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March 2013
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
Page 6    

Hints & Tips

On Being an Artist
Are artists born or are they made?

The term artist is an interesting one because it’s a title as well as a state of being. What does it mean to be an artist? Where does it all begin? Are artists born or are they made? These are not really easy questions to answer because they are fairly subjective in nature. I think the journey into art is a process that unfolds before you. Some are blessed to have an early direction in life, while others have to uncover their true identities through a process of self discovery. One comes to a realization of the artist within and then sets sail for wherever that may lead.

At any rate, the exact moment of what I call “artisthood” might be hard to determine. The answer may be illuminated by some key indicators, such as a child’s propensity for daydreaming, doodling and generally “tuning out” in order to explore the hinterland of one’s own mind. As I have mentioned in another column, in my own life this particular behavior came with its own set of punishments. I can remember many times when I was jolted back into reality by Sister Elaine, who was clearly unimpressed with my side trips into “Rightbrainville.” It was never a pleasurable experience.

My mother somehow had a keen awareness of my inclinations at an early age. She always seemed to know something about me that I was unaware of. She would tell me that I was an artist long before I even understood what that meant. She made sure I had a set of drawing pencils, and I remember her planting me in front of the TV set in our New York City apartment so that I could watch a show that featured a fellow who would draw boats, docks and little fishermen shacks. This was followed up one year with a set of oil paints and several “how to” books that kept me mesmerized for hours on end. From there, I ventured outside to paint and eventually took some art classes.

Unfortunately this was all put on hold for a while during my adolescent years (due, I suppose, to an insufficiently developed frontal lobe). I did find my way back, however, and have been painting for several decades. My point here is that you can only run from yourself for so long. As the old saying goes, “You can run, but you can’t hide.” I am convinced that artisthood will emerge or there will be severe consequences to pay -- it’s either follow the muse or pay the price of unhappiness and an unfulfilled life.

Looking back, I would have to say that artists are artists because that’s who they are. We might be tempted by other pursuits, but ultimately our real joy is found in art. Fame might be a nice affirmation of what we do, and money is necessary to pay the bills, but artisthood is about the need to create regardless of who notices. I have occasionally heard of this or that artist who gave it all up because of a poor economy or some other setback and find myself wondering how that could be? From my understanding, that person is either running from who they really are, or finally realizing they never were an artist. So to answer my own question, is an artist born or made, I would have to say born. The making of the artist is up to the individual as to how far, and in what direction they want to take their natural inclination.

Artists of Utah News
Who Do You Love?
Artists of Utah's newest program, to honor Utah's most influential artists

We honor artists, performers and writers all the time: they win grants to complete their projects; we issue praise for their achievements, little golden statues for their performances, and sometimes, a big wad of cash just for being good at what they do. Some of these artists have a reach that extends even further– a more influential one. They inspire a movement, they move a community, or they attract a mass following. Whatever it is they do to make a difference it is felt not by just one, but by many. Their impact shows us why we need artists in the first place.

We know from history that an artist’s influence isn’t necessarily recognized until years after they have passed. Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime; Beethoven’s symphonies weren’t widely performed and appreciated until he was long gone. The influence of some artists in Utah has already become apparent, but for others we are left to speculate – and sometimes that is the most rewarding part. Twenty, thirty years from now you can see the results of their efforts, sit back and say: “Called it.”

We need your nominations for Utah’s Most Influential Artists. For over ten years 15 Bytes have been giving Utah artists their “15 Bytes of fame”. Now you get to tell us who deserves more.

The top 15 artists will receive an honor at our 35 x 35 awards ceremony on April 19th. Our staff of writers and photographers will publish a beautiful print publication (our first ever!) with articles on these individuals, and in February 2014 we’ll curate an exhibition at the Rio Gallery in Salt Lake City that features the achievements of these painters, sculptors, photographers, writers, actors, choreographers, composers, musicians, etc. But we need your help. Deadline is March 31st. Let no one be overlooked.

Email your nominations (you may submit up to five) to utahs15@artistsofutah.org and please include the following:

1) Your name, city and contact info
2) Nominee’s name & city
3) 150 – 200 words describing the merits of your nomination (please include a narrative describing their contribution; include your personal experience with the artist and links to supporting information on their accolades, artistic merit, etc.)*

For more information, click here.

Process Points: Photography
The Photography Challenge
(or what's with all these Luddites?)

Today, it’s easy for even the average, low-tech, untrained person to take a nice photograph. With a point-and-shoot digital camera. With a telephone. With an iPad. So why in the world would professional photographers approach their art in the most challenging ways – using ancient technology and stinky chemicals, or working with homemade or bulky equipment?

