Hikmet Sidney Loe knows the Great Salt Lake. The Westminster College professor and scholar has spent years visiting, studying and writing about the lake since she first came West and fell in love with Utah’s desert landscapes, especially the basin and range areas to the west of the Wasatch Front. She has written extensively about the land art in and near GSL, including her upcoming book The Spiral Jetty Encyclo: Exploring Robert Smithson’s Earthwork Through Time and Place (University of Utah Press); has curated a number of exhibits focusing on the lake as aesthetic locus, including A Measure of Salt: Contemporary Artists Engaging Great Salt Lake which opens at the Granary Art Center next month; and is an active participant in organizations like Great Salt Lake Institute and FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake — the latter awarded her their “Friend of the Lake Award” this past year.
In addition to being a scholar, Loe is an artist in her own right, documenting with her camera the textures, moods and colors of the desert she has come to love. A small exhibition of these works titled Drawing From The Lake is currently at the Chapman Library on Salt Lake City’s west side. It’s too small (only 10 photographs) and unfortunately hung (at Chapman works are hung above the book stacks— so, well above eye level—and the way staff has presented them doesn’t do them justice) but worth the visit even if only to see a sampling of the broader range of work.
Entitled Lake Abstractions, these images are mostly flat, non-dimensional views of the lake: the surrounding mountain landscape is absent, the camera pointed for the most part directly at the surface of the lake. Swirling pools of saline water and mud become abstracted color fields, as does the surface of the lake combined with a thin horizontal strip of land and the dark expanse of a stormy sky. When the stormy sky becomes recognizable clouds, as it does in “Lake Abstraction 10.1,” the result is less effective because it’s more recognizable as traditional landscape. An image of cracked, drying mud is another common landscape trope, but Loe’s version is saved from cliché by the inclusion of a dried piece of wood, which provides some compositional tension, and a small sprout of growth in the upper right-hand corner, which points to an ecosystem more diverse than is readily apparent.
In her work as an academic, Loe has taken numerous individuals and groups, both by land and by air, to visit the lake and its world-famous landmark Spiral Jetty. Her trips to the lake in helicopters provide for the most striking images in her portfolio, two of which are on exhibit here. Seen from above, the lake’s full palette comes in view—pinks and magentas mix with grays, greens, whites and blues— and the causeways that concentrate the lake’s brine shrimp in the northern half become strong compositional elements, bisecting the images like a Barnett Newman “zip.”
An entire exhibit of these latter images (see Loe’s website for more) would have been reason enough to make the trip to Chapman, and might have provided for a more aesthetically unified exhibit. Providing just one “take” on the lake, however, may be exactly what Loe was trying to avoid. The exhibit’s title, “Drawing From the Lake,” points to the lake as a well of aesthetic and spiritual nourishment, and Loe’s multifarious views suggest how deep that source is.
Drawing From The Lake: Photography by Hikmet Sidney Loe is at the Chapman Library through February 26.
The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.