Exhibition Spotlight: Salt Lake City
Feast Your Eyes
Brad Slaugh's masterpiece
At thirty-three feet long, Brad Slaugh’s Feast just barely fits into his studio. It may be the most monumental mural drawing created in Utah in recent years (1998). Pieced together from 48 pastel drawings, the work makes it difficult to achieve optimal viewing distance — even in the artist’s sizable studio. But size isn’t everything. Other aspects of this work speak to its ambition — and genuine grandeur.
Displayed last month at Poor Yorick’s biannual open house, Feast is not just the artist’s masterpiece. It is a paean to epicurism, and also to Utah. Assembling twelve super-sized dinner guests along a makeshift table, the lateral composition and its proximity to the picture plane begs comparison with that other dinner party we all know so well. In contrast to Leonardo’s illusionistic room, Slaugh’s guests are cramped up against a wall, the knots in the veneer screaming of basement rec rooms. Along the left edge, a partial figure in the form of a hand surreptitiously holds out a ham and cheese sandwich. Reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel’s famous ‘Hand of God’ – or perhaps Monty Python’s, it tantalizingly suggests a thirteenth sitter, and flirts with Leonardo’s numerology.
Beyond this, Feast diverges from The Last Supper in important ways. Slaugh’s dinner guests, for instance, are Everyman. They lack the decorum of the apostles and could be anybody’s uncles and aunts, half-brothers and step-moms. Clearly, time has not been kind to them. Their flesh hangs from their bones, perhaps in a nod to Lucien Freud or Eric Fishl. Suggesting the sloth that comes from a lifetime of television viewing, they are signifiers of the downtrodden, the aged and the infirm, and every bit as proletariat as Courbet’s peasants.
Wearing stylistically obsolete clothes, a sense of nostalgia for seventies fashion and furniture emerges. As such, Slaugh pays homage to a generation of folks just ‘making do’ on the fringes of society, trapped in that time machine called Utah. He also toys with their proportions, dwarfing some and enlarging others; creating giants only a Trollhunter could love.
Appropriately, they are faced with the greatest of consolations: a large meal, and the gastronomic catastrophe laid out in front of them adds an element of jouissance to the composition. The table, propped up like the one in Robert Campin’s Merode Altarpiece, displays a cornucopia of processed foods, along with an unconscionable amount of mustard. The gooey and acrid splendor of American condiments flows to but one thing: indigestion. An anathema to Mormon restraint and sensibility, we are but a small step away from Francis Bacon’s open carcasses. And then there’s the ham and cheese sandwich, hardly the stuff of Passover meals.
Surprisingly, Slaugh informs me that the sitters would self-identify as Mormon. And yet, they challenge the more conventional model, of mission suits and bleached out smiles. This begs the question: are they heirs to the apostles, or perhaps usurpers? As Latter Day Saints, the gospel has fallen to this motley crew to disseminate. Should we be comforted? Concerned? There may be no greater question facing Utahns today.
While situating this dilemma in modern-day Utah, and infusing it with a more universal, tragicomic humanism, Feast becomes Leonardo’s legacy. Unlike the Last Supper, which has been a stable fixture in Milan for half a millennium, Feast is still in search of a home, itself a drifter in the land of Zion.
Exhibition Spotlight: Ogden
The Body in Art
Corpo/Ethereal at Ogden's WHITESPACE
Will the human body ever become cliché ? For thousands of years it has served western—and most non-western art—very well. In fact, except when specifically proscribed, it has been the centerpiece of our visual world (even during the brief interlude of abstraction's orthodoxy, when critics rather than clerics banned the figure, artists like Pollock and de Kooning couldn't help returning to it). It may be our innate narcissism, but we can't seem to leave the human body alone, continually finding new ways to reference and revere it, and this month in Ogden, Scott Patria has assembled three complementary artists who do just that, engaging the body as medium and metaphor.
Most notable is Jordan Eagles, a New York-based artist who uses blood to create glowing abstract works. Sure, it's a gimmick—one appropriate for Halloween and the Day of the Dead (which fell on the exhibition's opening night). But the work also resonates with metaphorical associations, and a magnetic visual appeal. The blood (from animals, not the artist himself) is mixed with copper and captured in clear resin so that blacks, scarlets and ambers reflect out and shine within, making the works resemble glass art as much as paintings. The works point to the infinities, both of the macro—you'll catch yourself thinking of fiery nebulae in deep space—and the micro—the cellular division apparent to the naked eye in some of these pieces continues at a microscope cellular level.
While Jeff Wallin's work actually is glass art, these fused sheets of kiln formed glass call to mind delicately layered paper collages and traditional figure studies. The artist works directly with glass powders on a glass sheet, and the final results are full of wonderful colors and textures (including instances of cellular division that in this context seem to reference Eagles' work) with melancholy portraits and figures rendered in what ends up looking like translucent sheets of charcoal on paper.
