Artist Profile: Teasdale
Paul Davis searches for figures in the dark
Paul Davis likes his studio dark. He compares the former garage — now rendered useless by the roof-high pile of firewood in front of its doors — to “the bat cave.” Inside, where the windows are blacked-out, the only natural light comes from a small skylight that the artist keeps mostly obstructed. “It’s a little dark, a little sleepy,” he says, “like a movie theatre just before it goes dark. That’s the way I like it.”
Davis can remember his perfect Saturday as a child — in the museums until one o’clock and the rest of the day in the movie theatre. “Those two things have always been mixed up in my head,” he says. In third grade, when television was just coming to the neighborhood, he remembers there wasn’t much on, mostly old black and white movies from the thirties. So, he says, you’d end up watching anything—good or bad didn’t matter—and that early mix of imagery has been swimming around his head ever since. It comes out in his latest works, paintings that are a menagerie of figures that spread over the canvas creating a polyphony of narratives.
In 2013 Davis was voted one of Utah's 15 most influential artists (see page 2) and his work will be featured in an exhibit this month at the Rio Gallery with the other fourteen artists. In this video interview, we visited "the bat cave" where the artist says the best time to paint is with the fire going and a blizzard blowing around outside. Watch to hear him discuss his life and work and what it was that drove him to look for creativity in chaos.
Exhibition Review: Springville
Down the Rabbit Hole
Following Three Artists Into Their Burrows
Curiouser & Curiouser: The Artwork of James Christensen, Cassandra Barney, Emily McPhie, and Family includes sixty paintings by the three artists in the primary exhibition, with dozens more incidental works in the area set aside to represent the family milieu on which they draw. These latter include works by family members, portraits of their children by the headliners, and favorites retained by the family the way Leonardo kept the Mona Lisa. If the impact of these rooms is to enkindle a feeling for the integral role of their extended family in the output of the artists, the five dozen works in the main rooms overwhelm the critical faculties, as the eye turns from the impression made by one work, only to immediately encounter another waiting to be figured out, until the effect is like strolling a gallery of European masterworks, while a kind of optical triage is performed. “Oh, this is a favorite!’ ‘I don’t know this one, but I like it.’ ‘Another of these: different, yet familiar.”
There’s a good chance that previous judgments will be revised. James, Cassandra, and Emily are distinct enough to permit separate evaluations; falling for one, or two, but not all three is possible. Yet after seeing so much of them together, it’s clear that character, not skill, distinguishes them. A supplemental virtue of the family rooms is that nothing is labeled individually, thus proffering a kind of final exam. One can go through, guessing which is which, and then check the key for the correct answer. Personal vision trumps individual ability, if only because the latter is so universally high.
If there are too many objects to take in all at once, the Springville Art Museum, with its cozy domestic atmosphere and free admission, invites longer and more frequent visits. Too often in museums, one can take away nothing but memories. Here, not only is non-obtrusive photography for personal use permitted, but the gift shop has a rich selection of postcards, books, and signed, collectable prints provided by the commercially astute artists. Meanwhile, for those who have already chosen affection or scorn, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, either to seize or avoid, while a critic arrives too late—or too soon. What follows, then, is for those who wish to look further.
Exhibitions Review: Salt Lake City
On Medium, Narrative and Great Salt Lake
A discussion with Matthew Coolidge and Tacita Dean
Shot along the southwest coast of Great Salt Lake, CLUI’s Landscan presents only a fraction of the lake’s landscape, which in its entirety measures approximately 75 miles in length by 25 miles in width. The video, now on exhibit at Utah Museum of Fine Arts, runs 19 minutes and presents approximately 22 miles of land. The video’s focus is on an industrial landscape where sodium chloride and magnesium are continually extracted through evaporation ponds. Beginning with water, the camera proceeds across alkaline soil encrusted with salt. Through the helicopter’s continual forward movement – our vantage through the eye of the camera – we see hues of sage, salmon, sepia, ochre, yellow, and white. Lines lay on the land forming abstract shapes, separating one range of color from the next. The helicopter descends slowly as it reaches U.S. Magnesium Corporation’s facilities. As the barely perceptible drone of the helicopter gets louder, we begin to feel we’re getting a little too close to the complex. Once past the facility the helicopter doesn’t regain altitude, but continues its descent towards an empty field of alkaline shrubbery. Cut: the video is over; the loop begins again.
It is quickly apparent this is not a touristic view of the lake. It is a new view, several centuries removed from Alfred Lambourne’s panoramic scenery, brimming with beautifully rendered clouds, birds, boats, and the occasional human, also currently on exhibit (see last month’s edition). Despite the differences in medium, vantage points, and intent, Lambourne and CLUI present views of Great Salt Lake we can travel to and see. Maybe not the way they saw them, but these landscapes are part of the makeup of the land with identifiable viewpoints.
Contrast these with Tacita Dean’s film, JG, also on exhibit. Captured in 35mm anamorphic film, Dean’s locations were shot “mostly in Utah, near Wendover, and also in Great Salt Lake…it was filmed in California, in Mono Lake and Death Valley.” (Adrian Searle, “Tacita Dean: JG Ballard, Robert Smithson and me – video preview,” theguardian.com, 13 September 2013). It is not clear from the film if any of the lake scenes we see were shot at Rozel Point, the location of Robert Smithson’s earthwork the Spiral Jetty. Dean takes inspiration from Smithson’s work and from J.G. Ballard’s 1960 short story “The Voices of Time.” On January 24th, Dean gave a public talk at UMFA, describing her artistic history and process, ending with a summation of JG. Her professional relationship with Ballard led her to consider the relationship between earthwork and story, mining the parallels as both were set in saline landscapes where time is marked, in part, through the inclusion of prehistoric creatures. Dean’s comments on the nature of film (she is a great proponent of maintaining 35mm as an artistic medium) rang true, as it is about geologic time, creatural time, and of course, film time as the medium itself is a spiral.
Dean’s film runs 26.5 minutes, presenting a beautifully constructed fictional narrative: circular shaped landscapes appear within landscapes; water gushes atop crystalline mounds of sodium chloride; a drawing of a clock rests on the filmed desert landscape. Though I waited until after seeing JG to read Ballard’s short story, I advise visitors to read it before (UMFA has copies of the short story available to read). The complexities of a world, told in five short chapters, where people move closer and closer towards longer and longer sleep, is filled with imagery Dean captures well (who knew armadillos were so beautiful?) yet make more sense after taking in Ballard’s narrative first.