Exhibition Review: Ogden
Where Lines Intersect and Styles Diverge
Traci O'Very Covey and Denis Phillips at Gallery at the Station
Traci O'Very Covey's sinuous line, which dances across the surface of her paintings to create overlapping and interlocking planes of color, will be familiar to fans of the Utah Opera, where for four years Covey used her unique graphic style to interpret the storylines of the company’s performances (as a designer she's also been responsible for several books and created work for national publications). A number of Covey's gouache paintings in this month's exhibit at Ogden's Gallery at the Station retain the crisp flat style of that graphic work: "Water and Air" is a puzzle-like composition executed in unmodulated hues in which forms of birds, clouds and fish push and pull past the painting's two serene figures; and in "Woman with Flora," a white line weaves horticultural motifs and a contemplative maiden into a series of unified arabesques, including the tendrilled whisps of the girl's hair.
A new series of acrylic paintings by Covey at the gallery continue her use of swirling organic forms — which maintain an artistic tradition that extends from early Celtic art to the Art Nouveau movement of the last century — but opts for a much more layered and textured approach. Works like "Metamorphosis 10" and "Metamorphosis 7" highlight the differences and the similarities in these two bodies of work. The general swoop of the composition is the same. As are the organic, floral motifs. In "Metamorphosis 7," however, it is texture, and semi-transparent layers of paint, that creates the sense of depth in Covey's pieces — and which gets the works closer to the earthy, Arcadian sensibility Covey has always tried to evoke with her art.
Denis Phillips' works on display at the gallery share with Covey's graphic work a crisp line and use of overlapping planes, but to very different effect. In his long career, Phillips has never been tied to one form or subject. In addition to the non-objective paintings he is well-known for, he has painted landscapes and still lifes. But most of these, like the works exhibited last year at Phillips Gallery, have been stamped with his loose, bravura mark-making and floating layers of paint.
The works on exhibit this month in Ogden, however, appear to be drawn with a compass or a computer program rather than the instinctual inflection of the wrist or elbow.
A number of smaller pieces are giclée prints of works Phillips has indeed created on the computer. After scanning images of his paintings, he splices them together and manipulates the result through Photoshop. They have a trippy '70s feel, and appear at any moment to turn into psychedelic animations. The larger works on display are straightforward acrylic on canvas, but they have the same sharp edges as the smaller pieces. "#963" shares Covey's strategy of shifting hues where different planes intersect to create a sense of unity and depth. Its hard lines, basic geometric shapes and use of primary colors straight from the tube are repeated in works like "#962" and "#313." As "basic" as these elements are, the compositions avoid becoming static or boring, mostly through their play with weight and the dynamic pull between fore- and back-ground. Those who enjoy Phillips's gestural paintings may find these works too distant emotionally, but an artist who is willing to experiment and shift gears even late in his career is always a welcome change.
Exhibition Spotlight: Salt Lake City
Exploring the possibilities of fiber at Michael Berry Gallery
When the University of Utah chose to cancel its fiber arts program in the early ’90s, a group of dedicated students decided to form their own organization, to continue learning new techniques and encourage each other's artwork. The Utah Surface Design Group (USDG) was born. Part of an international network of fiber arts organizations, the organization currently boasts over fifty members, who meet regularly for workshops and informal “play sessions.” This month they bring Surface Slant, their bi-annual members exhibition to Salt Lake’s Michael Berry Gallery.
The exhibit features the sort of traditional pieces you might expect from a local fiber arts community: Mimi Rodes' wool and cotton rug tempts ones fingers to take a stroll through its inviting surface; Judy Elsey's elegant silk scarves would spruce up any local boutique; and there's enough quilt-oriented work to keep your local women's organization happy. But there's also plenty of examples of art in which fiber is a jumping off point, or merely one element in a wider artistic brew. Bobbi Lewin incorporates salt crystals and chunks of mica into her pieces. Timmy Burton embraces our plastic age with her "Storm," a piece that uses polyester and plastic in such a delicate way it resembles Belgian lace; and Liza Julien uses just about everything you'd find in a recycling bin (and then some) to create her three-dimensional assemblages.
