Exhibition Preview: Salt Lake City
Taking a Spin with Existentialism
The suggestive work of Rebecca Pletsch
The Alice Gallery opens Portrait as Narrative and Narrative as Portrait this month, an exhibit featuring three Utah artists, though visitors would be forgiven if they mistook it for the work of four. Rebecca Pletsch makes her impact felt in two distinct mediums, painterly oils and photographic collages. Full of opposing tensions – contradiction and agreement, aggression and harmony, rejection and embrace – the works nevertheless manage to galvanize into cohesive wholes. Her emotive paintings and narrative collages unearth tremendous meanderings of meaning, where the world of truth and the immensity and nature of reality are introduced as one and the same. This is thanks to the efforts of a very contemplative oeuvre that takes existentialism for a test drive and opens many doors, leaving the viewer bedazzled and amazed by the possibilities of existence.
Pletsch’s paintings are monochromatic, purposely stripped of one of painting’s more emotive qualities: color; yet they are expressive of tense emotional moments. These moments are revealed, in lush forms, but not explicated. In “Melancholy,” an angel painted in Baroque swirls places her left hand on her right bosom as if communing with her own soul. This might be seen as the aftermath of an experience like the one we witness in Bernini’s very baroque “the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa,” where the nun is pierced by the “pure love of God,” recoiling into her own being upon an intense experience of extravagant emotion. Ostensibly, this angel too has experienced something very powerful. She seems as if in an exhausted state, gathering an immensity of emotion into her core to find a calm and a peace. Yet this is all surmise, as we are left to write upon it our own narrative.
In “Penitent Angel in Black and White,” a second angel is captured in another pensive, ambiguous state. Her body is held tight, her teeth clenched, her eyes fixed in a gaze cast vacuously and slightly downward as if to avert all eyes from hers while at the same time revealing introspection. With eyes so mute and a body so poised, she brims with emotion. Is she perhaps experiencing a harsh reality check? The human mind, attuned to the slightest shifts in posture and facial gesture, and filled with the pathos of shared experience, yearns to unlock the story suggested by this figure.
We may find this human pursuit of understanding exemplified in a third painting. Here, a charming woman with a milky white complexion is seen in profile against a dark background. Her lips poised, her eyes shut and lowered with a somber air, her shoulders and neck bare, and her hair cropped in the “bob” of the painting’s title, she clumsily holds an assortment of roses. It seems as if she has just stepped from some trauma or has been overcome by some joy or life-altering event, and is using her utmost energy to remain stable and compose herself. The mind races with possible associations. Perhaps when given less the mind compensates with more.
The second half of Pletsch’s oeuvre is a body of collage works that share a monochromatic palette with the paintings, but their calmness and linear design make them strange companions to the artist’s emotive paintings. They appeal to the mind more than the heart, ask for logos rather than pathos for their interpretation. In contrast to the personal narratives of the paintings, Pletsch’s collages are germane to larger, more conceptually abstract ideas and ideals, with universal leanings.
“Over the River and Through the Woods” reads from left to right, and shows a calm countryside, perhaps in England. Atop this sits a transparent gray form, into which three windows have been cut. They call to mind a train carriage, an association further emphasized by what beneath it appears to be a train track and station. Contrasting this scene, to the right, in a brighter, sepia-tone, we see the fragment of an exotic image, camels with riders at a pool of water against one of the Great Pyramids at Giza. The images seem to be in stark contrast but also call to mind various associations – the colonial relationship between England and Egypt, for instance, or the drastic influence of industrialization and globalization – so forcefully symbolized by the train – on idyllic landscapes.
“Journey Through Night” is another collage of contrasts. In the center, the night scene of a great city, perhaps Chicago in the 1950s, is lit up by beams of light that shoot from every corner. It is flanked on either side by an image from a dramatically different place and time: on the left a wagon train crosses the plains, and on the right a rider on horseback appears to be observing the train as both pursue the American idea of Manifest Destiny. The value of the city and the effect on the natural landscape is an existential question left up to the individual.
“Two,” has a slightly different approach, more disorderly and less finished. A black and white magazine article has been smothered by several sheets of chalk-scrawled, coarse paper. Atop this sits the image of a cloud, and the torn piece of paper featuring a dove holding a scroll in its mouth that reads “be mine.” This intimate note is juxtaposed against the 1920s black and white images below that show masses of people with their backs to the viewers. Is the work about the difference between the intimacy of love and the anonymity of the crowd? Or does the magazine, suggesting time, call into question the Valentine, referring to the transience of love, fading from existence like the masses captured in the photographs?
