Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Andrew McAllister Travels the Unvarnished West in “Wanderer”

Andrew McAllister, “Northbound Hwy 89”

Big, glossy images of majestic panoramas, colors punched with saturation. With today’s portable technology and the state’s majestic landscapes these shots are easy to take: you’ll find them on just about anyone’s Instagram page. But not on Andrew McAllister’s. As if in reaction to these landscape glamour shots, Andrew McAllister seeks out a different view of the West — desaturated, run-down, transient. It’s the West McAllister discovered when he moved to Utah from Akron, Ohio in 2011. Wanderer, the artist’s exhibit now at Gallery East in Price, is an introspective show, capturing an essence of the intermountain West through McAllister’s lens.

Wanderer is the third in a trilogy of exhibitions by the artist at Gallery East, spanning eight years. McAllister’s photographic journey began with Photographic Observations by A New Westerner in 2015, which explored the western landscape’s visual potential. This was followed by Towns Less Occupied in 2017, focusing on small towns’ built environments. Wanderer  represents a departure from McAllister’s earlier, more formal compositions, offering a spontaneous and introspective look at the western landscapes during the solitude of the 2020-2022 pandemic. The 30 photographs in the exhibit explore themes of movement, thresholds, and ephemeral moments, each telling a story of joy, contemplation, and the essence of travel.

At first glance many of these images appear mundane, but the eye that resists swiping too quickly will discover scenes laden with metaphor and a profound depth of feeling. One photograph showcases a vast desert landscape under a clear, expansive sky. In the foreground, an old windmill stands as a testament to human attempts to harness the land, juxtaposed with the modern electrical pylons that stretch into the horizon, symbols of technological progress and the spread of civilization. The composition draws the viewer’s eye from the rustic windmill in the foreground to the power lines receding into the distance, leading to the soft silhouettes of mountains far beyond. The natural and man-made elements combine to tell a story of change, resilience, and the passage of time—themes that McAllister often explores in his photography.

Andrew McAllister, “Dry Valley, Peter’s Wash, UT”

Another compelling photograph, viewed from within a vehicle, captures a dirt road abruptly halted by a fence under an expansive sky. The posts of the fence are reflected on the hood of the vehicle. It’s a scene that implies limits yet hints at the possibility of what lies beyond. The road is worn and indicates travel, but the fence suggests a stop or a need to find a new direction. This can be seen as a metaphor for the journeys McAllister undertook during his road trips, capturing images that reflect moments of transition and the boundaries between spaces. The color palette is natural and subdued, with the earthy tones of the landscape blending into the soft blue of the sky, punctuated by the fluffy whites of the clouds. The quietness of the scene is palpable, evoking the isolation and contemplation that comes with solitary travel.

McAllister’s photographs in Wanderer are less about the formalities of setup and composition and more about capturing the fleeting moments of life’s journey. His road trips, inspired by other photographers who had extensive expeditions, have been about capturing the first view upon awakening, the roadside discoveries, and the transitional states of structures that appear permanent. He seeks to create a narrative that is not strictly linear but rather a series of flickering moments that mirror his long journey. This is reflected in his decision to print the photographs at a smaller, more intimate scale, inviting viewers to step closer and engage with each scene as a private experience.

In his professional capacity as a staff photographer at Utah State University, McAllister has meticulously cataloged over 2,500 works of art, alongside professional portraits and academic documentations, a testament to his technical proficiency and keen eye for detail. By contrast, the imagery in Wanderer emerges from a place of spontaneity and serendipity, capturing the raw spirit of the West while evoking the scents of sagebrush and piñon pine, and a touch of gasoline.

Andrew McAllister, “Dry Valley, East Canyon Wash, UT”

Andrew McAllister: Wanderer, Gallery East, Price, through Dec. 4

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