Tom Judd . . . from page 1
Judd’s roots in Utah are deep. He did not grow up in a Mormon household, but his great-grandfather was LDS Church President Heber J. Grant (who served for nearly 30 years), something that has always “fascinated me and is very much part of my artwork and, indeed, my life,” says the artist.
Judd, 64, knew he was an artist at age 7 when his family moved him from the hillside of Mount Olympus to a suburb of Chicago for a year. “It was traumatic and I remember that my escape was obsessively drawing battleships. And I decided that my only option in surviving life was to be an artist.” He says he always took the artwork seriously.
Judd attended Olympus High where he started a folk group called the Louisville Burglars (he played the autoharp) and dated a girl for about six months who was a year behind him: the delightfully quirky local artist Susan Kirby who recently relocated to Mexico. They always have remained close friends.
His childhood buddies included Phillips Gallery artist Mark Knudsen. Both ended up at The Salt Lake Tribune when Judd was at the University of Utah in the early ‘70s, Knudsen in the art department. “I was just a copy boy,” Judd recalls. He is remembered to this day by longtime staffers for his role in starting a series of cartoons called “The East Side of Mexico,” where donkeys stood around contemplating life in a deviant manner, as donkeys are wont to do. The entire newsroom made contributions.
He left the U in 1973 to go to the Philadelphia College of Art. Upon graduation he knew two things: he didn’t want to teach and he “wanted to do his artwork and was going to make it work.”
He couldn’t find a gallery to take his stuff and, three years out of school, Judd made an incredibly audacious move: he called the curator of Contemporary Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Anne d’Harnoncourt, cold, with no introduction (he thinks the gatekeepers thought he said Don Judd instead of Tom Judd), and talked her into looking at his portfolio, such as it was. (Daughter of MoMA director Rene d’Harnoncourt, Anne would become – a female! -- director and CEO of the Philadelphia MOA for 25 years.) Six months later, after a studio visit by some high muckety-mucks, Judd was not only included in a show but, at 25, had a piece purchased for the permanent collection of that prestigious museum.
However, that didn’t resolve day-to-day needs. So, first, he tended bar. Then, because he had always painted houses, he started his own house-painting company and did that for 15 years. “It really worked great in that I could design it and set it up and I’d get the crew going and then go to the studio.” He also sold a lot of art to his house-painting clients. By 1994, Judd was making half his earnings off his art sales and decided that if he put all the energy he was putting into the house-painting company into his own painting he could make it as a full-time artist. So he did.
Now he has a huge studio where he works as a 9-to-5 artist. Well, actually he has breakfast, takes 9-year-old daughter Astrid to school, hits the studio by 8:20, makes a fire in the wood-burning stove in winter, and picks up his daughter at 2 or so, when his painting day comes to an end. Still, he says, that’s a pretty good day of painting.
He has shown frequently in Utah, though for the past 40 years he has been in Philadelphia. His wife, Kiki Gaffney, also an excellent artist, shows mostly in Philadelphia, but, like Judd, has had several exhibits at Park City’s Julie Nester Gallery. Astrid is an artist, too, though she hasn’t shown anywhere yet. Judd’s son Will, 27, studied international business at Drexel University, about as far from the tree as one can fall. (This happens in the best of families, of course.)
Judd lives by words of Chuck Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs,” adding that the quote continues: “the rest of us just need to show up and go to work.” Which, for some reason, immediately reminds him of the oil on canvas he terms “the star of the show” at Modern West: “’Mount Shasta’ – 6-foot square and the largest work there.”
He invariably works on a series, “never, ever” on just one piece. “It’s always an idea I go at by doing a lot of different things within an idea. I work on several different paintings, often in several different media, at once.”
The artist’s early work reflects an interest in the billboards and other imagery along American highways back when he went on family vacations as a child. “Man’s Head” (1985) has been included in two museum shows and is now in the permanent collection of the Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia. Another, from 1994, called “The Billboard Project” (subtitled “The Lost Vacation”), was in fact a 20’ X 60’ billboard installed on an interstate highway in Philadelphia.
By 1996, Judd was beginning to incorporate what he terms “recycled imagery” into his paintings: collaged found photos made their first appearance, mounted inside a series of found frames or, using pictures from his senior class yearbook, comprising the background of a piece called “Graduation.” He explains that “there is often the sense of things being painted over other things in a very haphazard way, again imitating the way billboards get painted over with little thought or intention . . . I wanted to capture that same essence of a chance association of images which brings about a sort of visual poetry.” “Attribute” is one example.
