Artist Profile: Toquerville
The bold, captivating ceramic art of Russell Wrankle
Growing up in a blue-collar family on the rural outskirts of Palm Springs, Calif., Russell Wrankle never imagined that one day his life would revolve around the arts. That all changed in college, when he took a ceramics class and was instantly hooked. “I guess it was something that I always had but never explored,” he says.
A BFA and MFA in ceramics and hundreds of awards, solo exhibitions, residencies, lectures, invitationals, and juried shows later, Wrankle has built a considerable reputation for himself as an artist and art educator.
His studio is a restored barn in Toquerville, where he’s lived with his wife, an elementary-school art teacher, and their three kids since 2001. His first selling works were pottery, which brought in business but didn’t fulfill him creatively the way sculpture could. He eventually made the choice to devote his time and energy to the latter.
Public Art: Salt Lake City
Echo Canyon and Sego Lily
Patricia Johanson's monumental public art
Public art matters. That is the takeaway message from viewing Patricia Johanson’s monumental public artwork in Sugar House, Salt Lake City. It matters, and in the hands of a seasoned and passionate artist, it matters deeply and is successfully translated to the public. Johanson’s environmental work —with the Echo Canyon portion completed this June—not only addresses many audiences and their interests, it’s a work that takes us on a journey from the macrocosm of history and time to the microcosms embedded in her work; from natural beauty to environmental sustainability to cultural heritage.
Johanson has been working on this project since 2003, approached by regional landscape architect Steve Gilbert to create a work of public art in Sugar House based on her successful career as an artist working in environmental and public art. She applied for and won a National Endowment for the Arts competition to design a pedestrian corridor under 1300 East below 2100 South, and since 2003 has worked with numerous individuals, groups, and government agencies to realize her project, partially completed in June.
Johanson is internationally known as a successful environmental artist who melds human spaces and natural elements to create new landscapes benefiting both human and animal visitors. Her works have been commissioned nationally from New York (her home state) to California, and abroad in Brazil, Kenya, and Korea. Her ongoing work has landed her recognition through inclusion in key exhibitions (Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and Haus der Kunst, Munich) and in competitions such as the NEA granted to her in 2003 to work in Salt Lake City.
Her legacy as an artist includes a rich history of personal and professional relationships developed since her years first at Bennington College in Vermont, then in New York City as she created work and continued her studies at both Hunter College, then at the City College of New York. Among her friends were the young artists Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt.
Johanson’s artistic contribution in a state where two of the most iconic works of Land art are situated is important. Her work forms a triangulation of space that draws an invisible line to the Spiral Jetty on the north shores of Great Salt Lake, to the barren western region of Sun Tunnels, back to Salt Lake City. While each of these three artists brought similarities to their Utah works (specific environments as part of the work; visitor engagement through markers in the natural world; narrative established by place) there are obvious differences between Johanson’s work and those of Holt and Smithson, key being the busy urban environment Echo Canyon and Sego Lily inhabit and the unique narrative the works hinge upon.
As with most major projects—particularly one set in a populated intersection comprised of pedestrians, traffic, business, education, and a city park—Johanson’s project has spanned time and gone through many transitions. Yet, her commitment to the unique environment of place and to that place’s history, have remained.
Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Icons Ready for the Iconoclast
Jann Haworth at Modern West Fine Art
Any random person asked to name the most successful artwork of all time might be expected to answer the “Mona Lisa.” She’s instantly recognized by a huge population that sees her often on advertisements, illustrations, posters, postcards, and a vast array of accessories. More to the point, her image has become an icon that instantly says “ART” in virtually all contexts. Wouldn’t it be hard to find another serious painting that has achieved greater familiarity? But does such commercial success really equate with success? In fact, what if anything does “Mona Lisa” really say to her audience? No one knows what her maker, Leonardo da Vinci, meant her to say. In fact, we don’t even know for sure whose portrait she is, if she is a portrait. Also, her great fame is largely confined to one broad social class, which we might identify as the cultural and visual literati. For comparison, consider the truly worldwide success of American pop music, which is heard everywhere, in all economic strata, on cassette tapes, CDs, and even on old vinyl records. When John Lennon said the Beatles were ”more popular than Jesus,“ he included Leonardo and “Mona Lisa” in his boast. And he was right.
So as well-known as “Mona Lisa” is among celebrity-aware, irony-saturated Westerners, we might venture to guess that taking the entire world into account, more people would recognize, say, the cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and add to it that they would know a great deal more about it, variously including who is on it and why they’re there. Furthermore, at its first appearance, in 1966, Time magazine called the entire album, including its visual component, “a historic departure in the progress of music,” while the New Statesman said it elevated pop music to the level of fine art. These comments suggest it should be regarded at least as seriously as Leonardo’s girl. Jann Haworth, the creative director at The Leonardo showing some of her more recent works this month at Modern West Gallery, co-created that cover with her husband at the time, and like a musician who can’t get offstage without playing her big hit, it has been her fate ever since to be half the team that made what may be the most popular image of all time.
As a work of art, the cover of ”Sgt. Pepper’s” falls neatly into the movement that came to be called Pop Art, of which the leading artists and canonical works—say, Andy Warhol’s soup cans (1964) or Roy Lichtenstein’s comic strip parodies (1963)—were Sgt. Pepper’s contemporaries. How this came about is no mystery. Unknown to many Americans, Pop Art took form in London, where its first examples were shown as early as 1947. The movement, with its close links to Dada, and its characteristic inclusion of mass culture viewed with irony, couldn’t have originated here, but eventually American artists responded to this critique from their own perspective: consumer culture as seen by those who dwelled within it. In the process, they revived the popularity of painting in America, where it had been widely thought a dead art.
The official story of Pop Art can be found in art history texts, but evidence of direct cross-fertilization between British and American Pop is harder to find. Jann Haworth was, and remains, an important exception: an artist who continues to use the Pop perspective to examine private life and social institutions. Growing up with an Academy Award-winning set designer for a father and an artist mother who taught her to sew as a child, Haworth developed an unusually integrated artistic vision that she honed at UCLA before moving to London at the beginning of the ‘60s. Her pioneering invention, soft sculpture, involved sewing and stuffing instead of carving or casting. Even as Carnaby Street was providing the fashions that clothed the ‘60s, Haworth was winning awards for using needle and thread in place of chisel and brush.