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September 2012
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
Page 7   
Artic I, by Al Denyer, Photo courtesy of the artist
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Sandy Brunvand and Al Denyer . . . from page 1

In many ways, Al Denyer mints the flip side of Brunvand’s coin. Instead of lines slicing a void to separate objects from space, Denyer’s dense gestures build presence by accretion, forming areas where perceptible marks disappear in favor of textures. Small differences, such as those between black graphite and black charcoal, become the syntax of a language made up of thousands of iterations. But where Brunvand wants us to be aware of the muscular gesture made by pen or pencil, Denyer deliberately loses these in a slowly evolving maelstrom of patterned signs. Her landscapes commence somewhere far beyond what we can see with the naked eye, in a remote corner of earth further estranged by being seen as if from a satellite in space. Yet they are instantly recognizable, or—more accurately—immediately mistakable for something infinitely mundane and familiar, like the pattern of veins and aureolas on a leaf, the lines on a relief map, the crazing on a glazed porcelain plate or an old oil painting. Most unnerving of all, they reflect—art as mirror—the intricate cellular structure of the very neural network of the brain at that moment contemplating them.

Brunvand and Denyer have much in common: two women, close in age, who enrich their vocational experience by teaching at the U of U. But it is their differences, one guesses, that allowed them to overcome a competitive environment and become friends who eventually chose to exhibit together. Looking back at their recent exhibits, it’s clear that each has been cultivating her personal garden. Yet another way of putting it is that each of them has arrived at a personal method and style that together create a voice: a distinct and unmistakable visual character, in which guise she presents a body of works that have as much resonance with each other as they do with their sources in the natural world. In an era where artists are expected to break the mold each time out, what hangs on the walls at Kayo may not look like breakthroughs, but they are the latest, if not the last, cumulative additions to a process whereby an artist’s works gradually change their nature as they modify first how we see them, and then how we see everything else.

In her statement, Brunvand cites the influence of conceptual artist Mel Bochner. She wants the viewer to be aware of her state of mind, and she takes the trouble to describe the importance of mark-making to the works shown here. It’s not just that without the marks there would be no drawing: she wants us to envision her making a mark by a series of movements, then making another, and another, and to see how the momentum of these actions generates a force beyond her conscious control. Yet the result is anything but mechanical. The marks include lively, dancing smudges, and while the results are abstract cartoons, images arise from them. Like Jackson Pollock’s swirling nets of paint, her fields of marks critique, and ultimately undercut, Bochner’s theory. He asserted that the gallery wall is a proper subject matter for art, but apparently mistook the viewer’s attention for the artist’s; otherwise, his comment makes no sense. Meanwhile, just as my reference to Brunvand’s ‘field’ of marks lends them metaphorical weight, so our minds write visual metaphors over the two-dimensional grid before our eyes, turning them into ‘fields’ of vision, even if we’re not told what they signify precisely. Some of the dots appear in pairs, and depending on the distance from which they are viewed—their placement in the gallery permits a wide range—long, thin objects emerge into the foreground, their isolation suggested by the apparent shadows they cast behind. Viewed up close, these objects dematerialize and are replaced by a suggestion of individual particles moving in unique, yet similar patterns as though in response to larger forces, leaving trails like histories. Allusions to landscape supplied by the viewer’s imagination, but not prevented by the artist, spring to life. A path rises to meet a fence, a wave laps the rim of a vessel, a hill rises to meet a cloud. It’s not hard to imagine an artist committed to abstraction tearing her hair at such uninvited readings, but it’s also about time we admit that sophisticated viewers—and in this context every viewer is sophisticated—are acquainted with ironies like ambiguous marks that ‘say’ several things to us at once. Nor is it trivial that examining Brunvand’s visual playgrounds provokes muscular sensations that might also be caused by watching dancers. A surprisingly cheerful person who approaches her daily hikes as enthusiastically as her canine companion, her art works are upbeat souvenirs she eagerly shares.

Few artworks surpass Al Denyer’s at suggesting alternate readings. Skirting the line between drawing and painting, evenly balanced between scientific illustration and sensuous, textured fact, they stimulate curiosity even as their maker passively discourages speculation about her working method. She offers no statement, nor list of materials, nor accounting of techniques. Even their titles -- names of geographic locales -- are vague. ‘Yukon’ could as easily refer to a potato viewed under a microscope as a satellite image of permafrost. Even seen up close, it’s impossible to tell whether she works from light to dark or dark to light. Where these differ from previous works is the subtlety of tonality, achieving a palette so delicate as to be lost in photographs. Although they suggest—or permit the imagination to project into them—textures ranging from crushed fabrics to dried liquids, the artistic tradition that they seem most close to are Persian carpets, which are often displayed on walls. One sees the large pattern first, with its symmetry and rupture, with balance playing against animation. Closer, one begins to make out individual devices, which depending on the source may be specific objects or hieratic symbols. Stems and borders connecting the parts sprout their own ornaments. Finally, the individual tufts of wool or silk come into focus, like the texture of whatever underlies Denyer’s paint. No matter what it suggests, the pattern is stamped immediately and clearly on eye and mind.