About this time, on a river-rafting trip on the Salmon River in Idaho, Judd found a hermit shack where a man named Sylvan “Buckskin Bill” Hart had lived for 40 years. His sleeping quarters had old wallpaper samples glued to the inside walls and the setup reminded Judd of exploring similar places as a kid in Utah and imagining who had lived there and what their lives were like. Along with some paintings, Hart’s shack inspired Judd to create his own “Hermit House” which was first exhibited in 2005 at the Stremmel Gallery in Reno and later displayed for six months at the Nevada Museum of Contemporary Art. It eventually was purchased for a corporate collection. Another installation piece, “Tijuana Weekend,” included a shack similar to those Judd had seen people living in in that largely poverty-stricken Mexican border town.
“The work from this period was a series of collages and fragmentations of surfaces and imagery,” says Judd. “It speaks about memory and metaphor. I combined landscape, still life, patterns and figures in an effort to imitate the eclectic nature of our memories.” He used wallpaper, old recipes, found photos, and ephemera in such works as “Peach Pudding.”
Influences (or “fellow travelers”) are Walker Evans and Joseph Cornell. “[“Village,” for example,] suggests the finding of an artifact from another time . . . [imparting] a contradictory sense of loss and discovery on the viewer.”
His next series, beginning in about 2009, drew upon the pink cinder block “modern house” his father had built in 1958 with large windows and a rock garden and carport influenced by the ideas of early modern architecture. Judd’s love of early modern architecture led to “portraits” of such buildings: “They are homage to a time of great ideas, from a distance. Beautiful things . . . left out in the rain.”
Finally, prior to the works he did for his most recent shows, Judd created paintings in a limited palette that he terms his “Manifest Destiny” series, “hymns for a mysterious American landscape that we have steadfastly conquered and depleted.” He explains that most of the “melancholy” images, like “The Central Flaw,” come from 19th-century photographs from artists like Carleton Watkins and Timothy O’Sullivan and that his paintings “conjure up a longing for the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains that I played in as a child. An imagined wilderness that was the West that was. Perhaps a fantasy, cooked up by a man living in Philadelphia, many miles and years away from his childhood. I have always considered myself a sort of expatriate, living far from my home.”
(Some readers may recall a 2011 Judd installation at the Dixie State College museum entitled “The World is Flat,” a 12’ high X 25’ wide piece constructed of cardboard boxes with a painting of a map of the world.)
Before signing him to her gallery, Diane Stewart flew to New York to see Judd’s show there, titled Myth of the Frontier. “More of the same,” he says. But she obviously was impressed. As was Judd with her: “I walked into her gallery and she was showing some artists from New York, and she has an apartment there. And to me Salt Lake has been a disconnected kind of place. And I think it’s important that she is connected with and interested in other art markets,” he says.
“She is looking at all kinds of stuff that expands on the physical gallery,” he continues. “The art fairs, Facebook, Instagram. That’s really where it’s going on right now. If you’re not into that stuff you’re really not in the game. She is always looking for what’s next and I felt like I was part of what’s next.”
Just recently, Judd gave a lecture on what they don’t teach you in art school:
“It’s about creating a world that supports what you’re up to. What most artists don’t do is create that world. The house painting worked because I was never tempted to be a house painter. You don’t want [what you do to support yourself] to be horrible but you don’t want it to be too good either, because you will never be an artist. . . .
“You’ve got to collect ‘nos’ and not take it personally. You get no until you get yes, and that yes changes everything. When you are in this game you have to be pushing it all the time in terms of taking risks.
“The other part is that it’s not that people don’t like your work it’s that they don’t even know who you are. That’s why Facebook and Instagram are so great: you can get your work in front of people. That’s a huge thing, it’s changing the way an artist can approach a career.
“You literally can reach people all over the world, instead of just taking a portfolio to a gallery.”
Or even to the curator of a major museum.
Exhibition Spotlight: Salt Lake City
Brad Teare's colorful woodblock prints at Alpine Art
Brad Teare has been making woodcuts for more than 20 years. It’s a process he began during his career as a freelance illustrator. But as his work has progressed it’s become more painterly, in a precise sort of way. You will see that painterly progression in the largest exhibition of his woodcuts to date this month at Alpine Art.
From the starkly beautiful black-and-white work that characterized his early woodcut illustrations, Teare began experimenting with color. First, he wanted to master the skill of getting a completely even color along with the black. With that accomplished, he began experimenting with layering of colors in a less precise, more painterly way. His recent landscapes may use eight to fourteen different blocks, one for each color. And sometimes, instead of even color, his goal is to make the paint more or less translucent or to achieve a textured effect.
