to understand what I’m doing with the work, I hope he or she experiences resonance and a sense of order. As in music and dance, there are rhythms and tempos in abstract art. To appreciate abstract sculpture, it helps to examine where and how different elements of the piece join together and to follow the rhythms and tensions within the forms. In my two-dimensional work, the viewer can find the same play with color and line.

FM: Can you give an example?

NH: “MARAN” is a bronze sculpture I installed in 1999 on the north side of Abravanel Hall.|6| It weighs 8,000 pounds. It's massive, yet rests on two small points that are no wider than an inch, creating tension and gracefulness. The concert hall is an ideal place for four tons of three-dimensional music.

FM: How has your work changed over the years?

NH: Today, my art remains similar to what I have always done—images, textures, and colors defining iconic shapes. The process of casting and forging acknowledge the intrinsic nature of the materials. Even though I incorporate new techniques, I still believe it is important to stay close to the stuff of the earth: iron, bronze, stone, clay, graphite, and pigment.

Culture Conversations: Film
It's Not Just a Guy Flick
Boys of Bonneville will get you in the mood for Speed

Before you go to the Utah Museum of Fine Art’s Speed exhibit, opening on June 2, we recommend viewing this documentary. You don’t need to be a car-racing enthusiast to enjoy this complex family story of dreams, disappointments, successes and sacrifices. From the opening shots and music to the unfolding of the story we experienced many ‘wow’ moments and eagerly anticipate seeing some of the actual machines that were in the film.

Boys of Bonneville: Racing on a Ribbon of Salt, which took four and a half years to make, tells the story of the late David Abbott (Ab) Jenkins, the race-car designer and driver who set numerous speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. We met with the film's creators Curt Wallin and John Greene to get a sense of what it was like to make a documentary that spans 90-plus years, and can’t help but marvel at the synchronicity, trust, industry and plain good luck that got the film to what it is today.

After Utah businessman and philanthropist John Price purchased Jenkins’ iconic Mormon Meteor III car, he asked Wallin to create a documentary. The project began as a simple 20-minute video documenting the car’s engine rebuild by Ab’s son Marvin (Marv) Jenkins. When Wallin went to Southern Utah to meet Marv, who had raced for and with Ab as a young man and loved the Mormon Meteor as much as his father, he was only expecting to get some general background for the film. But during the visit he discovered there were reels and reels of footage and a hip-high stack of scrapbooks with newspaper clippings about the man, his son, and the cars. It was on an all-but-forgotten top shelf of a closet.

With Marv’s permission, Wallin sent his soundman to New York to have the footage restored. Recognizing the impossibility of insuring such historical material, Wallin bought an extra seat on the plane for the large suitcase holding all the reels. Upon viewing the restored footage, Wallin realized there was a much bigger story than the engine rebuild, so he approached Price about expanding the project. Showing great trust in Wallin, and a deep commitment to the historical value of the documentary, Price, who according to Wallin turns into a kid when he’s at the racetrack, agreed.

Wallin was joined in the expanded film project by John Greene, a producer Wallin had worked with before, who was then leaving Salt Lake’s Channel 2. The pair realized that in all that footage of car racing, one year was missing – the first year. Appeals went out on the web, which produced a video from a previously unknown person, completing the story.

In due time Greene assembled a three and a half hour timeline and rough cut (no easy task), which was then given to Michael Chandler, an editor in Southern Utah, who juggled the pieces around to create a smoothly flowing story. They drew from Ab Jenkin’s 1937 article in the Saturday Evening Post, and a book he wrote (The Salt of the Earth) to create the narrative. Actor Patrick Dempsey, who also races cars, took on the role of Jenkin’s “voice” after seeing an early cut of the film and identifying with the hallucinatory sensations encountered in racing, as skillfully rendered by Greene and Wallin. The sub-title of the film, “Racing on a Ribbon of Salt,” was Ab’s description of the motionless and hallucinatory sensation felt when on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

That the film was finished too late for the Sundance Film Festival in January seemed unfortunate, but since Wallin and Greene knew that many film festivals run in the spring and summer, they went to Sarasota and about 30 other festivals, winning some of them. The film was shown at the fairly new DOCUTAH, an international documentary film festival in St. George. Ab’s grandson and extended family saw it there. While many family members were skeptical, wondering what purpose was served in making the documentary, Wallin says he felt re-affirmed by the general reactions after the screening. Because of this film, family members were able to follow the lives of Ab and Marv from the 1920’s on, and finally accept the previously resented expenditure of family finances to keep the Mormon Meteor alive. Their succinct opinion was, “You did right by Ab, by the history, by us.” The film’s timing was particularly poignant since Marv died during the last phases of filming the documentary.

So . . . John Price collects antique cars and loves racing. He knew Wallin, who met Marvin Jenkins, who had all the memorabilia. Walllin knew John Greene, and recruited him for the expanded project. Patrick Dempsey knew car racing and signed on for some of the narrative. The Jenkins family became quite close to the film-making team, took a trip down memory lane and got a sense of closure. And WE, the general public, get to watch the life of a racing legend unfold and see many magnificent machines at the Museum of Fine Arts.

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