Toni Youngblood . . . from page 1
Originally from Atlanta, Youngblood, 61, received her bachelor’s degree in painting from California’s San Jose State University, where she took advanced drawing and advanced figure painting classes from LeConte Stewart’s son, Maynard Dixon Stewart. “Back then, I had no idea who LeConte Stewart was . . . I found myself the other night quoting Dix Stewart to my students, ‘You start with the general and then you work towards the specific.’ I just read that Alvin Gittins said the same thing to his students! I don’t know if that came from Gittins to LeConte Stewart to Stewart’s son – I guess it was LeConte Stewart who hired Gittins so they must have had a lot of time to talk. But I thought, ‘Oh my god, here I am saying the same things I learned from his son.’”
She pursued her master’s in architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle. Her thesis was based upon creating a theoretical museum to house the art collection of Harry and Mary Margaret Anderson that she had once worked for in the Bay Area – considered one of the most outstanding private collections of 20th-century American art in the world. “I knew at some point in the future they were going to be doing this,” says Youngblood. “Either building a museum or donating the collection to a museum, and they had already donated some pieces to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The collector gave me the accession log of all the artwork so I could get measurements of everything, and I knew what everything was and created a design for the museum, but I needed an actual site.” She found one near Stanford University. “Here’s the really funny thing. In this last year, the Andersons actually donated the collection, a big portion of it, to Stanford University and there is a building built there now. I mean it was a dream project for me, and to have it so close to reality.”
She worked as an architect for Starbucks in Seattle for six years, later learning through her Facebook connection with Utah artist Fred Lyman that her favorite boss was, coincidentally, his daughter, Cydnie Horwat. Youngblood moved to Utah in 2006, to work for an architecture firm that had a large reduction in force after she had purchased her house. Nevertheless she was determined to do art – to somehow make that happen. Offered another architecture job, she asked to work a four-day week so she could pursue her artwork. When they said no, she turned them down and “never looked back. I just had to figure out how I could live.”
So she scrambled. She’s managed to juggle mundane jobs, like managing rental properties, with more passionate affairs, like art, and greyhounds.
“I wanted a dog at a point in my life where I owned my own house. But I didn’t want a puppy that would tear up my furniture,” Youngblood recalls. After learning a bit about the retired greyhound population and going to a meet and greet, “I said to myself, this sounds like a perfect dog for me.” Now, she has two: Harri is her shy little girl and Rocket, called Rocky, her boy.
Greyhounds typically do their maiden race at 18 months and are retired immediately if they don’t take to the sport. They only sprint for 30 seconds several times a week. Those who have a career are retired at 5 or 6 years of age. Usually they are put down by their owners, but organizations are forming to save them, since the dogs live to be 12 to 15. They sleep a lot, are mellow and quiet (“not good watchdogs,” says Youngblood). There are numerous “Adopt a Greyhound” projects in Utah that can be found online.
Youngblood had always wanted to learn encaustic, but after seeing a photograph of a friend with two blowtorches and a respirator decided she had better take a workshop before attempting it. In 2009, she went to Berkeley and did so.
Encaustic is painting using hot beeswax to which colored pigments are added. There are other recipes, but this is a basic one. Youngblood buys her colors from her former teacher in California, but sometimes uses oil colors and makes her own encaustic medium. The resulting liquid or paste is then applied to a support, usually plywood or Masonite, and a natural-bristle brush and metal scraping tools are used to move the wax around and shape it before it cools. An alternative heat source, such as a blowtorch or heat gun, is used to bond the layers of wax together — a simple description of a complicated and sometimes dangerous process.
She doesn’t bother with the “professional” tools of the trade, but uses a fondue pot and pancake griddle she found on Craig’s List, and tuna cans (which would “just be thrown away or recycled”) instead of specialty tins for her colors and medium. “I could pay $200 for an encaustic griddle, but why?”
Youngblood decided to name all the finished works on her table after ancient Greco-Roman sites. “But I went to visit that area when it was Turkey,” she explains. “And that work is named after some beautiful hot springs, and they have salt in them and they cascade down the hillside and now it’s called Pamukkale, which means ‘Cotton Castle.’ So I named that one after that place.” The artist is an erudite world traveler who knows the native names of the places she visits.
In addition to encaustic Youngblood paints with acrylic and does watercolor and drawings. “I decided to let go of oils when I started doing encaustic because I love encaustic so much and I didn’t really need to be doing all of those things. I felt that I could do the same thing with acrylic that I could do with oil. You just have to get used to the medium,” she says.
She has an encaustic studio in addition to a painting studio at her charming home just south of Liberty Park. Her indoor studio is magical, with a vintage crystal chandelier hung with a stained-glass star, small artworks, charms and memorabilia. A model airplane hangs from the ceiling, a statue of the Virgin Mary (that she got for half-price) on the mantel. There’s a desk with a computer and two saxophones – one she’s playing; one she’s painting. After seeing the Dave Matthews’ band one night when she was in her 40s and being smitten with the baritone sax player, she decided she had to learn to play the instrument. A few years ago for Christmas her aunt gave her some money and she wanted to spend it in a meaningful way and at first thought she would buy symphony tickets. But she realized they would be gone the next year. Then she thought she might study another language. She wanted to do something with her mind. Youngblood went to Jazz Vespers at the Unitarian Church and told the sax player of her dream to play the sax and her fear that it was way too late for her to learn. He said he could teach her and offered to exchange lessons for artwork so she bought a used sax and, at age 57, began playing. She has a keyboard in her studio and is painting a series of musical instruments.
