Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Aaron Ashcraft at Finch Lane Gallery
Watching art and life come together in a way that seems nothing short of naturally organic is one of the joys of being an art critic. Aaron Ashcraft, whose works are on exhibit at Finch Lane’s West Gallery this month, brings his craft to full life-like fruition with ceramic work that speaks as if ideologically voiced in the vocabulary of the tradition of historic sculpture, yet formed in a manner that melds this tradition with the fibrous being of nature, not as we know it, but as history once found it, with its own temporality and its own geology. His work speaks its own language, calling from another time and another place, haunting and distant, yet brought very present by the hands and spirit of Ashcraft.
Above and beyond anything else, Ashcraft, who holds a BFA and BA from the University of Utah, uses ceramics to “create a surface to make marks on. But at the same time,” he says, “there’s something beyond that surface.”
“Whenever you talk about ceramic work, there is a historical element,” Ashcraft says. “If you take a ceramic piece that is several hundred years old, it is no longer in the society that it is created of; it has a certain separate nature from everything else in and of itself. So you can only view it as the object you are looking at now because you have no context, no way to really relate to that previous society. Inevitably everything is taken out of the society it is created of, but it still has an inherent quality in and of itself.”
An Ashcraft piece might be circular hollowed disks on a wall; they might be squared-off log-like shapes slightly bowed and set at angles, stacked one atop the other; they might be tall ever-so slightly curved towers with sections of the form cut away adding definitive dimension; or they might be tower-like miniatures at irregular heights each leaning moderately one way or the next. His sculpture is obviously an exploration of form, but more than the form itself, it is what is happening on the form, and more essentially, what is happening within, that matters.
There is a distinctive poetic visual lexicon used here, and in it one begins to see methodologies of Zen Buddhism take form and ideology. The motifs... marks… that you see, you see repeatedly, and assembled meticulously in sections on each piece. There is no mass diffusion of anything like a collage of visual elements, but an orderly and organized visual compendium of pattern, line and texture.
Says Ashcraft, “I like the suggestiveness of the natural environment in the pieces. I don’t necessarily need to define everything as a realist painter would. I like a suggestion to hint to the viewer something that is an indication of the natural. I like that sense that gives the pieces life.”
And nothing that a “realist painter” could possibly do would give more life to these ceramic entities than what is entailed by these indications of nature. These suggestions, or marks, include waves of line that mimic either the sands of a desert, sea, or a manicured Japanese Zen garden; thin lines of a different hue, texture, width, that imply more of a rhythm and exactitude; an irregular surface that has humps and is glazed and colored in a lichen green, implying just that or more so, moss growing on an old formation with water gliding over it. But most dramatically set and cutting to the core of the structures like veins giving life to the body of each are fissures, boldly painted in black, that find their way breaking through the surface and cutting one way or the next.
“The structures exist before they go into the kiln. The last thing I do is the brush marks,” Ashcraft says of these current pieces. “All of the brushwork you see happens right before I put it into the kiln. I want spontaneity after all of the time structuring these pieces. I want an immediate effect.” These painted fissures, in reality, allow for the implication of the essence of being of these entities. The artist says they look to him something like the dry caked mud of a desert floor.
“It takes on a purpose of its own,” he says of the work. To be true to the reality of the work, they must be recognized as the bearers of marks of a life beyond ours and a space and time different from our own just as “a ceramic piece that is several hundred years old, it is no longer in the society that it is created of; it has a certain separate nature from everything else in and of itself.”
In this sense and only in this sense, can the full aesthetic measure of these pieces be fully realized in the context introduced by Ashcraft. Given the marks of time past; the waves made, the lines carved, the moss grown, and the fissures as dead as the dry caked mud, we observe these objects as if figuratively decontextualized and literally recontextualized by the artist for today’s contemporary eyes. But it is our eyes that must adjust and the viewer of this poetic form must learn to see it on its terms, on Ashcraft’s terms, if the fullness of beauty contained is to be recognized.
Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
East Side West Side
Justin Wheatley explores the meaning behind the houses of Salt Lake City
For years now Justin Wheatley has been exploring the urban and suburban landscape, from highrise buildings in New York City to the modest homes of Salt Lake City. His current show at Finch Lane Gallery, Salt Lake City: Chain Link and Welcome Mats, surveys this exploration in a variety of mediums — from paintings of modernist homes and the flattened planes of industrial buildings to the 3D photo collage work of urban scenes. The work on display demonstrates the formal qualities of buildings that might attract any artist, but Wheatley has always been interested in a building's power as metaphor or symbol as well — the building as an outer skin or mask for lived lives, the container of shared memories and even signposts for the character of a city. In a new work that dominates Finch Lane's east wall, Wheatley has created a grid piece that takes his exploration of the city to one more level. In our video interview with the artist this past spring as part of the 35x35 exhibition, Wheatley discussed this body of work while it was in progress and the hidden meaning behind the facades.