Conventional landscapes create an illusion of perspective, which means placing the viewer in a particular orientation with a dictated point-of-view. Denyer’s mandala-like images of the earth dis-orient the viewer, inviting contemplation without designation a center of attention or subordinating visual elements. Even a topographic feel for gravity and flow can’t privilege the eye’s movement uphill or down. Although common enough experiences in the real world, among their few precedents in art are . . . those drip paintings of Jackson Pollock. But where his squiggles expand confidently across the canvas, hers pucker, concentrating and conserving their energy. Artworks don’t require morals, and despite their aesthetic power, these works speak a subtle rhetoric befitting the reticent woman who made them. Nothing is as new, unique, special, or unprecedented as we’d like to think. And beauty doesn’t arise in a departure from averages. It’s all in how the norms are fulfilled.

Culture Conversations: Film
All The World's A Screen
The Salt Lake City Film Festival, with Kenny Riche's Must Come Down

Utah has a well-deserved reputation in the film world: sunshine and scenery make the state a prime location to film and Utah is also a great place to watch movies. We're not just talking about ten days in January, when Park City's restaurant tables and theatre seats are taken up by the world's glitterati, because the number of film festivals taking root throughout the state demonstrates that Utah's hunger for independent film can't be satisfied solely by Sundance and its satellites.

Utah is home to more than a dozen film festivals. There's the well-tested -- like tiny Bicknell's campy festival devoted to beautfully bad "B" films, which has been around for almost two decades -- as well as many newcomers that claim screens in locations across the state: Zion Canyon provides a majestic setting for the Red Rock Film Festival, and nearby Dixie State hosts a festival in the area devoted to documentary film; Orem hosts the LDS Film Festival and Cedar City the Thunderbird Film Festival; in northern Utah, Ogden has Foursite while Logan takes its turn hosting film aficionados in the spring.

The capitol city certainly contributes to this cinematic stew. With the Broadway and Tower theatres featuring seven screens devoted year-round to foreign and art-house films, Salt Lake rivals the offerings of many of the country's larger cities; this is further enhanced by the documentary films the Utah Film Center screens in community locales, as well as its Damn These Heels and Tumbleweeds film festivals. Add to that the Utah Arts Festival's Fear No Film Festival, and the international and independent scene that trickles down to the valley during Sundance and you would think Salt Lakers would be content by the cinematic offerings.

Chris Bradshaw |1| and Matt Whittaker |2| weren't content, however, and in 2009 they began the Salt Lake City Film Festival. Whittaker had just finished a degree in film production, and Bradshaw was already establishing himself in the film world when they decided to give the city its own international film festival. While they recognized the importance of serving the broader community, Whittaker says their real purpose "was to discover great films/filmmakers and figure out new ways of getting them distributed."

Drawing up plans for the first year Bradshaw and Whittaker expected the festival to be a one-day event, at the City Library. By March of 2009, however, the project had swelled to three days, two locations, over 100 submissions and a ten-member staff. And it has only continued to grow. Four years later it is a four-day event housed in four venues (The Tower Theater, The Broadway Theater, The Post Theater, and Brewvies Cinema Pub), and selections are culled from over four hundred entries.

"We run entirely on the goodwill of our (all-volunteer) staff," Whittaker says. "And this is no every-other-weekend type work. This can be a 15-20 hour per week commitment. So, with no pay, I'm really grateful that our staff is willing to do what they do."

The response from the public has been equally as important. "Sincerely, as cheesy as it sounds and as difficult as this can be, a receptive audience reminds me why I do it; it validates our efforts and makes it very clear that this is a good thing for the community and the individual filmmaker."

While the festival is international, receiving entries from places like Taiwan and Jerusalem, it is also very local. To keep things fresh, Whittaker says, they won't allow films that have previously premiered in the state: so if you've already seen it at Sundance, you won't see it here. And they also look for films by local talent, or connected to local issues. This year they will be opening the festival with a documentary film called Duck Beach to Eternity, which deals with the exploits of young, single Mormon men and woman who travel to Duck Beach, North Carolina for spring break.|3| "Without giving too much away, the film was directed by an ex-Mormon, a current Mormon, and a non-Mormon which gives it a refreshing non-bias feeling," says Whittaker. "It shows the beauty and contradictions of this event without forcing an agenda on either side."

Another movie of local interest is Kenny Riches' Must Come Down, a feature-length film shot in Salt Lake last year. Must Come Down tells the story of Holly (played by local Ashely Burch) and Ashley (Salt Lake's David Fetzer), two twenty-somethings going through the pangs of late late adolescence. Ashley, who has just quit his job, is obsessed with his childhood home, camping out on the bus stop across the street to watch the new occupants as he plans a nostalgia-driven break-in. Holly, recently split with and fired by her restaurant-manager boyfriend, joins up with Ashley for a series of strange misadventures bathed in the glow of fleeting youth aching with the pains of growing up.|4|

Riches is well-known in the local arts community, for his roles in Kayo Gallery, the GARFO gallery, and for his own exhibition history. He left earlier this year for Miami. Since the movie itself is about returning home (in a stroke of luck, the current owners of Riches' own childhood home let him use their house in the film), it is appropriate that the upcoming screening will be a sort of homecoming for Riches.

With the growing success of the Salt Lake City Film Festival, independent film seems to have found another solid home in our state.
Salt Lake City Film Festival
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