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September 2016
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
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Exhibition Review: Park City
Purple Rain. And Yellow and Red.
Sibylle Szaggars Redford works in watercolor and rain at the Kimball Art Center

Sibylle Szaggars was in her high desert home in the southwest of New Mexico when the idea for the rain paintings came to her. It was 2010 and the monsoon rains, visible for miles in the distance, would arrive regularly in the afternoon. She decided to lay one of her watercolors outside to see what would happen. The paintings came to life as the rain pounded the paper and released the pigment, creating pools and spidery webs of color where before there had been simple contour lines. The experiment spawned a series of works, the Rain Paintings, which themselves spawned further explorations in other media, including a multidisciplinary project, The Way of The Rain, which was performed at Sundance in 2015. The Kimball’s current exhibit, Summer Rainfall, presents selected paintings from the series, as well as variations on the paintings in the form of silk tapestries and large-scale reproductions, forming a visual ode to the Earth's changing climate.

Szaggars is a German-born artist who first came to the United States in the late ‘80s when she became interested in traditional cultures of the Southwest. She has worked in paintings, photographs and installations, and concerned herself with environmental issues. She relocated to Utah in the early ‘90s, when she moved her studio to Sundance. She began dating Robert Redford in the late ‘90s and the pair married in 2009. It has been at their homes in New Mexico, Utah and the Napa Valley that Szaggars has experimented with rains both gentle and torrential in her evolving series.

The paintings on exhibit at the Kimball are filled with a series of simple contour forms, frequently filled with dots or nucleus-like shapes, calling to mind the simple-celled organisms in a high school science experiment—the forms in “Rain Painting #1” (2015)  even have cilia-like extensions protruding from their "bodies." These forms are arranged on the paper in a non-hierarchical pattern, so that most shapes are the same size, and the composition favors neither the horizontal nor vertical, nor the left or the right.

As shown in the video that introduces the exhibit—shot on Szaggars’ cell phone to document her collaboration with nature—these forms come alive as rainwater activates the watercolor paint, causing it to bleed and run across the paper. In “Early Morning St, Helena Rain Painting #2,” the deluge saturates the paper so that almost the entire white surface is covered with pigment, the original contour drawings difficult to make out beneath the muted tones of amber, magenta and orange. In another work, either because the rain was limited or the artist intervened early, the contour lines remain intact with minimal bleeding creating a slight haze around the paramecium-like forms. Szaggars' palette tends to be bright, with flashes of carmine, lemon and indigo, but under the influence of the rain they blend into deeper earth tones as well. Some works are composed within a limited color range— like "Afternoon St. Helena Rain Painting #1," with its warm yellows and browns calling to mind the African savannah, or "#2" in that series, with its much cooler web of blues and reds—while others celebrate in a riot of color, with washes of rainwater blending the entire spectrum.

Of the more than two dozen works in this exhibit, less than a third are original rain paintings. The rest are reproductions in one form or another. They may be "chromogenic photographs" of details that have been enlarged, and which read well from far away, but appear blown out on closer inspection; or archival prints on etching paper, which are the same size as the original and fairly faithful copies. The artist has placed some of the enlarged reproductions between sheets of clear Plexi, which gives them the appearance of having been done on aluminum, and other images she has printed on large sheets of silk which hang from the ceiling and flutter in the gallery's air conditioning.

With these various strategies, Szaggars may have been going for the type of impact — some of the enlargements, at least from far away, have the feel of a Sam Francis — that could not be achieved with normal sheets of watercolor paper. Or her decisions may have been inspired by decorative possibilities, for she has staged both her originals and reproductions in a variety of ways—some small originals are pinned to weathered wood, while other paintings have been reproduced, turned on their side and divided in three to create a triptych wall hanging. There are even scarves featuring the rain images for sale at the reception desk.

Szaggars' works are both an ode and a lament, for the monsoon rains of New Mexico, which supply much of the water for the coming year, are, she says, decreasing. The variety of visual strategies Szaggars employs in this exhibit creates a more dramatic show, if not a more lasting impression. The idea behind a work of art is a powerful component of its success, but so is the seductive quality of its physicality; and while we may read the artist's idea into the reproductions, the originals both look better and feel better, they have that aura Walter Benjamin talked about, the sense of "presence in time and space":  We can convince ourselves that we smell the thriving juniper trees of a New Mexico summer and can imagine the rain, building, possibly, for hundreds of miles before unleashing itself on this piece of paper and pigment. If the scarves and photo prints have an aura it is that of a print shop. The latter is prose, the former poetry.

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Bodies of Nature
Ryoichi Suzuki's stone sculpture at A Gallery

In his new exhibit, Ryoichi Suzuki’s carved, flowing forms of wood and stone punctuate two rooms in Salt Lake City’s A Gallery. In each sculpture on display, Suzuki uses different types of stone or wood to produce elongated and graceful organic forms. A native of Japan, Suzuki’s subjects hark back to shapes found in Japanese paintings and minimalist Zen gardens, but he also received his BFA and MFA from Utah State University and has spent extensive time studying, creating, and living in Utah.  As a result of his unique background and approach, his finished work combines the traditions of Japan, landscape forms found in Utah, and modern sculptural techniques.

In each sculpture, Suzuki works with the different types of stone or wood to produce an organic, flowing form. Some of his favorite materials featured in the exhibit are sandstone, white marble, and honeycomb calcite. His marble works fall into two categories, human- and cloud-shaped. “Horizontal Torso” lies languid and serene on its pedestal, the curve of stone legs and breasts only subtly suggesting the female form. The stone’s ability to pick up light makes the piece look like it’s radiating warmth from the inside out. This specific quality of marble, the ability to pick up and refract light, helps give the impression of a living body in the abstracted and reduced form.

In “Cloud Is Fifteen” and “Cloud Is Sixteen,” the marble’s and pink onyx’s respective abilities to capture and project light helps the solid sculptures look more like weightless clouds in the sky. “Cloud is Sixteen” is placed strikingly near the entrance of the gallery, next to the window. When a viewer looks at the round, sweeping curves of the sculpture and the combination of pink stone and natural light from the window, it looks like the sunrise is happening indoors. Although the sculptures are solid and made of dense stone, Suzuki’s carving techniques and soft touch helps him transcend the original qualities of the physical material.

Use of marked and patterned materials can be found in the pieces “Torso,” “Flowing Torso” and “Ray of the Sun.” Suzuki carved the wooden “Torso” out of a piece of elm with rings and markings. The darker rings accentuate the curves of the hips, breasts, and legs. The intricate patterns in the wood work with the form the artist carved to create a piece that is somewhere between a portrait of a person and a minimal celebration of the organic material. In “Flowing Torso,” the grainy lines in the limestone are faint, but run horizontally along the length of the reclining body, circling around the hips and shoulders. The crisscross patterns on “Ray of the Sun,” part of the naturally vibrant, shining honeycomb calcite, look like rays of sunshine shining on smooth clouds or the surface of water.

The female forms in all of the torso pieces are elongated and statuesque—their female subjects hinted at with minor curves and planar changes. But one of the tallest upright pieces in the show, “Decorated Torso,” stands out from the rest as a result of its Japanese gold-leaf and black-ink patterns snaking up its surface. Suzuki did this piece in collaboration with his brother, who is based in Japan, creating a piece that from afar looks like a vase or part of an ancient Japanese scroll painting. Here, the tall, gently-curving female form most expressly combines Suzuki’s Japanese heritage and artistic inspiration, the natural forms of stone and landscape found in Utah, and Suzuki’s play with human and natural forms.

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