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January 2016
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
Page 4    

Larry Revoir . . . from page 1

In 2012, when he’d crafted “Touch,” Revoir had been a student of UVU’s influential ceramics professor Brian Jensen. Two years later, when he appeared in Art of Our Century, he had found a purpose for this technique’s uncanny verisimilitude. Shortly after Art of Our Century closed, the Woodbury hosted the punningly titled Inciteful Clay, a touring exhibition showcasing ceramic art’s capacity to grapple with controversial topics. In Utah, however, Inciteful Clay opened minus works that had shown elsewhere on its tour, but which addressed topics too “hot” for public discussion. Encouraged to replace those works with more palatable local artists, staff chose Revoir’s “Monster,” a sequel to “Touch,” which slipped under the censor’s radar when its searing excoriation of an assault on nature failed to trigger alarms calibrated to challenge sexual, rather than environmental content. “Monster” was like an aesthetic IED, able to charm viewers into lowering their guards, only to detonate later.

What Revoir had found was a material metaphor for the damage done to living things by environmental degradation. Early, fragmentary visions of environmental threats focused on pollution as a problem conservation might cure, but it took an artist’s vision to comprehend how rapidly the natural world was actually disappearing, its absence concealed by replacement with industrial and cultural developments. Indeed, popular arts had made themselves an ironic part of the problem, by replacing the natural order with its image in paintings, photos, videos, sculpture, theme parks, and other ubiquitous substitutes. The tiny corpse Revoir labeled ”monster” provided a dose of truth that penetrated the illusion that somewhere else, all was well. Instead, he shows that elsewhere innocent offspring are swallowing colorful bits of industrial waste that have fooled their doting parents, which their bodies have no way to digest or dispose of, but which are revealed to be more durable than their victims after they starve to death and their decomposing bodies break open. Revoir has no interest in pointing fingers or assessing blame. Rather, what he rightly calls monstrous is the inversion of natural order whereby living creatures, following the instincts that kept them safe and thriving in their environmental niches, are fatally betrayed by their inability to evolve fast enough to meet the accelerating changes brought on by such developments as plastic materials, hydrocarbon emissions, and population pressures.

“Monster” mixed metaphors, using a children’s TV character to tell a story about albatrosses. Driven by the urgency of the perceived emergency, Revoir moved closer to reality in July 16th, 1945: Enter the Anthropocene, which he exhibited in the Salt Lake City Library during October and November of last year. The title refers first to the date of Trinity, the first test explosion of a nuclear weapon, which preceded the bombings later that year of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and second to the “Anthropocene Era,” a new geologic period proposed in 2000 by scientists Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer. They argue that so many geologic circumstances have been profoundly altered by human activity that the Holocene Era, which followed the Pleistocene, or Ice Age, and saw the worldwide spread of humanity, has now ended and a new period of human dominance has begun. Revoir’s title posits the dawn of the nuclear age as the new era’s watershed year. Anthropocene continued what began with “Touch” and “Monster,” connecting them to the work he will show at Finch Lane in January.

Currently, Revoir is hard at work in a complex of American Fork shop spaces that includes his own studio and that of Damon James, an Abstract Expressionist painter, which the two artists also share with sculptor Jordan Snow. There, surrounded by relics of the dismantled Geneva Steel works, they cooperate synergistically to minimize redundancy in their tools and equipment. Here, Larry Revoir opens the lid of one of several kilns, revealing clay figures that recall the fulminant shock witnessed by those who first entered the boat houses of Herculaneum and the horizon-to-horizon devastation surrounding Mount St. Helens. Revoir’s animal bodies are hollowed out, sightless, their colors chemically altered or burnt black. They sometimes bring to mind an old photographer’s lament: that the lush colors of Kodachrome made even pollution beautiful, frustrating an artist’s desire to capture and convey the true horror of the original. Indeed, these small ruins are often as beautiful as they are unbearable, their overall lifelike bearing and close-up grotesquery harking back to the Romantic notion of the sublime: to that which surpasses beauty to awaken feelings of terror and draw a witness toward the unknown.

Brian Jensen inspired Revoir to mistrust the legacy of artists who worked closely together, be they Pre-Raphaelites or Surrealists, until they produced interchangeable works. The goal they share can be summed up by their supreme complement: it looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Inspired as well by his mentor, poet Alex Caldiero, whose writings inspire many artists but defy direct visual copying, Revoir keeps his work distinct from that of his artist peers. Those works include videos and performances, though it’s early yet to speak definitively about them. He also dismisses the label applied, often carelessly, to any artist from the last half-century. “It’s not contemporary,” he says, and adds, “It’s not post-anything, either. I prefer to think of it as 21st-century pluralism.”

