Colour Maisch . . . from page 1
Technically the MFA Maisch is finishing at the University of Utah is in ceramics, but clay makes up just a portion of her work. The objects in Maisch’s studio are a combination of organic and industrial materials, with a mixture of created and found elements. All share a common feeling of having come to exist through some sort of natural evolution rather than having been made by an artist.
In the studio there are small balls of transmogrified pantyhose filled with smooched fluff, unfired clay, and coiled tube. There are several big unglazed porcelain funnels on tables and their latex counterparts droop from hooks on the wall. Extruded porcelain tubes lie next to sharp bulbous forms like the abandoned exoskeletons odd, angular creatures have outgrown and left. The work is dominated by a neutral palette: old bone, flax, ash, and earthworm tones fill the room, as well as a spectrum of flesh-colored pantyhose, and the black of ink and char. She has been experimenting with chili red bindi powder, which fills hand built sake-sized cups, adding a small percussion of color to the assemblage. The porcelain work is mostly unglazed. She generally likes to see the surface of a thing as it is. Glaze, she explains, “covers up the intrinsic quality of the material underneath.”
She says she is always scanning the world for materials, even if not consciously. It might be hiking in the foothills with her dog, or searching the aisles at NPS or Home Depot. “Or if I go into the desert,” she says, “I think I’m always looking. And, I think, it’s not looking, but observing, in a sense. Knowing that there’s good stuff everywhere. I’m not looking for anything in particular, but I know it when I see it.”
Like the moment she became taken with gut. “I was watching Julia Child on her cooking show,” Maisch says. “And she was making a pâté, and she was putting over it a stomach membrane that was just this lacy, beautiful thing. And I remember, Steve and I,” (her husband, Steve Maisch, who teaches in undergraduate studies and economics at the U) “were on a road trip, and I could not stop thinking about it.” Now, throughout Maisch’s studio there is gut encasing various objects: gut stretched around tubes, gut wrapping shards.
“I’ve found with a lot of these things,” she says, gesturing across the studio, “that in my own life, they’re talismans, these ways of creating—I don’t want to say sacred, but these… wishful… moments. Or ways of imbuing little bits of magic into things.”
Maisch is able to infuse even the manufactured items, like the industrial rubber hose, with a kind of wonder.
“You change the context, and it’s no longer what you originally thought it was,” she says. “There’s a potential to re-envision it and its potential as a thing that we interact with.” That is where the magic comes in. “There’s beauty and potential in all of the things around us. It’s just a matter of allowing ourselves to see it, or framing it for ourselves differently.”
She develops much of her work through play. “I’ll get something, and I know that I need it, but I’m not really sure why,” she says. And then she starts trying different materials together. For example, she started playing with the nylon stockings and when she stretched the stockings over the porcelain funnel forms she had been working with, something clicked. “They almost, I mean, I make them, but they kind of make themselves, as well. They sort of say what they need to be.”
Maisch has a warm demeanor. She’s funny and smart. She wears a blue dress that matches her blue eyes, hair pulled back into a sun streaked deep golden ponytail. In the other part of her life Maisch is the co-owner of a catering business, The Blended Table. She started doing catering work when she was 18. Three years ago her cousin, Emery Lortsher, asked if she would like to be a partner in her business, and Colour jumped at the opportunity. She says that it is challenging running a business and going to grad school at the same time, but that the work is very satisfying and somehow complementary. Even if just for the fact that the two sides of her life require such different ways of thinking. Sometimes after a day of catering she comes home happy and satisfied, but also feeling a bit as if she’d been hit by a truck. Whereas in the studio, she says, she can almost turn her brain off. “It’s hard, sometimes. Sometimes making stuff is really hard. But also it’s a soft, flowing space,” she says.
She slides between those two sides as she talks about her art, a trained academic analysis, and then a series of faltering sentences and gestures as she tries to put words on the wordless intuitive place the work comes from. But the wordless intuitive place is very important.
She’s working on her MFA show that will open at NOX Contemporary June 21st. At over a month out, she’s still exploring what the show is going to be, and she seems a bit nervous, but also she seems confident in her process. “I’m finding I’ve been really non-linear in how I put all of this stuff together,” Maisch says. “And it’s still kind of coming together for me as far as where it’s coming from and what it is.”
Her own path to becoming an artist was similarly non-linear. She studied Spanish and Political Science for her undergrad degree. She never expected to be an artist. “I didn’t start making art until I was around 27,” she says. She’s in her mid thirties now. She was born and raised in Salt Lake until her dad had a work opportunity and moved the family to Huntington Beach when she was starting 9th grade. She said that it was a rough move, but ended up being a very good thing for her. “Just seeing that the world isn’t just like this,” she says, meaning Utah. “Because this is a pretty unique place.”
She came back to Salt Lake to attend the University of Utah for the Spanish/Political Science degree, and afterward stayed, working, as she puts it, “a thousand odd jobs.”