An Artist's Cookbook
The late Kenvin Lyman's art & cuisine come together in a new book from Gibbs Smith
It's a cookbook, it's an art book. It's a cookbook and an art book. It's the glorious, delectable, Kenvin -- An Artist's Kitchen: Food, Art & Wisdom of a Bohemian Cowboy.|1|
By Utah artist Kenvin Lyman, who died two years ago at age 68 after a fall in his home, and published posthumously, this lovely volume was at least a dozen years in the making. The book started as a project for his mother, as a collection of Lyman’s own recipes for inclusion in a family history. The author notes that his mother did not live to see the book completed but: “The roots of my relationship with food began with her and my dad and back through generations of Pioneer ancestors — farmers and ranchers who tilled the soil . . . and then respectfully prepared and enjoyed the bounty of their labors. . . . Traditional farm food is the prototype for today’s local, sustainable food movement.”
He and his wife, Sofia Angkasa, farmed an urban quarter-acre home lot in Salt Lake’s Avenues district, growing most of their food year-round. “We grind our own grain. We grow our own grapes and make our own wine. We preserve fruit for the winter months . . . We invent and, with the help of our friends, test our own recipes. . . . the pleasure of these processes gives a depth and meaning to our lives.” And in the end he chose his friends well: people like photographer Mikel Covey and former Salt Lake Tribune World Desk editor Pepper Provenzano, Tribune food columnist Vanessa Chang, his creative business partner Richard Taylor, elder brother and artist Fred, his wife and others helped shepherd this book to publication after Lyman’s death.
In the March 2011 edition of 15 Bytes, Frank McEntire wrote a piece about Lyman shortly after his death, the touring light shows he put together in the Sixties -- Flash and Edison Visuals with Covey and Rainbow Jam with Taylor -- (they performed with The Grateful Dead, Santana, Ike and Tina Turner and more); the internationally known Dazzleband Studios where he created, among other innovative graphic products, the concert posters that are now collectibles (two for Led Zeppelin are included in the book).|2|
And the artwork certainly is something to savor. Lyman makes no secret of his influences: Monet and the original French Impressionists, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin. (And Rimbaud, Bob Dylan and Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, too.) His use of intense color truly has more in common with the Post-Impressionists (with a touch of Pop) than it does with acid rock. While he deftly creates a realistic bunch of just-pulled carrots |3|, a farmer bringing in the wheat |4| and more, he also relies on Impressionism to convey his message throughout much of the book. And it works superbly. Whether it’s a Japanese tablescape, an elegant dessert, or a bottle of George Dickel Tennessee Whisky,|5| his loose work draws us in nicely to his text. Hard to imagine one without the other — it’s a package deal.
This could be the great American cookbook. Or the great Utah cookbook, which is all it aspires to be. That is, if it could get over being an art book. While it has everything from soup to ice cream, with some politics (particularly about state liquor laws and their impact on winemakers and thereby on Utah’s food culture) and philosophy thrown in, it will fit nicely on your coffee table but not readily on your kitchen counter. It contains some 125 recipes — but nearly twice as many images in the form of lush illustrations and photographs. As with any good art book there's an index to the illustrations — but not to the recipes. Confusing to cooks, one would imagine. And the lovely vintage canning recipes are not all in one place but scattered about, frustrating if you are someone (like me) who prefers canning to cooking. And then there's the curious incident of the recipe for putting up one quart (that's one single quart) of pickles.|6| It's not only difficult to locate again, but no one likes to can that much, I don't imagine. Maybe there are some serious pickle connoisseurs out there or someone who is really into tracking down the (recommended) antique blue Ball jar to put the cucumbers in, but all that effort for just one quart of pickles? I don’t think so.
This is a book for hunter-gatherers: most recipes start in the garden; some begin with a rifle. Fresh produce, fresh game, whole grains. The instructions are clear and fairly simple, if somewhat labor intensive. The very first recipe tells you how to churn your own sour cream butter, either the old-fashioned way or with a blender, mixer or modified balloon whisk which Lyman tells you how to make.|7| There are variations: Watercress Butter,|8| Toasted Shallot Butter, Zesty Chipotle Butter. You later learn how to bake the bread to put it on: Sweet Cornbread, Wild Rice Cakes, Flatbread, Simple Crepes, and Uncle Mel’s Sourdough Biscuits (from starter to finish). There are fabulous breakfasts, imaginative salads, rich soups and stocks, interesting main dishes (Bacon-Roasted Capon;|9| Meatloaf Stuffed with Marrow, Black Walnuts and Capers; Lake Bass with Braised Fennel; even Rocky Mountain Oysters and Garden Snails |10| should those things for some reason appeal to you), wonderful side dishes you will want to make part of your repertoire (Mahogany Onions; Red Lentils with Mustard), jams, salsas, cheeses, desserts, a few beverages; a mint sauce for lamb that must be made — all tested by Susan Massey and edited by the discerning food writer Virginia Rainey.
It's from Gibbs Smith, whose logo is: "To Enrich and Inspire Humankind." This book surely does that, from many angles. Smith is to be congratulated on his belief in Lyman and the possibilities here. The necessary $50 price tag may keep some in Utah (it may well have a good national market, too) away from The King's English and other such locales; a few will need to resort to Amazon’s discount, which is kind of not the point of Lyman’s buy-local philosophy. However you manage it, this is one you really should own. You’ll probably want to keep it in your living room for the artwork and copy out the recipes that you choose to use in your kitchen. It will so be worth the effort.