Youngblood thinks art-making is healthy: “I can tell when I haven’t been doing it enough. I feel that way not just about myself but about other people. I think it really is a good therapy. Whether that is because we have gotten away from using our hands in creating anything or whether it’s creating art, but I have seen in people how they can get into a zone, which I think is a wonderful zone and you can get into that zone without drugs or alcohol when you’re doing your artwork – so I guess it’s better than medicine.”
Exhibition Preview: Salt Lake City
Strata of Wax
Jeff Juhlin at A Gallery
Getting to Jeff Juhlin’s studio on Salt Lake City’s west side is an adventure, something of which the artist – nationally known for his encaustic and mixed-media work—is well aware. “You were only five minutes late,” he says with a smile. “The guy who came to see me earlier was over an hour late finding this place.” He points out that he is located in a spot in the city most people never have been to before. “I like being obscure.”
It’s a terrific space: tidy, lots of windows, trains, plenty of room to work and hang out, back area for storage of the Baltic birch panels and poplar he uses to make panels for his encaustic pieces, and a printmaking press (another medium of Juhlin’s), as well as places in front to hang some of his work, both for him to look at critically as he paints and for display.
Encaustic is painting with hot, pigmented beeswax, with layers manipulated and fused to one another by a heat source. They can be continually re-worked, carved, sculpted; and mixed-media artists like Juhlin will embed paper, fabric, beads and other materials into the wax. The optical effects and layering in encaustics, he says, are unlike any other art form and the process dates back to the ancient Egyptians.
He sells at several galleries across the country, and his Salt Lake City dealer, A Gallery, will have an opening reception for Strata, one of Juhlin’s rare Utah exhibitions, May 15 from 6-9 p.m. during Gallery Stroll.
The first artist to work in and show encaustic work in the state more than a decade ago, Juhlin, 67, worked long and hard to build a national reputation as a painter and mixed-media artist. Encaustic is now his primary medium and probably constitutes 90 percent of his studio practice. He also teaches encaustic at the Kimball Art Center in Park City (where he once gave Toni Youngblood — see page 1 — some pointers), at his Salt Lake City studio (he has another in Torrey), and has been an artist in residence for six years at the Hui Art Center in Maui. Juhlin’s work has been featured in several books and can be found in private, corporate and public collections. He holds a bachelor’s in drawing and painting from the San Francisco Art Institute.
He explains that his paintings were color saturated for a while (and a single older piece in the show evidences this) but became neutral after he spent a lot of time in the desert. Color is re-emerging, but so is black and white, because of his love for Eastern influences, and using sumi ink and Asian papers in his encaustic work. Indeed, all of the other pieces in the Strata series have sumi ink lines in them.
According to Juhlin the show is called Strata as a way to physically describe the work and imagery in general, the many layers of paint, paper and ink applied on top of one another “in often, but not always, a horizontal, layered configuration.”
Metaphorically, the abstract artist explains, “It’s a visual expression of life and its many complex layers of physical and emotional experience. I just don’t attach a recognizable image to it or tell a story.”
The exhibit is fairly small, 14 pieces (though several monotypes and six gray studies are elsewhere in the gallery), hung in the center room and nicely illuminated by both well-placed track and natural light falling from the high skylight/clerestory ceiling. A feature of encaustics is that they catch and reflect light enticingly – these pieces shimmer.
In “Stratum 4,” vertical elements of sumi ink seem to form bare winter-like trees that peek out from behind bars of textured colors: neutral earth tones at the bottom of the panel give way to a bright band of green and two of ochre with fine knife marks making lei lines on the surface.
“Stratum” (you see the theme here) is featured on the postcard for the show and the reason is evident. The numerous segments to this work are clearly inspired by colors of the southwest desert. From the side, its many layers of beeswax can be observed, while interesting textures and knife marks on the surface lend a satisfying aura of mystery. Lovely blues bleed through the surface in several places. This is clearly the work of a master of the genre.
“Gray Strata” has what appear to be (and almost certainly are not) small leaves embedded through portions of the work to engaging effect. Palette knife marks in the left and right segments of the lower portion offset the slightly lighter, dappled center sections. A thin, marbled, much-layered line tops this with an exquisitely reflective and slightly thicker black horizontal line above. The sumi ink lines are covered here by a wide horizontal gray filled with the amoeba-like flowers topped with textured vanilla and ochre.
“Pass Through” is an elegant work with thick encaustic, much mark-making and an aura that almost puts one in mind of a visit to Antelope Island: water spread out below, islands in the distance, vanilla skies above. You, of course, will have a different take on this lovely abstract.
As the artist intends that you should.