But then, when she was 27, she took a painting class, and everything changed. “And I was like: wow. This is what I want to do,” she says. “But it’s funny, because my dad’s a ceramic artist” (Kevin Frazier, who also received an MFA in ceramics from the University of Utah) “and my grandma’s a painter” (Donna Frazier, who taught watercolor classes from her home studio for years.) “But I was just like ‘tssss: no,’” she holds her fingers up as if to ward off vampires. So art was in her blood, but she never intended for it to be her path.
Nevertheless, she was hooked. The painting class got her. She returned to the U, and did two and a half years of art classes. Initially she thought she’d do painting, but ended up loving the physicality of working with her hands, and she fell in love with sculptural materials. She says she didn’t beeline right to clay, despite having been around it her whole life. She moved through different materials until she was working on a project where she wanted to make porcelain tubes.
“And that is when I started working with clay,” she says.
Between the undergrad art making and grad school she had a slew of solo and group shows, and was artist in residence at the now defunct Pickle Company. She recently found out that she was granted a yearlong residency at UMOCA, so she has that lined up for after graduation, and she’ll be teaching at the U as well.
First though, she has the show at NOX to think about. Some of the work is done—like the hose, the funnels, and a video installation—but some of it she is still working out.
“Well, this one is not good, but I’m doing big forms with the milkweed,” she says, “and then some things with grasses, and ash.” She pats a pale duckling gold glowing cube-ish pouf full of light and peppered with a gritty constellation of dark brown seeds. She sprays milkweed fluff with Aqua Net to create the forms. There is a big bushel of 4-foot tall chestnut brown grass leaning against the wall, and a mound of grass-shaped ash on a table. On another table there is a large pile of thin ceramic husks, sharp like broken bird bones. They make small tinkling sounds as her hand moves through the pile. They were once grasses that she dipped in porcelain slip and then fired. The grass burns away in the kiln, leaving only its echo, a matte white cast. She is not sure about the husks; she’s still trying to work them out conceptually. She is sure that this particular pouf isn’t working.
It feels funny, in a jarring way, to think of the sweet fluffy hunk falling on a continuum of good and bad. But the comment also illuminates the rigor that Maisch applies: the work is intuitive, but very deftly edited and curated. She explains that the pouf had gotten over-coifed because she was trying too hard to bend it to her will. It just didn’t want to be a cube.
“You have to allow the material to do what it will do,” she says. “Because you kind of can’t make it better than that. Like, allowing stuff to flow where it wants to flow, or fall where it wants to fall, or sag where it naturally wants to sag. It’s like a manmade tree versus a tree that exists in nature. You can’t…” she says, groping at the wordless place, “…all of that imperfection? You can’t compete with it.”
Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
The Embodied Landscape
Levi Jackson and Josh Winegar at CUAC
As spring rushes into summer in Utah, the time spent out of doors each day has increased exponentially: we want to be surrounded by bright light, warm air, and beautiful landscapes. Utah offers an abundance of varied, even verdant environments we can inhabit and enjoy. Solitude can be found in these spaces, but more often than not, the space and land we visit is also sought by others.
Our place within landscape provides the common narrative in the exceptionally well-paired exhibitions currently on view at CUAC in downtown Salt Lake City: Levi Jackson: Don't Force It, Son, in the front of the gallery, and Josh Winegar: Rapture in the back. Both photographers employ landscape as their chosen genre, yet they present divergent messages through the use of color, photographic process, and human intervention as it takes place within each work.
Jackson’s large format black and white photographs are shot using a 4x5 camera. His formal compositions are strikingly simple: each intervention created on the land is positioned through his lens to its best advantage. Utah’s various landscapes are both backdrop and subject, giving ample space to the actions Jackson has created then photographed. Here the Dust Cover series (2013) includes three photographs, each of which shows a single figure wrapped head to foot. In “Dust Cover – Fire”|1| the figure is wrapped in a fireproof blanket that has been set on fire; “Dust Cover – Net” |2|presents the figure covered in rubber military camouflage material; “Dust Cover – Silver”|3| depicts the same figure wrapped in a mylar emergency blanket. Each figure is Jackson himself (photographed with the aid of his brother), but, wrapped to the point of anonymity he stands in for everyman, an unidentified person in an unidentified, uninhabited landscape. When the locations of each shot are revealed - near Alliant Techsystems (ATK) in Tooele, a cattle ranch in Ibex, a Beryllium mine near Delta – it becomes clear Jackson is, through his interventions, positioning himself within Utah’s historical use of landscape, calling out singular places and events.
The relational experience of how Euro-Americans have impacted the land since the Westward Expansion of the 1800s is one theme permeating Jackson’s pieces. In a discussion of his work, Jackson stated that he is also interested in “commenting on the current human, land and religious relationship; stewardship.” Religion and stewardship intermingle in “Burning Bush-Pallete” from 2012. Devoid of any human presence, a wooden shipping pallet has been placed on one edge and lit on fire. The stark landscapes of Utah’s cracked desert floor, with black mountains rimming the background, make for an ominous warning, signaling the solitude of destructive forces through the neglect of proper stewardship.