Finlay, adorning the gallery's floor space is the work of sculptor Emil Alzamora. Two related pieces, covered in iron oxide, are executed to look like sarcophagi, arms welded to the torso and legs and feet forming one solid swoop. "Shell"
is covered in stiff, overlapping layers, creating a fortress-like, protective shell, while "Core" looks like the revealed body within the sarcophagus, with a haunting void where the face should be. A third work, a mass of rotund forms being squeezed out of each other, is markedly different from the linear quality of the other two, but is no less corporeal. Alzamora calls it the "Venus of Venus" and it's his exaggerated homage to the "Venus of Willendorf," a 25,000 year-old sculpture that reminds us of just how much this art thing is in our blood.
Event Review: Salt Lake City
Two Sides of the Same Litho Stone
Bob Kleinschmidt and Wayne Kimball at Saltgrass
Once again, Saltgrass Printmakers has mounted a show that everyone in the Utah art community could profit from seeing, that UMFA or UMOCA might well feature for a season. It’s not just that Wayne Kimball and Bob Kleinschmidt are emeritus heads of two of Utah’s foremost print departments—Kimball at BYU and Kleinschmidt at the U—making their side-by-side appearance a revealing look back at a moment in recent history. It’s also hard to imagine two more contrasting approaches to art making. To see two consummate craftsmen, each a master, yet each confidently and entirely negating whatever the other foregrounds, is to humble our preconceptions about art and open our minds to our one unlimited resource: creativity.
Among thirty-four prints in three rooms, works by both artists are intermixed without fear of one being mistaken for the other. Most viewers will find Wayne Kimball’s sophisticated lithographs initially more approachable. His full-color images fit together like fine machines, their polished surfaces recalling greeting cards and decorator art, which he jazzes up with contrasting textures and multiple dimensions literally cut into a traditionally flat medium. Rounding out the look are architectural–styled framing devices and display fonts, ensuring art that is ready to go, and belong, anywhere.
By comparison, Kleinschmidt takes a low-tech approach, dilute black on off-white paper, that deliberately strikes the eye as funky or primitive, either way connoting candor and direct, honest expression. During the '60s crafts revival, when many pilgrims to art were genuinely rough and unsophisticated, work like this argued the primacy of what the artist brought to the page, and sincerity was thought to be lost with each additional layer of technique. Kleinschmidt's signal accomplishment is to keep this authentic feeling intact, in spite of the awesome sophistication visible in his playfully amateurish renderings.
The two differing techniques don’t just show off the artists’ individual working preferences; they serve contrasting aesthetic purposes as well. If Kimball captures the eye first, Kleinschmidt’s art comes across faster, presenting a self-portrait, or semi-fictionalized memoir, as charming as it is accessible. His self-portraits recall Rembrandt’s in the way they don’t just show us the look of the man, but each encapsulate the life-experience up to the moment of its making. Humble details—the hair on the back of his head, the ‘very old sweater’ he wears to pose, and personal idiosyncrasies like a ‘portable blessing’—come along interspersed between large, revealing anecdotes. One, simply titled "Sheep," shows the artist with the animal literally on his mind, while my favorite, "We Used to Dip Sheep," captures him staggering under the weight of a half-dipped sheep that he seems about to draw with. No doubt a younger artist with less talent would feel it necessary to do so for real, and call it a performance. Study his feet here, or his hand clutching a small mummy in "Somewhere in Utah I Was Telling the Bees." The chemical process that produced that sensuous, geological flesh texture, so easily overlooked, contrasts deliberately with the leaded glass look of the bees, which otherwise suggest a simple rearrangement of his nearby beard, carried across the short distance on the breath of his telling. This is art that cannot ever be used up.
Kimball’s images, on the other hand, defy those viewers who prefer representation over abstraction simply because they can recognize the subject matter, even when they have no idea what the point is. The merely-descriptive title, "Emperor and Someone Else’s Horse," for instance, refers to a pair of frames erected above a zebra-skin rug, separated by an Egyptian-looking tree, the entire ensemble floating illogically on a reticulated background. In one frame, a familiar Roman bust has a carved stone spiral for a pedestal. In the other, a horse looks over a fence rail. The Roman is Constantine, who split his empire in two and founded the Eastern capital that bore his name. The horse comes from a Western landscape. Here in a few square inches can be found the inviolate mysteries of past and present, east and west. Someone else’s horse? How about someone else’s life, made of the same elements—trees, rugs, horses, haircuts—yet mysteriously, irreducibly isolated from each other. It’s a safe bet that within each of Kimball’s meticulously rendered scenes, similar matters lie coiled for discovery and contemplation.
BYU has become the nation’s foremost center for teaching computer animation, and perhaps a hint of why can be found in Wayne’s Kimball’s exquisitely convincing illusions and theatrical stage sets. Bob Kleinschmidt counters with folksy stories: pictures that say, ‘I was there: This is how it felt.’ If they have anything in common, it could be what someone once called the Surreality of Everyday Life. That, and a wall in a former bungalow, on a side street in Sugar House.
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