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September 2012
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
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Utah artist Justin Wheatley sits in front of his work at Salt Lake's 15th Street Gallery. Photo by Shawn Rossiter.
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Justin Wheatley . . . from page 1

The play between the seen and the unseen has always appeared in Wheatley's works. In his earlier pieces, suburban homes acted as vessels for metaphorical meanderings. A piece like "Play," with its bright and “pop-ish” setting full of lucid color and graphic form that uplifts the spirit and pleases the eye, is hard not to like.|1| The home has a yellow door, a blue roof, and a quintessentially green lawn. The entire scene is layered with examples of Wheatley’s geometric iconography -- here bright dots and “X’s” in many colors: red, pale blue, green and also black. There are large bands of white crossing in front and behind the home, and where a tree might be there is a large black dot beside a black line that is bisected by a white line. All of this play is further enhanced by filigrees of white.

In this case, the visual play and the loaded color and whimsical form comment on the intrinsic and essential nature of the suburban landscape itself. Wheatley’s works explore existential tensions, like that between the physical artificiality of the home and the spiritual naturalism of the human lives and memories that fill it. According to the artist, “As the title suggests, it is directly related to the laughter you hear when passing by a yard full of kids playing or a park with a slide and swings. There are so many layers of memories that we reflect on. We can choose to dwell on the positive ones, or we can choose otherwise. This is a reflection on kick the can, cops and robbers, and the Fourth of July.”

“Play” is a contemplation of meaning, memory and a context of truth, probing how a house can be considered veritable reality when all is manufactured hyperbole. Its frontality and the direct rendering of the structure of the home, its yellow door and blue roof and perfectly trim green grass, all allude to the manufactured state of the fabricated home. How does this allude to the authenticity of the lives, which dwell in this manufactured and artificial existence? Where is the reality in this?

“I've spent a long time exploring the relationship between architecture and nature,” says Wheatley. “We build beautiful buildings and shrines and we travel to see them and talk about them and fight over them. But they are only temporary. In the end they will lose to nature. They lose in beauty and in strength. It's a reminder to me that God's creation is so much more than what we create as humans.”

In his new body of work Wheatley has concentrated on American urban scenes, visiting cities on both coasts, and points in between.|2-3| His visually complex “Bridge” features the Brooklyn Bridge with the perspective of its string of cables placing the viewer at its center.|4| The bridge is broken up by segmented lines of bright scarlet red with one continuous line, a collage of newspaper fragments growing larger from bottom to top, forming a line of gradient size, like the turquoise next to it, from bottom to top. With a presentation that is provocative and visually cunning, it is the sort of piece to compliment any kind of gallery space.

Yet beneath the surface of this visually astute image lie myriad musings on existential reality that Wheatley dares the audience to discover. One might find the bridge to be one of stone and mortar, the kind that is already old, a classic bridge that is definitive of its age yet whose very age is a statement that implies the passing of time and the reality of transcendent being. The viewer is brought into this being as they are drawn into the temporality of the bridge via the perspective view created by the cable structure.

The bright red and blue add further notes of artifice, notes that suggest that what appears in stone is not reality but an illusion of it. The line of newspaper is a capstone to this existential vocabulary, contributing a notion of history, of further temporality and place. Says Wheatley, “The Brooklyn Bridge is an icon. That initially would make any serious artist want to avoid it. Take a step on that bridge and there is no going back to the idea that it is a cliché. It's gritty and it's beautiful. It is line and shape and texture. I didn't want to do any work involving the Brooklyn Bridge, but now I have trouble escaping it.”

The viewer is caught at a moment, frozen in this stone setting, within a cluster of bright color, with references to history, finding themselves not small, but giants. These giants will themselves transcend time, unlike stone, and are essentially real, unlike the garish color, and exemplify eternity rather than fragmented history. These are very spiritual as well as humanist themes, speaking of the transcendental nature of reality as opposed to the temporal, artificial one humanity finds a place in.

This is best seen in “NYC Blocks,” part of an exciting new 3-D departure for the artist.|5-7| A large wall sculpture measuring 48”x 24,” the piece is comprised of variously sized vertical blocks upon which are applied photographic images that Wheatley captured on a recent sojourn in New York.|8| The piece is visually gripping in variety and color and the very essence of urbanity. Each of the images is a fragment of a building, with windows and doorways, a partial of the whole, and each of the segments, when placed within the totality, is an implication of a city, albeit fractured and abstract.