In Surface Slant it is not only what is added to the base of fabric that delights, however. With her process of dye discharge, which removes dye from fabric, Patti Pitts creates intriguing abstract patterns, which she accentuates with touches of red stitching. Anne Munoz is another artist who knows how to stitch an intriguing line: her abstracted design of a river motif relies as much on the variety of stitch as it does the hand-dyed fabric for its shimmering quality. Another piece of hers gives a wink to the color field painters of the 1960s and '70s. If that triggers art historical references you might find yourself thinking of Josef Albers when you look at Lynn Dell Swapp's "Ring Toss Autumn."
These works resonate with history, both feminine and art historical. They are continuations and expansions of the type of work that has been created (mostly) by women for centuries, while at the same time acknowledging their place in an art historical context and exploring fiber's possibility as a medium.
Phillip Barlow . . . from page 1
Though Barlow denies having a “style,” his oil paintings are consistent in their smoothly glazed realism reminiscent of the classical masters. For his highly realistic still life paintings, he carefully sets up his models, lights and shoots them and then paints from the photographs.
Sometimes his subjects are simple and simply beautiful, such as a bowl of blueberries and a spoon. Other times, his subjects suggest explicit or implied narrative. For example, in “His and Hers,” the models are two coffee cups, flanked by his and her respective eyeglasses and reading materials. Another painting features an old console radio on which a folded American flag is draped. Text at the bottom notes the date of President Roosevelt’s broadcast and his words: “A state of war now exists.”
These concepts for still life subjects often come to Barlow in the middle of the night, but he doesn’t have to write them down; they’re still there the next morning or when he starts his next five-hour stint in his studio.
His affinity for narrative or communicating some kind of feeling for his subject may go all the way back to sixth grade when he created his own comic strip. Or maybe it stems from his career as a graphic designer, working with clients on advertising and packaging design projects, where clear communication was key. Or perhaps it was the influence of his instructors at the University of Utah — George Dibble, Leconte Stewart, and Doug Snow — or his favorite artist John Singer Sargent. All of these experiences and influencers produced an artist who can only paint what he cares about, whether it’s the whimsical or ironic juxtaposition of objects, the way light hits a bowl of berries, or the way storm clouds gather over the landscape.
After graduating from the University of Utah in 1962, Barlow set up his own commercial art firm in downtown Salt Lake City. Those were the days when the tools of design were pen, ink, watercolor, and gouache. Even as he produced work for his clients, he was using those same tools to create paintings for fun. He got involved in the Utah Watercolor Society and served as its president in 1985-86. He also found time to begin scouting galleries and began to sell his watercolors in Taos, Albuquerque, and Park City.
Barlow later switched to oil paint and honed his skills in the classical realism style that he is best known for today. But with that other foot outside the box, he acknowledges that some of the biggest influences on artists in the last part of the 20th century were the abstract expressionists, like Pollock and de Kooning, and pop artists like Warhol. There’s a part of Barlow that just wants to play with paint for the sheer joy of it. He may do so, alone in his studio where no one can see. But he feels an obligation to his galleries and collectors to meet expectations.
However, that doesn’t stop Barlow from a whimsical series of egg paintings, at least one of which may be in the Phillips exhibit. Noting that eggs are so perfect in their symmetry that they might be boring, Barlow challenged himself to make them anything but boring in the ways he posed and painted them — brown eggs next to white ones in a comment on diversity; and real eggs next to a plastic egg spilling its jellybean contents.
Though he doesn’t paint as many landscapes as he used to, he couldn’t resist the drama of stormy darkness. It reminded him of the way mystery writers used to start a story or novel with “It was a dark and stormy night.” So, working from photos he has taken during his travels, these paintings became a series of moody, almost monochromatic, paintings of storm clouds gathering over the landscape.
Barlow’s daughter, Elizabeth Barlow, is also a painter based in San Francisco. Her style is also classically realistic and she shares her father’s interest in narrative or symbolic meaning, though their subjects are different. They are both represented by District Gallery in Park City, where they have had father-daughter exhibits in the past.
Barlow’s work is also in the Park Gallery in Carmel, CA. He notes that one gallery can’t hang as many paintings as he can produce, which is why is likes having relationships with three.
When asked if it’s even possible to retire from art, Barlow’s answer is emphatically, “No.” “As long as God gives me time, I’ll keep painting.” For now he’s quite happy with two golf outings per week and a painting schedule that averages five hours per day, seven days a week.
When pressed, he acknowledges that maybe someday he’ll no longer want or need galleries or money and can just step way outside the box and do something entirely different. “Maybe completely abstract. Maybe throw paint down and walk across it with my bare feet. If I got some enjoyment out of it, it would probably be worth it.”