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September 2012
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
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UT T8S R1W S32 painting by Tom Aaron. Photo courtesy of the artist.
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Exhibition Review: Salt Lake
Pathways to the Land
Thomas Aaron at Nox Contemporary

The work’s title -- “UT T1S R19W” – seems like a random list of numbers and letters. But locals, who immediately clasp onto that familiar first pair of letters, may look for more clues, other patterns and meaning. T, R. S, W. Top, right, south, west? Coordinates for a map? The work itself seems to play along.|1| A series of lines appear to be highways and roads going at random and a cloistered small town appears to the left side. Though this portion of the canvas seems to speak the language of maps, the rest is a tower of Babel: on the top left is a spray-can graffiti mark; on the bottom right turquoise paint that looks as if it has been hurled at the canvas drips freely down; the entire upper left section is black. Tom Aaron’s painting appears to be both literal and completely abstract. This sense of duality is woven throughout his work, which is driven by two loves, the language of abstract expressionism and the grandeur of the land. In Aaron’s new paintings, on view this month at Nox Contemporary, the map of the land and the artistic languages fleshed out by mid-century artists, combine to form paintings that are austere yet playful, serene yet expressive, all the while exploring the land, and our presence in it, as concept and actuality.

To the uninitiated, even a piece like “UT T12N R11W,” one of Aaron’s more conventional canvases, may cause some confusion as to what exactly is being viewed.|2| It is landscape in every sense of the word, as it presents a mass of land and designates its features through composition and common signifiers. In this sense it is familiar, but also, with an infusion of Aaron’s expressive painterly response to the land in vibrant color and liberal gesture, alien.

Tilted up, seen from the air, the landscape looks very much like the language of abstract expressionism: a series of marks across a flat surface. It may be just a coincidence that at a time when more and more people were able to look at the land from the air, and see it as a flattened surface with any number of arbitrary marks (seeing from an airplane the actuality of what cartographers had imagined for so many years) that painters began treating their canvases in a similar manner. That artistic language has now been with us for more than a half century. During that time technological advances have pushed our image of the land so that now satellites and computer programs combine to capture actual herds of elephants running across the savanna, or what your neighbor’s roof and yard look like on a hot summer day. Landscape is no longer regarded as simply a view, but as information.

For Aaron, whose day job is with an architectural firm, a typical horizon view simply lacks the quantity of information allowable by an aerial view. The horizontal view is too constraining. In such a view, there is a limit to which one can render information onto the canvas, even in the most abstract of landscapes. An aerial view like “UT T12N R11W” allows for a fuller mass of physical and conceptual expression. It alters both our vision of the land and our concept of it. It allows Aaron to explore questions like permanence and the human imprint upon the landscape -- the juxtaposition of the old with the new. A road built a century ago but no longer used may be traversed by a principal highway that crosses the canvas. Regardless of age or size, both leave a traceable imprint that leaves a permanent fabric on the land with myriad other linear and structural elements – but only if seen from above.

Portions of the canvas might be ascribed to what one would see out of an airplane window. Crop fields and irrigation rotation systems are visible. The form itself is taken from a literal source, with “UT T12N R11W” identifying specific coordinates on a map. However, much of the canvas, like the actual linear coordinates, are definitely not familiar from a window seat. Even in the “representational” aspects, Aaron blends the real with the artificial, the map with the territory, and the natural with the painterly.

“NV T30N R43E” is a freely rendered landscape that seems to take Aaron further down the path of abstraction.|3| Some recognizable aspects of a mining facility are discernable, roads traversing the land in haphazard intervals. Also boldly rendered in the image are large areas of white --accumulated areas of salt. However, with a landscape that is only just recognizable as such, blurring the literal and the figurative in a region that can go either way, for both the mining area and the broad area of salt, Aaron has taken great license with abstraction and has taken color and gesture to the extreme. The blues of the tailings pond are articulated with a range of varied tones from the deepest indigo blue to rich purple, to gold and even rose pink. The entire area is expressively rendered as if to make the most aesthetically and intensely vigorous reading of the land with deep color together with airy playful strokes. Around this tailings pond the viewer finds very fine lines of roads, and further still a stark contrast between a seemingly regimented “in-between-the-lines” approach of the highways and byways and the explosion of color of the mine and the gestural strokes. The salt, which seems to have its own organic sense of being, grows amorphously along the land as it blends with other colors: blue, gold yellow, purple and green in its vast bulbous presence that dominates the canvas and threatens to engulf it! Its whiteness stands out boldly yet its varying tonalities and nebulous shape makes it something between a traditional landscape and an entirely progressive method.