Subject matter alone cannot guarantee that the art it inspires will be good. That said, Larry Revoir has come further in four years than many artists achieve in a lifetime, and now captures a truth more vital than many artists ever achieve. He comes as close as an artist can to making it impossible to ignore how the living things now disappearing from our experience are not merely retreating beyond our sight, to parks and wilderness, but are dying out. If the bodies piling up begin to seem redundant, we need to remember that each creature wants to be seen for itself, even as the victims of catastrophe would want to be individually recognized and remembered. Each unique demolition is like a name attentively carved on a black marble wall. No symbolic gesture, no conscience-assuaging donation, will save the natural world of which we, ultimately, remain a part. If death is the thing that gives life its poignant significance, then the death of a species gives dimension to all life. It’s not hard to argue that Larry Revoir has taken on the most important topic facing not only artists, but everyone today, when species are disappearing more quickly than at any time in millions of years. There is evidence enough to prove that the sixth Great Extinction is real, transcending science and trumping dogma. The evidence in the gallery, meanwhile, suggests that Larry Revoir will continue to seek new ways of giving visual form to the evolving holocaust, and continue to plangently convey truths we ignore at peril not only to our human dimensions, but to our very existence.

Public Art: West Valley City
Language of Hope
New Mural at West Valley’s Esperanza Elementary

A massive and meaningful mural created and painted by University of Utah Professor V. Kim Martinez and 11 of her art students was unveiled Dec. 11 at Esperanza Elementary in West Valley City.

The 1,500-square-foot work, titled “Lenguaje de Esperanza” or “Language of Hope,” incorporates figures from diverse cultures (Esperanza has a nearly 98 percent Latino student body); sugar skulls (the kids enjoy Day of the Dead activities); mariachi bands (every child learns to play an instrument for the school’s band); chess; soccer figures; mountains; sunflowers; folklorico dancers – a “tapestry of cultural narratives,” states a U news release, reflecting the “curricula, identities and loves of the students.”

Martinez says her own class first helped with getting grants for the project, then focused on what was important to the kids. “I mean, they didn’t paint with us, but a couple of the teachers did. And the teachers and children gave us their opinion. Parts of the mural opened up a lot of dialogue with the youth,” she remembers. ”The mural reflected the student part of the community.”

It all began about two years ago when a board member contacted Martinez to meet with Eulogio Alejandre, principal of the Title I Language immersion Charter School, to help integrate art into the building, located at 4596 W. 3500 South. “I never wanted to be in a school that tolerated culture,” Alejandre says. “I wanted to be in a school that celebrated culture. With this mural, we are letting kids know that their culture is valuable.”

The project is part of a class offered every year by Martinez that focuses on the public politics of art. Last year her students did an enormous outdoor mural at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Salt Lake City. “There is an impact on the community we are working in and also on the U class we are working with,” she says. “We are creating a dialogue between the U and the community, along with encouraging artists to become invested in public funding projects and the myriad processes those projects entail. But most importantly, the class allows students to experience first-hand how art impacts and benefits the lives of people who, at times, feel excluded from the artistic community.”

The Esperanza mural is really a glaze painting, says Martinez. “That wall was painted five different times. It started with a grid, then a chalk drawing, then a blue line, then the final color in acrylics, then the mid-tones, then the highlights. We use a polyangular perspective — multiple points on the horizon line that touches a person’s heart. When a mural is so big, if you only had two points nothing would ever be in focus. We are making the viewer constantly move.”

Martinez emphasizes that she is making art to create social justice. “Muralism,” says Martinez “can be something that is timely and will last between five to 15 years. I am trying to teach [my students] that they can change the world through art. Some of these kids had painted murals before, but mostly with spray paint,” she adds with a laugh.

She also is trying to bring in the traditional Mexican muralist art she studied with UCLA Professor Judy Baca – famed for the “Great Wall of Los Angeles.” Baca was greatly influenced by David Alfaro Siqueiros who, with Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco (the Three Greats) established the Mexican Mural Movement starting in the 1920s. Baca traveled to Mexico to study at Siqueiros’ studio with others who passed down what they had learned from him before he died in 1974. This she passed along to Martinez.

It is Martinez’s personal viewpoint that “art is a right, not a luxury.” She adds: “I am a painting and drawing professor. I do easel painting, too, but this meets an entirely different set of needs for me. It provides an opportunity for me to work collaboratively with community and students to create art that impacts viewers on a daily basis.”

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