Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Foreign and Familiar
Richard Lance Russell and Rebecca Reese Jacoby at Finch Lane
How one perceives the world, and how one is perceived by those in the world, constitutes much of one’s sense of being-in-the-world. One’s sense of reality can often be dependant on one’s inner states of being, determined by the physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual self. At the same time, so much of who one is as being-in-the-world, is defined by who one isn’t, and by one’s relationship to the concept of the “other.” This reconciliation of the interior self with the external world is a central concern in our contemporary, individualized age, and one taken up by two divergent but complementary shows now at Finch Lane Gallery.
The first, in the west gallery, is 100 Beautiful People, Richard Lance Russell’s series of 100 small portraits of people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, of different ages and genders, arranged in uniform, square frames. A title like “Poet” might give away something about the sitter with the shorn head and the intense gaze, but most of these portraits are context-less, open to the interpretive fancy of the viewer. “Mark” seems like a guy you could borrow a snow shovel from, or ask for help jumping your car. “Papa Jeff” might be a plein air artist, or a botanist; and “Kathy Jane” might be a costume designer, or a mother of eight. In his statement, Russell encourages the viewer to take a moment to engage with each portrait, and to “look for compassionate eyes, a mischievous tilt of the head, or a bold smile.” But the experience and assertion of the painter and the engagement by the viewer, in regards to these many works, might be dramatically different. Russell likely knows each of these subjects individually and responds to each on a personal level, while the average viewer may find him or herself surrounded by 100 nameless, unidentifiable faces, looking into the faces, with curiosity and wonderment, and looking past compassionate eyes, mischievous tilts of the head, or bold smiles. The viewer does not merely see, the viewer looks.
Surrounded by these portraits, the viewer may have an experience closer to the existential than the quotidian. Beyond simply “people-watching,” the viewer might experience a sense of commonality, of being at one with humanity. With this sense of commonality, there might be a feeling of comfort in the unification of people of every sort, varying in age, or in experience or culture. Such a feeling of being ensconced in “the walk of life,” or basking in the beauty of humanity united in a common purpose, may be a very reassuring thing — the security found in company and likeness.
However, the crowd, as Baudelaire so lucidly expressed in his 19th-century writings on Paris, can also be something disconcerting, disenfranchising, unsettling. When the crowd one finds oneself in is not particularly beautiful, familiar or lacks a perceived commonality, any comfort or feeling of unification disappears. The surrounding crowd increases one’s sense of difference, of alienation, of being “other.” Russell’s viewers might see beautiful or ordinary people, but might not feel beautiful nor ordinary themselves, not “like everybody else.” As a viewer is unable to reconcile the simple physicality of the many, the beautiful, the ordinary, with the uncertainty they themselves feel, a feeling of anxiety may ensue. So, while to some Russell’s 100 faces may be comforting, engaging, to others they may be equally alienating.
While Russell’s show confronts the viewer with a sense self-defined by the multitudinous and outside other, Rebecca Reese Jacoby’s exhibit, in the east gallery, takes on an interior exploration of the self, though still in relation to the other. “The exhibit is about the strength and powers which spring and bolt from our own inner spirit creating spontaneous gestures of the rituals of dance and generations of human connections,” says Jacoby in her artist statement. The energetic abstractions in Fire Dances Ancestral are a metaphysical contrast to Russell’s careful portraiture, with its specific sense of being and space. The paintings are inspired by the fire dances of the American Plains Indians, who relied on ritual dances they believed would bring the fire back after the solstice and ensure posterity for future generations. They incorporate abstract representations of Jacoby’s own ancestors and explore qualities of the primordial inner-self in its multiplicity of core nuances.
The “Fire Dance” series, primarily “Fire Dance 3 Beginning,” “Fire Dance 1 Confront,” and, “Fire Dance 2 Primordial,” captures “the strength and powers which spring and bolt from our own inner spirit.” The first, “Fire Dance 3,” evokes a mythical time of beginnings — of, in Jacoby’s words “primordial beasts, the motions of mythical human plight, and the conveyance of strong descendants” — with a web of fragile line and color conveying an act or a time of conception, realization, empowerment. The “confrontation” of the next piece, with its two primary figures in a dance of domination that is nevertheless fused with powerful beauty, is also an essence of human existence as there must be an ebb and flow in all things, in all experience. The “primordial” in the third, is a balance of matter, of bright color, of heavy darks and light lights, a reservoir of the nascence of human ethos.
Jacoby reaches a more literal expression of herself in “Rebecca Reese Jacoby.” On a large canvas, equal in scale to the others in the room, Jacoby has painted an abstract figure in dark red. This figure is bowed over and one assumes that this is the artist, something more of a representation. But after a coming to terms with her work, one gets the sense that the canvas does not limit the representation of herself to the red shape, but that all aspects of the canvas, in totality, are a representation of the artist’s being — a less tangible, more expressive evocation of the artist’s metaphysical self, conjoined with the primordial essences of dance, and abstractions of those who have come before.
