Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
The Remains of Lost Time
Laura Hope Mason's Extinct at Art Access
The sister fields of archaeology and paleontology share the near-impossible aim of putting eons of earth’s time into human perspective. The movement and scale of time are notoriously difficult for people to understand, but facing the physical remnants of plants, animals, and early humans brings millions of years into a more relatable focus. Laura Hope Mason’s mixed-media paintings in her solo show Extinct respond to forms and textures in fossils, stone, and artifacts found at the Natural History Museum of Utah. The title of the show and its description focus on impermanence and destruction, but the works within it also convey the perpetuity of natural processes. The show lets the audience wonder whether these paintings show dinosaur, human, or even modern animal remains. Each viewer can develop their own theories about whether these are the bones of a shrew or an Allosaurus, the veins of a leaf or canyons viewed from above. This ambiguity removes any morbidity and leaves an open field for viewers’ imaginations. Mason’s work shows the fragmentary way we perceive and understand the large scale of time and our fleeting existence within it, as well as the material harmony of all things that eventually reunite in the earth.
The compositions in Extinct play with scale and focus in ways that coax viewers into closer inspection and are reminiscent of gridded field sites. Each of the paintings has an indeterminate scale: “Remains” or “Layers” could be images in a microscope or views from a satellite, abstract shapes and lines belonging to nature at a macro or micro level. The cropping of the images also adds to this ambiguous scale. The show has series of smaller pieces arranged in larger grids: they relate to each other in a fractal way and reflect how archaeologists and paleontologists map the spaces they study.
Although organic shapes are consistent across many pieces in the show, they suggest a variety of objects. Several pencil lines or painted shadows suggest pelvic bones or vertebrae more directly than a Rorschach test. The black outlines in “Remains” are highlighted by piercing blue and yellow-green marks, emphasizing a ribcage-like subject. The compositions’ often-muted color palette and varied, textured surface give no clues as to whether these remains have been freshly-exhumed or untouched in the Earth for millions of years. Just as the compositional and subject scale is indeterminate, so is the temporal. This ambiguity of what and when we’re looking makes the bones less a reminder of death than one of the exciting, changing history of life on the planet.
To be human is to relate to the environment and history in an anthropological way. The title Extinct leaves ambiguous where human activity is in relation to the subjects of the works. Do these images show the aftermath of natural disasters in the past or do they say something about current destruction in the modern world? The titles “Quarry” and “Mining” suggest human intervention in the abstract landscapes. “Mining” is the painting most suggestive of a fleeting moment in time: bright cadmium marks look like flares or magma that threaten to burn out at any second. “Quarry” looks like an aerial map of a deep depression with its thick, dark paint. These two works suggest human activity and appear to depict the brief rather than the timeless and slow workings of the natural world. When thinking about the millions of years on the geological time scale, the human impact is relatively insignificant and fleeting, but the aftermath of humanmade industries can mimic natural disasters nevertheless.
Although the title of the show speaks of the finality of death, the paintings’ balanced use of color, form, and unique textures speak to the constancy of nature, and are well-crafted and harmonious. Mason’s take on fossilized fragments and processes in the landscape remind us that living is transient but that the imprints of past life calcify into material unity, which help us think about the long history of the world.
Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Matter of Scale
Dave Malone Goes Big at Phillips Gallery
When Dave Malone exhibited at Salt Lake’s Phillips Gallery two years ago, his two-dimensional works were small to midsize, abstract pieces that measured anywhere from a foot square to a standard 26” x 40” sheet of watercolor paper. At his current show, most of the works are twice that size. One barely fit into the gallery.
Awe tends to be a matter of scale, and in our anthropocentric world, man becomes the measure of most things: take the emperor penguin, which though the largest of its species, is still only the size of a grade-schooler, and in our culture remains a cute if intriguing animal; but imagine its ancestors from 37 million years ago— which stood over 6 feet tall—and mating season in Antarctica takes on an entirely new perspective. Something similar happens with Malone’s new works.
The gallery’s south wall features a number of the artist’s mid-size works, 22” x 30” each, hung in a grid. They are similar to the works shown in 2014, watercolors that exploit the medium’s unique properties to form strange combinations of fluid and dry effects, teeming with the sort of granular textures the medium is known for. Smaller works in the same vein are sprinkled throughout the gallery. It’s not that these works are cute, though some are, but executed at the scale where one steps forward to peer at the details of images that resemble odd worlds beneath a microscope, they are intriguing.
Step back, though, to take in the large canvases, which measure anywhere from 40” x 60” to 72” x 120,” and the effect is altogether different. In the art-world kingdom these works are by no means huge (we’re not talking woolly mammoths or giant sloths here), but most exceed the length and breadth of the average patron, a size at which art begins to whelm a viewer. It is an effect intensified by what is going on within the canvases.
The bumping and interlacing forms, dramatic strokes of color and Cubist-inspired designs all resemble what the artist might do with brushes or collage, experimenting on a worktable with a standard sheet of paper. But here these actions are writ large, requiring more shoulder work than wrist work. It’s a scale at which watercolor becomes difficult, and in trading these in for acrylics and enamels, Malone has lost some of the textured, earthy quality of his smaller works; but he compensates for these effects with these big and bold brushstrokes— some of which are wiped thin to create a textured quality of their own— that seem to diminish the viewer and evoke a sense of awe. We have been reduced to the size of a toddler, standing before a world that is perpetually larger than life.
||Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
On the Border
Paintings from the Myanmar/Thailand Border Focus Attention on Refugee Populations
Since 1962, the minority ethnic peoples of Burma (Myanmar) have been subjects of an ethnic cleansing. Many escape into Thailand and live in camps along the border; some have been given refugee status and live here in Salt Lake City.
