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April 2013
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
Page 3   

Michael Bernard . . . from page 1

With their focus on texture, Bernard’s work can feel crude and raw, but his pieces do not arrive by accident. His array of roller brushes, each for its own specific texture and painterly result, attest to Bernard’s expertise in the field of painterly tactility, the material substance and physicality of art. He has learned, for example, the precise moment paint is to be “pulled” or “drawn.” Bernard is cognizant of an aspect of painting most artists never consider, and it is this one, the most immediate, that fuels his work.

“I’m looking for a roller that can lift enough of the color and spread it out… but not, not lift the whole thing,” Bernard says as he examines his canvas. “I’m looking at how dry it is, how dry my edges are. . . I kind of need to let it sit for a bit 'cause I’m looking at this edge right here so I want to keep this form so I’ll just wait for the critical moment so I’ll just see the sheen and tell its ready to be drawn.” The artist is initially provoked by some element in his purview, be it “a mood or the way light was hitting the mountainside,” he says. Once this painterly process begins from such arbitrary sources, it is not quite a freedom of consciousness, but nearly that, with Bernard as a guide on a path with infinite routes to infinite destinations.

Chosen accordingly is the pattern of the base, applied by a rag, or stencil of some type. He then uses a tool of any kind, from a wad of dried synthetic, to a piece of hard canvas, making marks of various hues and letting them dry until the precise moment when the roller can be applied to create a healthy field of microdots. It is impossible for Bernard to see the forthcoming results of this step and even harder to engage with any real notion of the final process and its results. But his process is no guesswork. He must have a sure and steady head and hand at this process, and from all appearances Bernard is in tune with his paint.

“I’ve been up here so long experimenting,” he says of working in his studio, “and have been devoted to the act of painting, I’ve learned a lot doing that.” He’s also learned by “being an artist and amongst friends up here and critiquing and asking ‘Oh, have you seen this artist’s work’ or ‘check them out you’ll be inspired by them,’ kind of deal.” In the end, though, it may be his own self-critiques that are the most important. He describes one of his own ‘happy accidents’: “It just came about, ‘Oh, this painting sucks, I ruined it... swipe… wait a minute, hold on, that looks good!”

With the shapes on his canvas still slightly wet, Bernard takes a sponge saturated with water, wiping just enough of the wet away, at just the right speed, to leave enough color underneath and retain a healthy “halo” of still wet paint, and mix the colors just enough, not too muddy, to create an exciting new color. “Another thing I like is that I have a remnant of my original big shapes,” he says of working from one idea to find another. “I am going to wait till I have everything that I need close to have pulled off and wait for those to dry… and I am going to wait and then kind of give it a rinse and the thickest paint will remove.”

These are the final stages in the painterly process and there is a real tension filling the studio. Many variables that are quite subtle, from timing to motor control, have everything to do with the success of the painting. Seconds can be the difference between stunning line and color and muddy slur.

“Let’s see how well this pulls up,” he says. “It might take a little longer… see this has a thick edge . . .That’s working. See with that sprayer I can get it done quick… if not it will get all gray . . . If I work fast enough . . .There, that is what I am after. . . That is where I want it!” Bernard exclaims enthusiastically.

Not every moment in the studio is success, however. At one point, growing nervous, Bernard declares, “I’m getting a little too much pull… I’m losing the halo. Wait… (Aside) The process is so involved and everything is so close you have to go and go and go. . . Did it work? I haven’t even had a chance to step back and . . ." He steps back to examine his work. "See I love that . . . isn’t it kind of a landscape but its an abstract something to weave energy through . . . I’m glad. I pulled it off!” declares a triumphant Bernard.

Visiting Bernard's studio and watching one of his intricately textured canvases come to life is thrilling. Like a puppet master, Bernard dances and spins his way through the painting process, commanding his sponges, rollers and rags with an expert control always hovering between beauty and ruin.

Michael Bernard's studio, photo by Caitlin Blue.

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Time and Texture
Claire Wilson and Zack Pontious at The Library at Gallery Square

Any exhibit of more than one artist has something in common with a double bill at the movie theater, including an implicit invitation to speculate about why these artists, or their gallery, chose to show these particular works together. In the case of Claire Wilson and Zack Pontious, sharing the fourth floor of the City Library through April 26, the reason is not immediately apparent. Searching the gallery, and ones own reactions, for the common qualities that connect them becomes a good way of beginning to see each artist more clearly.

Claire Wilson’s wall-mounted objects are cubical replicas of fragments of construction, resembling the sort of examples that might be found in a museum of technology, or in an extreme case in a memorial exhibit, like the one on the site of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York, where bent steel columns are meant to show the violence of the events of 9/11. Most of Wilson’s examples feature juxtapositions of more than one surface treatment, the contrast between them recalling those between the various colored veils assembled by Mark Rothko, or even the overlapping color squares of Josef Albers (though it must be said Wilson’s rectangles are more fun than either). It's as if Wilson’s project is to show that such collisions in space, central as they are to art’s great 20th century project, occur not just deliberately there, but everywhere among human artifacts.

Compared to these replicas, small for three-dimensional objects, Pontious’s images are large for works on paper. Also they are flat, and their illusions of depth, while quite vivid, are no deeper than surface textures. Where Wilson's palette ranges from off-white to dark cement gray, highlighted by streaks of rust, Pontious's ranges over a spectrum of what might be called earth colors. Finally, the illusions Wilson produces are limited to simulating materials — raw plaster, poured concrete, protruding nails, all in rectilinear grids, all utterly convincing — whereas Pontious depicts a world of wrinkles, folds, pleats, pours, and layering that are formally free, if sometimes carelessly joined, creating diagonal energies that flow, pause, and balance briefly like the abstract paintings they essentially are.

Yet even if their approaches to material representation are very different, both deliver a strong sense of the passage of time. Wilson’s wall fragments could have been revealed by remodeling of a building, such as the removal of an ornamental facade or the relocating of a floor, as is often done in historical buildings being repurposed. Pontious’s large squares could be satellite images of the earth's mantle, or much smaller photos of chemical spills. If the former, they call into awareness the millions of years of geologic activity that created the mundane rock and soil conditions everywhere around us. If the latter, they suggest a potentially tragic contrast between a once-pristine landscape and what greed and disinterest have done to it.

In fact, in his statement Pontious directly connects his work to hydraulic fracturing, the controversial extraction technique that was recently proven to have caused the greatest earthquake in Oklahoma history. While his concern is genuine, nothing in the work suggests it, and even if a viewer chooses to read his statement—by no means required or to be counted on—the statement merely asserts that concern. This is one of the problems with art seeking to be labeled contemporary—the requirement for a social or political subject works against the nature of art. These elaborate and accomplished images—Photoshop, perhaps?—are beautiful and engaging, and one can imagine enjoying one on the wall, at least until their scant reference to the viewer’s own experience allows them to fade in the mind — better Pontious had found ways to bring the viewer inside the work, more emotionally involved. Meanwhile, Wilson’s material portraits go in the other direction, towards specificity, in ways that viewers who share the interest in materials may find perennially captivating. In the early twentieth century, an artist might have given such works titles borrowed from, say, mythology or antique poetry, thereby giving their viewers something verbal to connect to their abstract patterns. They had a point.

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