Trevor Southey's "Reconciliation" which was on exhibit at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in early 2011.
Film and Art
Searching for Reconciliation
Nathan Florence focuses on the Art and Belief Movement
When Trevor Southey’s exhibition Reconciliation opened at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) in October 2010, Nathan Florence was in the audience for a panel discussion. As he watched Trevor Southey, Gary E. Smith, Dennis Smith, and Neil Hadlock discuss the intermingling of their artwork and religious faith, Florence felt the conversation was incomplete. “I wanted to know more about what it meant to be a Mormon artist. How do they find a balance between those two things . . . I grew up in the church, became an artist and struggled with that for a long time, trying to figure that out,” he says. “I really loved Trevor’s word for his show, reconciliation. How do you reconcile your faith and your art? For some of them it’s one and the same. Their art is their belief. It’s who they are. And others have struggled a little more.” Leaving the discussion he began to formulate an idea that ultimately became the film Art and Belief.
Florence’s initial thought was to write an article about the four artists for Dialogue, an independent quarterly journal about Mormon culture, history and society where Florence serves as the art director. His idea evolved into the concept for a film. “I thought, ‘This would be a really interesting documentary. I would watch this, I want someone to make this,’” he says. He called Sterling VanWagenen, a family friend and co-founder of the Sundance Festival, and pitched the idea. Over the course of their discussions Florence says VanWagenen started using the word “we” a lot. “And I said, so when you say ‘we’ does that mean you want to produce this. And he said, ‘Well, you’re going to direct it right?’ And I said yes,” Florence says.
Through the process of making this film, Florence has been able to investigate his own notions of art and belief. “I think the LDS church has become a place that’s very controlling of its message with their correlation committee and wanting to make sure that only a very specific image is portrayed and that specific answers are given. And my understanding of an artist has a lot to do with asking questions and challenging the status quo, challenging those positions of security in what we think we know,” Florence says.
The film explores the Art and Belief movement, which began in 1966 when Southey, Gary E. Smith, Dennis Smith, and Hadlock created an artists colony in Alpine, Utah with the intention of using their art to glorify God. As they embarked on this endeavor, they engaged with each other in conversations about their work. “Each of them follows these intersecting and then slowly separating ways as they each become successful in their own right,” Florence says. “But along they way they are having this intense, very productive, but often quite confrontational relationship with each other about what kind of art they were making and was it legitimate.” The conversations were not limited to art; personal issues also surfaced.
When Trevor Southey, a convert to the Mormon Church, openly declared he was gay he did so with the full support of his fellow artists. But he was excommunicated by the LDS Church. “It was such a great, nuanced, interesting story of what I think is one of the greatest civil rights issues of our day,” Florence says. He is particularly interested in Dennis Smith’s version of the story and his unconditional support of Southey. “How does that happen? And if we can tell that story through Dennis’s eyes, it gives us a window in to being open to people being who they are without judging them.”
How to balance faith and daily life isn’t just an issue for artists. “There are a lot of people who have questions in the church. In spite of the monolithic presentation there are a lot of individual perspectives that get lost. I’m interested in telling that kind of story about the church,” Florence says. “The church isn’t the bad guy in this story, it’s not the hero either. It’s what faith is to people, inspiring and frustrating and all those things.”
Ultimately, Florence hopes the film serves as a conversation starter. For people who aren’t part of the Mormon Church, “Art and Belief” will offer a unique perspective on an important local arts movement. It will also be an intimate look at the men who built the movement and what they ultimately gained from being involved. “The way we’ve been able to sit down and talk about ideas is what’s going to make the interviews interesting. They’ve been amazingly genuine and open and generous with their experiences. From things that have made them very uncomfortable and really hard, painful experiences in their lives to the wonder that’s out there,” Florence says. “At the end of the day, I want them to feel like their story has been told honestly."
Up and Upcoming: To The North
Exhibition Listings in Northern Utah
Julie Nester Gallery UP: Ursula O'Farrell's abstracted, figurative paintings are reminiscent of the Bay Area Figurative movement of the 1950's and 1960's.|1| She employs gestural strokes with brush or palette knife creating thick textures and bold colors that reflect and capture the fluidity and intense emotions that are part of life's chapters and evolutions. UPCOMING: Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington.|2| Taken mostly from the center of political and social conflicts in West Africa and the Middle East, Tim Hetherington’s work focused on the experience of war from the perspective of the individual. Through his photographs, writing and films, Tim Hetherington gave us new ways to look at and think about human suffering. Tim was tragically killed on April 20, 2011, while photographing and filming in Libya.
Gallery MAR UP: Imprinted brings together Maura Allen,|3| a printmaker who interprets the new west, and Mary Scrimgeour, whose naif paintings are filled with animals, vehicles, clothes and food AND: Gallery MAR is pleased to announce the installation of a new sculpture by artist James Burnes |4| across from the Park City Library, as part of the city's Rotating Sculpture Project (read more here). UPCOMING: Amy Ringholz's Kingdom solo exhibition.
Kimball Art Center UP: Shannon Troxler's Luminous and Linnie Brown's Cut & Paste continue through January 9th. The art center will be closed for the remainder of the month due to the Sundance Film Festival.
J GO Gallery UP: SPARKLE: Annual Art Jewelry collection unveiling, featuring innovative contemporary art jewelry, locally made chocolate truffles and bubbly. UPCOMING: In Spaghetti Western Western movie gun meets Western landscape in James Georgopoulos’ larger-than-life resin-coated silver gelatin photographs of Western cinema guns|5| abutting Dale Livezey’s luminous oil paintings of sublime sunset and sunrise landscapes.|6|
Meyer Gallery UP: Complexity,
featuring the jewel-like paintings of Fatima Ronquillo|7| and the incredible assemblage sculptures of Heather Campbell.|8| Campbell writes a story for each of her sculptures, backstories just as complex as the artworks themselves (see our profile page 1).
District Gallery UP: New work by multi-media artist Sloane Bibb, much of the imagery influenced by his years in the advertising industry.
Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art UP: LUX is an exploration of how artists have used light as a medium or subject matter. Several large pieces focus on artists featured in the Pacific Standard Time exhibitions from Los Angeles who are considered to be the leaders of the light and space art movement of the 1970s. |9|
Eccles Community Art Center UP: The Palette Club of Ogden in the Main Gallery.The Palette Club has continued an unbroken existence since 1943, and has a membership of over one hundred members, residing from Logan to Bountiful. The club is open to all artists in any media from beginner to professionals.|10| AND: The paintings of Huntsville resident Jake Songer in the Carriage House Gallery.
Brigham City Museum UPCOMING: Wild Land, Thomas Cole, and the Birth of American Landscape. With large-scale banner graphics and other media, Wild Land takes audiences on a journey with Cole through the story of his creative process along the Hudson River in the early nineteenth century. His genius lay in expressing the majesty, power and divinity of America's wilderness.