When local artist Hadley Rampton traveled to the Thai/Burmese border last year to introduce visual art as therapy to Ban Mai Nai Soi camp inhabitants, she learned of two men who were employing their art to bring greater awareness to the crisis in Burma and the thousands who are impacted.
They managed to meet and the men agreed to come here and put on a show at Art Access in hopes of bringing attention to the Burmese refugees in Utah.
Rosey Hunter, then director of University Neighborhood Partners, sponsors of the annual trip to the camp, helped introduce the three artists and now, as an associate professor in the College of Social Work at the U, helped facilitate my interview with Nyan Soe (artist Maung Maung Tinn could not obtain a visa to travel here).
The work of all three artists is remarkable, some of it touching. Nyan Soe works in acrylic; Rampton in watercolor and ink; Maung Maung Tinn in monochromatic watercolor.
Nayan Soe, the son of an artist, arrived in Salt Lake City on Tuesday night and says, through an interpreter, that the new place and new people have made him “totally a new person.” He’s a charming fellow who, not surprisingly, works as a broadcast journalist. He studied art in high school (graduating in 1995) and now attends the National University of Art and Culture in Yangon, Burma’s capital.
(Like math, geography is not my strong suit, but I was ashamed I didn’t know the capital of his native country. Nor was I aware, except vaguely, of the atrocities going on in Burma. Is there not enough international news in this valley, or am I not reading/seeing enough of it?)
Watercolorist Maung Maung Tinn is a refugee from Burma who has lived in Mae Sot, Thailand, border town to the camp Rampton visited, since 1994, as a health worker and artist. When he was a child, he used a stick and the clean surface of the ground as art materials. He writes that his fellow Burmese refugees are living on the town’s garbage dump; some live in brothels; some are in prison; some live in the forest. Their lives motivated him to start painting again. With the help of many friends, his watercolors have been exhibited internationally and sold to help poor families and laborers. A book of his work and writings is available at the gallery.
This very moving exhibition, in the main gallery at Art Access in Salt Lake City, is well worth seeing. It runs from March 18-April 8. During the opening reception on Friday from 6-9 p.m. you will be able to meet Nayan Soe, who has traveled from Burma to be here, as well as Hadley Rampton, two artists with something to say. www.accessart.org
Exhibition Spotlight: Paris
Postcard from the Grand Palais
Jann Haworth Eyes Paris
Where to start to describe a context that is so vast as to include revolutions in art, political structures, fashion, philosophy, architecture, science? Perhaps with the smallest of observations, the eyes of the people you pass in the street, or see across a restaurant, or that greet you upon meeting: the French look at you with startling vivacity. The gaze is so intent. The eyes that fix on you as you approach are not on your clothes or disapproving, or in the least suspicious. They are in direct contact with your brain and you are snapped into being.
The question is then, is this eye contact different from other places or has one just been a somnambulist?
So, Salt Lake was on the other end of the direct flight to Paris and the headlong 9.5 hour flight into the eye of the terrorists’ most recent atrocities. Why would one leave the safety of the gun-slinging, “right to carry” West for the live perils of brutalized Paris just now? The straight answer is ART. You go because you are a visual artist and Paris has always had a place for people like you. You don’t know why after a lifetime of skinning your spirit on the rough edges of the art world — this culture seems to like you. And though the sky is grey here you have come to stand for a week or two in the warmth and puzzle of that acceptance.
You leave the mellow American West that is defined by space: Space on pavements, in houses, stores, universities and restaurants. We live under high altitude blue skies. We greet our friends and acquaintances with the ease that we will see them again soon—not with the fleeting thought that life is so exquisitely short and so painfully beautiful. Our life in SL is framed by mountains that can kill us—but we revere them, they settle our arrogance into an easy peace. We hold time with slackened reins, time is less urgent.
The Arts have always been the vehicle of celebration, defiance, the vanguard of “the new,” the keeper of conscience. Art takes us to the edge of our cultural level of maturation, then falls behind until a new device is discovered and new mind invents a new path. The “eye” of Paris has so often been the scrying glass of the new magic, the home of the provocateur and the spell that is about to be cast over the vision of a new generation.
Perhaps, this is why we cried so bitterly when the slaughter of Nov. 13 ripped across our screens in Salt Lake, New York, Los Angeles…we saw people trying to destroy our magic window into tomorrow. Trying to blind us to what is best in us: our incredible vision.
Here and now, after four days of gazing at, then eating works of art; having conversations coded and uncoded in French about what you really are saying when your nude wears only white evening gloves; and having seen that curious quest in the eyes of the Parisian, I am struck that the eye is at the core of spirit of the place. We use words like Liberty, Independence, Conscience or Courage that dance along the hem of what Paris means to us and we see that in this moment, in the defiance of the fear that we should and do feel, the core spirit can’t be reduced.
Perhaps we might pull the camera back from close up to a wider shot, as if riding the great wheel on Place de la Concorde rising up and up into the panoramic view of the whole city to say, Paris is a visual symphony for the creative…her gaze, even now is undiminished.
- March 2016
Salt Lake City-based artist Jann Haworth calls her latest show, in three words: double-edged, exploring and sarky. That last is British slang for sarcastic, an indication of the artist’s trans-atlantic peregrinations. Haworth was born in Hollywood, California, and attended UCLA before leaving for Europe to complete her education at The Slade School of Fine Art in London. She lived in the U.K. for 30 years and holds both U.S. and U.K. citizenship. She returned to Europe this week to install her latest exhibition at Art Paris in the Grand Palais. Art Paris runs from March 31 until April 3. Within the world-renowned art fair there are only five solo shows. This postcard arrived from her March 27.