While collage is perhaps the most commonly used artistic medium today, Pletsch’s work is not the general body of replicated imagery with standard visual appeal, but a sensitively pensive, inventively articulated, and abundantly intelligent, meaningful collage that is ripe with visual signifiers. They stimulate the human mind to create universal and relevant thoughts from scraps of waste paper.
Both Pletsch’s collages and her paintings explore the human ability and tendency to create meaning and structure. Whether exploring possible causes for deeply private realities, or suggesting larger, universal truths about society and history, they are testaments to the mind’s ability to connect, deduce and ponder, to the human need to create narratives of understanding.
Lenka Konopasek . . . from page 1
Each of these two dozen small-to-midsize oil paintings and four paper constructions—currently on view on the fourth floor of the City Library—simultaneously captures the paradoxical truth about unleashed natural forces: the explosions, fires, floods, storms, landslides, and structural collapses that result, produce horrific suffering and destruction, but for those who witness them, and the rare individuals who survive them, they offer spectacular beauty beyond the power of five senses to comprehend.
Ours is a culture that has drained the term ‘sublime’ of its real meaning, taking it to mean ‘refined,’ or ‘more lovely.’ But its origins lie in the alchemical power to elevate mere physical matter into entirely other, higher, even spiritual realms of being. As understood by the Enlightenment figures who coined it, the term denotes beauty, but it also envisions terror, such as would surely come from gazing upon the face of God. Sometimes in a Konopasek, that awesome face moves over the water, like the luminous smoke emerging from the burning "Rig On Fire."|1| At other times the disorientation is visual and visceral, as in the tilting horizon of "Oil Platform Explosion."|2| Always the dramatic composition is dynamically on the edge of balance, as though the viewer is in danger of sliding into the sea with the "Oil Platform Sinking."|3|
And oh, what compositions! Konopasek studied art in Prague, where they still teach the mechanics of two- and three-dimensional design, but she shapes her works with a panache of her own. We view the "House On Fire"|4| through a tilting frame of negative space that could be trees, or smoke, or darkness, but can be no one thing throughout. Like Toulouse-Lautrec, she composes in depth from the back of the scene all the way into the viewer’s space, along the way breaking down distinctions between real materials, representations, and modes of thinking. Her canvases recall other great painters as well, including J.M.W. Turner, the supremely influential master of the Romantic Sublime, whom she updates with luscious local color and expressive, almost abstract brushstrokes. One way of describing the result would be as the closing bracket matching Monet’s opening: where the Impressionists celebrated the coming of Industry—the train, the steamship, iron engineering—she shows that the conquest of materials that followed has not allowed the human enterprise to actually overcome Nature, or the nature of being amidst things.
We can in part refashion the world, but we have failed to keep pace in transforming ourselves. As Einstein said about atomic energy, we have changed everything but how we think. Until we remake our thinking in a more collaborative mode, without hubris, Lenka Konopasek’s lush, beautiful, and emotionally and cognitively riveting images will continue to predict outcomes characterizing a reality we only think we can escape.
Artists of Utah News
Celebrating Utah's most influential artists
For over a decade now we've been giving Utah's artists their 15 bytes of fame (yes, that is where our magazine got its name, a riff on Warhol's famous declaration about the future). Now we're asking you, who deserves more?
Modeled after TIME MAGAZINE's 100 most influential people, 15 Bytes would like to honor the artists who most influence our communities for the better. These are not necessarily the “hottest” artists, they are not the most “honored” artists, but these are the artists who make a difference in Utah.
As TIME’s managing editor Richard Strengel explained, “Influence is hard to measure, and what we look for is people whose ideas, whose example, whose talent, whose discoveries transform the world we live in. Influence is less about the hard power of force than the soft power of ideas and example.”
So we are opening it up to Utah’s citizens – those who participate in or simply partake of the influence Utah’s art has on our lives. We want these artists to be nominated by their peers that see the “every day” situations and projects our artists engage in. Artists are not only thinkers and creators; they are collaborators, builders and leaders.
We're inviting our readers to nominate up to five artists from any field. If the government started rationing artists, only fifteen to a state, who would you keep?
• Nominees must be a current Utah resident.
• Nominators will be anonymous, and will not be presented to the jury.
• The 15 winners will be announced on April 19, 2013
• As a nominator, you will be invited to be on the jury to select the final 15
• Artists of Utah and 15 Bytes will publish a special printed edition with photos and edited articles featuring “Utah’s 15”
Nominations are due March 31, 2013. To learn more and get a nomination form, click here.