Perhaps the answer is in the results, which you can see at Art Access’s Out of the Darkroom exhibition for a few more days, and in the 35x35 exhibition at Finch Lane all month. From the beautiful simplicity of a black and white gelatin silver print, to hand-colored silver gelatin re-photographed with cibachrome, to viewer-activated cyanotypes on glass – these are thoughtfully conceived and skillfully produced works of art using a combination of historic and modern technology.

Dennis Mecham, who curated the exhibit for Art Access, explains that digital photographers, even the experts, are somewhat limited by the technology of their camera and tools like Photoshop. Photographers who work with film and darkroom processing, on the other hand, have an almost infinite variety of ways to use film, chemicals, and paper. “Everything can be mixed in a variety of ways,” he says. “It’s very hands-on. There’s a lot of time involved in developing your style and technique.”

The 26 photographers represented in the Art Access show demonstrate some of the variety of methods and materials available to film and darkroom photographers. Mecham’s own works in the show are classic black and white silver gelatin prints, characterized by his artful vision and carefully staged models. Two images are from his series taken at the Great Salt Lake, with nude models and parasols. Part of his challenge was to find exactly the right time, when the lake was mirror-still, to capture the perfect reflection of his model.

Mecham notes that for photographers who want to use traditional film processes, most of the same chemicals that were used in the early 20th century are available today. Some things have changed, though, even improved. Papers, for example, now come in more variety.

In contrast with Mecham’s classic, artful realism is the more mysterious vision of Miranda Whitlock, whose litho prints are softer, ambiguous impressions of the human form. And then there’s Erica Wangsgard, who hand-paints on silver gelatin and then re-photographs the images with cibachrome film. The result is an abstract, intriguing hybrid of painting and photography.

For some photographers, like Matthew Allred, “hands-on” means making primitive pin-hole cameras and playing with the whole notion of photography as a way to document reality. Instead of capturing a slice of time in fractions of seconds, Allred sets up his cameras to record a scene over a period of 24 hours or up to six months. The resulting image suggests the blur of movement – from the sun’s daily arch across the sky to the incessant activity of people, cars, animals, and whatever else may cross the path in front of the camera. It’s the things that stand still —buildings, for example, that are recognizable in his images.

Photography has always been something of a game of chance — from the way the sun might light the subject, to the unpredictable things that can happen in the darkroom. But Allred takes the risks and opportunities of chance to a new level. He must attach his pin-hole cameras to hopefully immoveable objects in unobtrusive places where they won’t be disturbed for the exceptionally long exposure times he plans. In one case, the road sign that supported his camera just disappeared. In another instance, the building where his camera was planted was demolished before he went to retrieve it.

Allred enjoys the challenge of working with his exposed film. “There’s a bit of romance to be in the darkroom,” he says. “I like making up chemistry and experimenting. It’s laborious. It takes 2-3 hours to do what might take 2-3 minutes in Photoshop. It’s a tactile interaction with the image.”

Experience in the darkroom as well as research into historic materials and processes inform Allred’s experimental chemistry. For example, he researched historic methods for capturing sun images and learned from Ansel Adams and other photographers assigned to capture nuclear explosions. Allred, an instructor in the University of Utah’s photography department, was selected for the 35x35 exhibit (35 artists 35 years old or younger) at Finch Lane Gallery this month.

Also part of the 35x35 exhibit is Christine Baczek, who, for this particular body of work, uses one of the earliest photographic processes – cyanotype – dating back to the late 19th century. The series of framed cyanotype prints on glass is called “Sensitives” because the images don’t exist until the viewer walks in front of them, activating a motion sensor that turns on LED lights behind framed images.

What the viewer sees are images of plants that grow in southern Utah, near the Rio Mesa study facility owned by the University of Utah. Baczek is doing an artist’s residency there, though she splits her time between photographing plants on site and developing and printing her images in Salt Lake City.

Baczek says she chose the historic cyanotype method because the earliest photographers, too, were interested in botany. Henry Fox Talbot photographed the wetlands in his native England. Anna Atkins, who published one of the first photographic books, used cyanotype to photograph the algae growing off the coast of England.

The cyanotype process is named for the brilliant blue color of the printed image. It’s a fairly simple chemical process involving an emulsion-coated paper or glass, the UV light of the sun, and development of the image in water. It’s similar to the solar printing kits used by children. Baczek, who once worked for a photographic chemical company, says she’s torn between her love for chemical processes and her love for her subjects. This series allowed her to combine the two. Furthermore, the use of modern technology – motion sensors and battery powered LED lights – allowed her to create an interactive experience for the viewer that is definitely 21st century.

What artist doesn’t want to distinguish him or her self from their contemporaries? It seems that in the world of photographic art, the hands-on mixing of materials and process, both historic and modern, allows photographic artists do just that.

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