Jacoby’s dance is a free-form exploration of the self, achieving a connectivity that comes from being untethered from the now and the space of place. It is a metaphysical construction, derived from the abstract qualities of human origins, the ebb and flow of life, and fundamental cores of humanness. Compare this with Russell’s very concrete rendering of humanity in the 100 faces, a multitudinous other with which a viewer might feel communion or disenfranchisement. Together, these exhibits form a holistic answer to the query of one’s contemporary present, of one’s “being-in-the-world,” the formation of the self and its relationship with the ever-present “other.”
Gallery Spotlight: Price
The Old and the New
Gallery East inaugurates its new space with rust and decay
It feels somehow fitting that Price's Gallery East should inaugurate its pristine new space on the campus of Utah State University Eastern (formerly the College of Eastern Utah) with an exhibition of works concentrating on the worn and the rusted. Opening this week in the newly built—and blandly dubbed—Central Instruction Building, Jason Huntzinger's Within the Teeth of Geologic Time focuses its lens on the decaying remnants of the Old West's humanmade landscapes as a partner to and reflection of the rugged geologic landscapes they inhabit.
Gallery East has been around for almost 40 years, and the push for a new home has been going on for a decade. Noel Carmack, assistant professor of art at the school and director of the gallery, says budget cuts during the economic downturn caused delays in the effort (as well as big changes in his own department, which was whittled down to one position, his); and since the state Legislature was not keen on erecting another fine arts building, the space had to be pitched as a generic instruction facility—which is why next to the Theatre, Music and Visual Art departments, you'll also find Criminal Justice (the crime scene lab is across from Carmack's painting and drawing class).
The building was finished just days before fall classes began. Gallery East, fronted with large panels of glass and encased in cedar panels, is the first thing you'll see entering the building. The exhibition space rises up two stories to a glass ceiling, creating a dramatic architectural space; but the folks at Salt Lake City's Method Studio must have been afflicted with a touch of hubris in designing the gallery: as compelling as the space itself may be, on a sunny day the light and shadow caused by the paned ceiling can make viewing art problematic.
Overcoming these difficulties to spend some time with Huntzinger's photographs pays dividends, the same way traveling down a bumpy dirt road to see an out-of-the-way canyon will. Huntzinger, a Minnesota native, recently moved to nearby Helper via a six-month stint in Montana. The community of artists in Helper is certainly a perk, but was not the reason he settled here. Long before the artist colony sprung up, Huntzinger was running around his relative's Blue Hill Dairy in nearby Spring Glen. So he knew Carbon County well—its rugged landscape and struggling mining towns—and it was precisely that combination that attracted his artistic interest.
Huntzinger lifted his show's title, Within the Teeth of Geologic Time, from Wallace Stegner, who called the rugged landscape Huntzinger has made his home the "plateau province" and remarked on how the inhospitable landscape demonstrates the range of geologic time better than any other place. But rather than look to the effects of wind, rain and geologic disturbance on layers of rock and sediment, Huntzinger turns his attention to the area's humanmade structures and objects, the rotting ghost towns and decaying machinery that have become part of the landscape and are equally susceptible to the transforming effects of time.
In a series of photographs on the gallery's west wall, Huntzinger has layered one image on top of the other like the layers of rust and decay that are frequently his subjects. He is drawn to the old trucks that lie abandoned in empty lots and backyards and speaks of them in spiritual terms—that these objects are imbued with a spirit that as their external form decays is able to break out and express itself.
A series of black-and-white works on the north wall, printed small so the viewer must step forward and peer into them, recalls Huntzinger's time in Montana, where similar subjects drew his attention. In one, a Victorian structure in wood from the ghost town of Elkhorn, Mont., rises up to the sky like a temple devoted to fragility; and in another the jumble of surfaces in a old storefront has become all but unreadable, except for the strange eye of a dime-store hobby horse.
Since arriving in Utah, Huntzinger has been busy exploring the ghost towns, dead and alive, of Carbon County (he refers to Helper as a "living ghost town"). He notes that of the 29 mines once operating in the area, and which drew the first settlers, only one or two commercial ones remain. Railroad towns like Thompson and Colton have suffered a similar fate, so that an abandoned hotel or restaurant serves as a tombstone for towns once home to a thousand residents or more.
"I'm really interested in the lifespan of these towns, that were only meant to last a decade or two," he says. They become frozen moments, shrines to a certain period that is then left subject to wind, rain and nostalgia.
Huntzinger's show is indicative of the type of exhibits Carmack plans on holding at Gallery East. He generally curates seven shows a year, three during the fall term and four during the winter, drawing on regional artists whose work has a connection to the local area: Craig Law's photographic exhibit of rock panels was a hit with the local public, for example, and the gallery's October show will be oil paintings of industrial machinery by Nolan Salix.