In these canvases full of manufactured landscape markings -- roads, highways, towns -- that have no semblance of order, contrasted with painterly expression that also lacks purpose, where is the reality of the landscape? It certainly does not lie with the highway or the old dirt roads in their ever-changing and chaotic states; it is not the town that may not be there several years from now; and it certainly is not to be found from the mania created by Aaron’s spray can or dripping turquoise paint. This is another aesthetic question Aaron likes to contemplate when he paints these landscapes . . . what is essentially real about them? One might think that it would be the land itself. But that too is ever changing and ever shifting and evolving. The only reality to be found when considering these canvases, it seems, is what is happening in the mind of the viewer, who is caught in a masterful play between abstraction and representation.

Exhibition Spotlight: Salt Lake City
Centennial Valley Art
Utah's newest art location, in Montana

Utah's newest art location is actually located in Montana. Just north of the Idaho border, in the isolated splendor of Southwest Montana’s Centennial Valley,|0| the University of Utah's College of Humanities has established The Environmental Humanities Education Center (EHEC). Its programs focus the lens of the arts and humanities on environmental study, enhancing and expanding education for the protection of wildlife and wild lands. After a succesfull summer full of workshops -- including Terry Tempest William’s Ecology of Residency masters course, Eco-spirituality with George Handley and Tom Goldsmith, Stephen Trimble’s Tutored by the Land workshop, and the Re-imagining the Western Landscape symposium -- the EHEC is hosting the first annual Centennial Valley Arts Celebration at the end of September.|1|

"The event is an invitation to visual artists, photographers, composers, and multi-disciplinary folks of all sorts to converge in Centennial Valley in the beauty of the fall season," says Mary Tull, Director of the EHEC and local Salt Lake City artist.|2| The EHEC campus is the lovingly restored former ghost town of Lakeview, the original stagecoach stop for 19th century travelers into Yellowstone.|3| Camping and cabins are available to visitors,|4| as well as a large conference room, dining hall (with first-rate vegetarian cuisine), laundry and fitness facilities. "Centennial Valley is also the location of the Red Rock Lakes Wildlife Refuge, home of the trumpeter Swan and over 260 species of birds," says Tull.|5-6| "Viewing wildlife from bear to sand hill cranes - as well as the night sky - is a major activity."

This year's event will include the dedication of EHEC’s Art Studio as the Francis H. Zimbeaux Art Studio in honor of the renowned Salt Lake City artist. The event will also introduce the EHEC's Artist-in-Residence program. "We are looking forward to expanding this annual Arts Celebration in a variety of ways," says Tull, "including additional residency opportunities, publications, and music performances. This is but the beginning."

Centennial Valley
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Exhibition Spotlight: Salt Lake City
Metamorphosis and Fashion
Art Meets Fashion returns to Salt Lake

Art Meets Fashion returns to Salt Lake September 8 with a cocktail of fashion and art to benefit Red Butte Gardens. Promising to be a classic, elegantly-styled event reminiscent of old Hollywood glamour, the 2012 AMF at Red Butte Gardens will have runway shows on the garden pathway in the Rose and Wedding Gardens and a fine art exhibition on the Rose House Plaza. The evening will conclude with a swing band performance and dancing on the amphitheater stage.

As discussed in last year's October edition, Art Meets Fashion's annual event features a themed art exhibit, curated by Heidi Gress and Anne Cummings. This year's exhibit is driven by the idea of "Metamorphosis." "Artists were asked to consider Picasso's notion 'every act of creation is first an act of destruction,'" Cummings says. "Through the exploration of creation and destruction, artists were directed to consider the continual act of becoming."

For an artist like Cody Chamberlain, this year's theme was a natural fit. "It's all about the mortality of nature, the cycle of death and rebirth," he says about his work, surrounded in his studio by skulls.|1| For others, working with the theme was a chance to expand their work and process. "The concept allowed me to actually sit down, consider some recurring thoughts, and represent them visually," says Todd Powelson. "It is always a challenge to take a personal abstract thought or concept and put it down on paper.”

Some of the artists exhibiting may already be familiar to our audience: Blake Palmer, |2| Mark Crenshaw |3| and, David Habben |4| all appeared in recent editions, and Zuzanna Audette's exhibit related to the 2011 Art Meets Fashion event was reviewed last year. But many will be new faces. Other exhibiting artists include Shelly Hunyh, Jon Lang, Chase McCleary,|5| Susan Ferguson, Silvia Soils, Jimmi Toro,|0| Matthew Potter, Nanette Wiser, and Alexander Ferguson. Jenevieve Hubbard, who we have reviewed before and will be looking at more in depth in our November edition, will also be exhibiting.|6|

Full collections from fashion designers Beckett and Robb, Sophie St. Claire, Nephi Garcia and Heggy Gonzalez will also premiere at the event. Red Butte Garden will receive proceeds from ticket sales and 100% of all art sales.
Jimmy Toro works on his painting for Art Meets Fashion
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