Jackson is also interested in the history of art, and positions himself within a lineage of artists who have seen and used the land as backdrop if not singular material for their work. His photographic documentation of interventions in the landscape call to mind the Land art movement, in which photographs were used to capture the artists’ often fleeting events for posterity, and became works of art in their own right. Though several photographs by Jackson signal the influence of artists of a former generation, his work doesn’t feel borrowed but offers a new interpretation about our place within the land. “Detonation Tower” from 2012 is one great example.|4| Two images of the same tower, located eighty miles from the Nevada border, are hung side by side. In the left image the tower is centrally framed in a flat landscape, a sloping hill off in the far distance. The right image is the same tower, now with each rung of the tower’s front surface covered with a white fluorescent light. The artist Dan Flavin’s masterful use of fluorescent lights to create charged works and environments comes to mind, yet Jackson adds the context of nuclear experimentation to his work. The white light becomes symbolic of the ability to see within a formal system, and at the same time, a force of destruction.
“Backslide” from 2012 evokes images of Robert Smithson’s actions from the late 1960s, when he poured various materials from hilltops to enact the entropic process of order moving to disorder.|5| Themes of time, scale, impact, and memory intermingled in each “flow” work. Jackson’s nod to Smithson was created through a much less permanent action. “Backslide” was shot in an irrigation ditch only ten feet tall, yet the ditch appears much grander in size and scale. Three shiny metallic strips flowing down the side of the ditch imbue the work with mystery. Why were they placed there? More importantly, could each of the strips be removed (the answer is yes), so the land could revert back to its “original” state? Jackson’s interest in Smithson goes only so far, as he finds Smithson’s use of heavy machinery and irreparable interventions too heavy handed. Jackson’s interest in action and memory is one more aligned with the tenants of Burning Man, where it is expected that as we inhabit the land, we leave no trace.
The trace of memory and the absence of our embodiment on the land are also central themes in Winegar’s photographs. These are also large format film images, shot with a 4x5 view camera, but they are in color. Moving through CUAC’s gallery space, we see in Jackson the staged evidence of our impact; in Winegar’s work, we witness the opposite, an erasure of the evidence of people and the built environment on the land, finding instead lush, verdant scenes that pulse with flashes of white light.
Winegar has traveled throughout the west, to Montana, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon, constructing a body of work that follows the lineage of traditional photography of the western United States. The historical precedent is of course the early American photographers who were sent “out West” to capture images of the vast terrain during the aforementioned Westward Expansion. The relationship between photographic documents of the untamed, unaltered land and the way the lands were then apportioned and used by Euro-Americans continues to be mined by contemporary artists: in Winegar’s series, to great effect.
The CUAC exhibition features six photographs: one from Washington;|6| four from California; one from Utah.|7| While each photograph presents us with a landscape that appears uninhabited, it is that way only through the process Winegar uses to erase humanity’s evidence. After shooting out of doors Winegar moves his negative into the studio where he plots the negative to create another exposure over the first, obliterating people, structures, and buildings by the overlay of a burst of light. Where once the image showed evidence of people and their fabricated creations, Winegar erases them in a particular form of “rapture.”|8| We were on the land and we altered the land, yet evidence of our place has been removed, with light becoming the signal of removal. Of course, light is needed in the first place to create the photograph, thus light embodies both process and erasure. Winegar uses mechanical means to present a landscape devoid of human and/or mechanical constructs; a hyper real landscape that is in fact not real at all.
Winegar’s work engages both romantic and sublime aesthetic ideas. The tradition of romantic landscape painting and photography was also a product of the 1800s, as Europeans sought views (either real or imagined) that lent an air of heightened emotional resonance. The extreme of these views were those experiences and landscapes termed sublime - the views and vantage points that produced awe, astonishment, even fear within us. At first take Winegar’s images feel more supernatural: the white lights glow as if benevolent beings populate the forests and trees. But learning of his photographic process of erasure, of the reference to “Rapture” and what is taken away, lifted up through the air, gives the works a more ominous air. The glowing lights could be the aftereffect of what may come if everything on the planet besides the trees is taken away. Winegar’s environments somehow feel more hopeful, though, as each one affirms (let there be) light. With each light pulse indicating human activity and intervention, although hidden, we are still here and continue to make marks on the land.
Through the process of light, both Winegar and Jackson direct our gaze to embodied landscapes where human forms are cloaked or only implied. Both artists encompass the history of the western United States and the cultural ideas that formed how we now view the environment and its stewardship. Through different interpretations of several shared themes, each artist’s work is singular, yet paired in this exhibition they make for an intellectually compelling view of contemporary photography.