Teare uses the “lost key” method of developing a multilayered woodcut. Starting with a sort of line drawing of the entire composition, he cuts a block that contains this “key.” He prints it in a dark color on vellum, which does not absorb the ink, and then uses the vellum to print the identical image on the eight or more blocks that will be used to build the rest of the colors. The dark key color, usually brown or purple, but not quite black, becomes the darkest dark in the final work. He carves each block to print a different color, being sure to leave identical areas on each block for the buff color of the paper to show through (the lightest light in the final print). As each block is printed, the ink covers some of the initial key, so that by the final print, much of the key is lost.
This method, very different from the additive method of Japanese woodcuts in which the darks are printed last, was pioneered by Gustav Baumann, an artist with whom Teare studied.
Precision is important to ensure accurate registration of each block printed over the previous one. However, Teare says, “I like a little mis-registration. I’m evolving from a more fastidious approach to a looser approach.”
You may think registration is the most difficult part of this process, but Teare says getting the color right is the biggest challenge. “The hardest part is actually getting the colors to work together,” he says. “Sometimes I’ve mixed color for eight hours to get one color to work. If you print one color wrong, it’s hard to correct.”
The combination of accuracy and painterly approach is particularly evident in the eight-block woodcut, “Summer Light.” A darker stream meanders through wetlands of varied shades of green and yellow grasses. Or in “Light on Elephant Rock,” a woodcut that saves the light of the paper for the light shining on the rock face and on the tips of the foliage in the foreground, and where the overlapping hues in the clouds create iridescent new colors.
Teare’s skill is also evident in the way he subtly gradates colors in some of his skies. In “Afternoon Walk,” for example, there is a subtle shift from a darker more purple sky at the top to a lighter, more blue color near the horizon. Teare explains that the technique is referred to as a “split font,” and is achieved by rolling the brayer in the two colors of ink until the ink is smooth and then inking the wood block in the correct direction for printing the color from darker to lighter.
Teare also has learned through much experimentation and practice how to add texture to the paint. In one woodcut, “Door Like the Sky,” featuring a wooden door on an old cabin, the pebbly appearance of weathered wood is achieved by adding magnesium carbonate or chalk to the paint. The result is similar to what a painter might get with a drybrush technique.
Teare says, “Part of the art of woodcut is knowing when you have to be precise and when you can let go. Woodcut is the art of perfect and imperfect color and application. If you try to get too much control you lose some of the energy. What makes it really energetic and interesting is the accidental quality. You could make it look too perfect and it would look more like a silkscreen.”
Each edition of woodcuts includes about 20-40 prints. That means that Teare must print about twice that amount to have enough of the best to sign and sell. The remaining artist proofs reflect trial and error color variations en route to achieving his artistic vision. For the show at Alpine Art, all prints will be framed for display but may be purchased unframed as well.
Teare’s work reflects his emotional connection to the landscape. Originally from Kansas, Teare moved to northern Idaho after high school, lived in a cabin near Moscow Mountain, worked outdoors building trails by day, and painted watercolors at night. Later, he enrolled at the University of Idaho. Although academia in the late ‘70s valued abstract expressionism over realism, Teare much preferred drawing and painting what he saw. He transferred to Utah State University and studied illustration. After graduation, Teare and his wife, painter Debra Teare, went to New York City where he soon landed illustration jobs from The New York Times and other publishing houses. Perhaps his best-known work from that period was his woodcut cover illustration for the best-selling book, “Women Who Run with the Wolves.”
In 1993, Teare and his wife returned to Providence, Utah. Much of his illustration work had focused on the figure, Teare said, and he felt a bit burned out. So he resumed his love affair with the landscape and began painting in oils as well as woodcuts.
Teare later began working with acrylics as abstract color experiments. A friend who visited his studio suggested he exhibit some of them. Last year, he had his first solo exhibition of acrylic paintings at Alpine Art. Just as he experiments with colors and additive materials to create effects in his woodcuts, he does the same with acrylics. His paintings are heavily textured using sand, chalk, vermiculite, or an acrylic medium. Unlike the subtler colors of his woodcuts, his acrylic paintings are vivid and pure. Though he does not use a final varnish, his paintings glow, whether from the paint itself or from the addition of a gloss medium. Some of Teare’s acrylic paintings will hang in Alpine’s back gallery during the woodcut show.
Like other artists who long to resolve the disparate directions their art forms have taken them, Teare has begun some acrylic paintings that maintain the textural and color abstraction of his acrylic abstracts while using the landscape subjects of his woodcuts. Will this meeting somewhere in the middle of his artistic vision and practice bring him satisfaction and peace? Will it be the compelling next series for a gallery exhibit? Stay tuned for the next evolution of Brad Teare.