The work suggests that just as one might believe one possesses one’s own unique reality, and therefore is a relative being, in truth, each of us is part of a greater reality. No individual is separate and no reality is isolated. No man, as Donne tells us, is an island. “The New York piece reflects that feeling of being surrounded by structures in every direction,” Wheatley says. “Unlike a canyon wall, the structures were hollow. They were filled with people. The people could be looking out, but they wouldn't be looking at me. In a desert canyon it is you and God. In a New York street it is you and a million shadows.” It is a brilliant piece that works visually and metaphorically on a conceptual level of much gravity. It might be Wheatley’s ultimate statement of his belief in a unifying universal force upon which all are centered -- God.

All artists, and those of us drawn to art, are intrigued by the visual, physical world. But art should speak to something beyond just the physical. Those who love Wheatley’s work for its visually intriguing language will find, if they spend time with these pieces, that the artist also creates with his compositions complex existential metaphors full of dynamic tensions; and they will come to value and appreciate Wheatley as an artist with a sensibility vastly greater in spirituality, intelligence and artistic possibility.

Hints 'n' Tips: Presentation
The Consultant's Perspective
A professional eye in the home

Just as there is no single recipe for making art, there is not only one way to present it. Or sell it. Or buy it. Working through traditional galleries works great for some artists, and patrons. Others choose to self-represent. A third option is working through the art consultant, a professional who works closely with both artists and clients, working directly with the needs of a particular space to match art with locale.

Janet Hill works in this third field. She is an independent art consultant who functions as a mobile gallery, placing the work of artists she represents in the homes of (mostly wealthy) Utah families. For this, she is paid a commission by the artists and a small consulting fee by the homeowner. She also works with interior designers, such as those at Hamilton Park Interiors, to guide their clients in art selection. And she helps home builders with art for homes on the Parade of Homes circuit in several Utah counties.

Naturally, Hill’s success depends on satisfied homeowners who will then refer her to their friends and family members. A typical homeowner, she says, is one who sometimes doesn't know what he wants until he sees it, or can't quite explain what she likes, and depends on the experienced eye of someone like Hill to know what would look best in the home.

Hill, who managed Repartee Gallery in Bountiful until it closed, is very particular about the art she represents and the way it is framed. She tends to specialize in traditional subjects and styles – her current roster of artists include people like Utah painters Alan Lund and David Jackson -- simply because that's what her current clients want.

She encourages clients to purchase originals rather than prints because they bring authenticity and warmth to a home. In fact, about 80 percent of the Parade of Homes residences she has supplied with art over the last four years have won People’s Choice Awards.

Recently Hill worked with Dawnita Atkinson of Hamilton Park Interiors and homebuilder Doug Knight to furnish a new home for the Park City Showcase of Homes. I met Hill and Atkinson at the home in The Woods development in Summit Park on a recent morning. They showed me original oil paintings by John Collins that Hill had selected for the lower level guest rooms, and lithographs by Chris Young in the master bedroom. Hill brought with her two additional paintings, small oils by David Dixon, which she and Atkinson discussed hanging in the main living area. There have been times, says Hill, when a homebuyer has purchased the entire package – home, furnishings, and art.

Hill also advises clients on ways to update or better present their existing artwork. For example, she advises them on the right frame for the painting, not a frame that matches the furniture. "I tell them they're not framing the sofa," she says. She might even show them several frame moldings to convince them that her recommendation shows the painting to best advantage.

She discourages her artists and homeowners from hanging unframed, gallery-wrapped paintings because she has seen too many fray at the corners. If it's a contemporary look they want, she recommends a simple, thin frame around the canvas. She also usually shies away from art under glass, simply because most of the large homes she works with have many large windows, and paintings under glass are too reflective. Furthermore, works under glass tend to be on a smaller scale and her clients often need larger pieces.

Hill's group of artists are mostly from Utah, but that’s still a large area to cover, with plenty of talent. Recently, she says, “I drove more than 600 miles to look at art for a particular home.” She delights in helping clients discover the great talent in the state. “My customers have been absolutely delighted at the quality of art there is in Utah. There are so many nationally known artists here.”

Working with the art consultant is clearly a win-win for both consultant and artist. The consultant is able to show clients how paintings will work in their homes, and artists are assured the artworks will be presented professionally and in personal way that creates an emotional attachment and willingness to purchase on the part of the homeowner.

Art Consultant, Janet Hill places an original oil painting, photo by Portia Snow
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