Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Carlisle Cooks Up Some Abstracts in SLC’s Kiln

“Untitled,” 48 x 60 in.

The big sturdy abstracts by the artist Carlisle, placed in as vast an interior space as Kiln, a “co-working office space,” in the Gateway complex, become almost small paintings, though many are five feet tall. Kiln itself looks deceptively small from the outside: it’s many-chambered, many-halled, full of turns and countless glassed-in working and sitting spaces, even a large (and rentable) theater space. Figuratively more like a hive, maybe, than a kiln. Worker bees here are treated with small and large luxuries, some depending on how expensive/unique their spaces are, others free and communal: twice-weekly yoga classes, coffee bars, breakfasts, comfortable office rooms with skylights and sofas and chairs in chic and sometimes disarming combinations. In a way it’s apartments with glass walls, or a space station, open around the clock, engineered.

An abstract painting not only works, but is almost necessary here: an abstract in some ways mirrors the confusion and inscrutability of an office space, like this one or any other, people in it with uncountable goals and methods and pursuits; mysteries of more than a hundred jet-black computer screens of all sizes. Hallway after hallway. A good abstract too is very often full of turns, choices of direction: they suggest possible enclosures, but somehow hover majestically above, look around, and wisely depart. Carlisle’s paintings are this, perhaps a little heavier on the turmoil side of abstract painting, with jagged turns and cutoffs and the soft swirl of indecisive paint around those turns which tell you the painter slowed down, possibly, wondering whether that particular turn, in life or on canvas, was the right way to go.

What is an abstract painting, anyway? Someone thinking something over, most of all? Or, sometimes, statements of difficult and pacific ironies? Carlisle, who studied at both the University of Utah and the Parsons School of Design in New York, can write a good artist statement: “I paint what I feel, not what I see. It needs to be raw, never before seen and completely original in thought … with abstract art, looking at something for the first time … we are handed the opportunity to add body to our cognitive, visual, and emotional collection.”

Two paintings are mostly chartreuse — and of equal size, looking like a balanced and possibly feasible argument/discussion between two people working for the same goal, but, like twins, separated by the inevitable: separate brains, separate histories, and thus, their own departures and arrivals. (It’s fitting these paintings are upright rectangles, like doors.) These paintings are fairly far down a hallway filled with many open, waiting, reservable desks; small cards remind members that these particular open desks must be reserved, and as the pleasant notes say, are “not for campers.”

An even further way down another hall, all the way at its end, next to windows and fronds of a very large tropical plant (Kiln contains many plants, the largest and most lush around the more private and pricy northern side) is the only titled Carlisle painting,“Speckadillus”. It is full of enormous, rigid, almost cruelly stylized poppies: not much flutter to the petals. Its placement is appropriate: the saying that “everyone goes to the poppy at the end” (medicinal poppy, opiate painkillers, usually near the end of life) fits the placement of this poppy painting at the very end of a hall. (Though, in an office setting, truly, no one is thinking about death; they’re thinking about efficient now.)


The painting which Kiln might wisely seek to keep is hung, alone, in an enormous glass chamber (not a terrarium: a glass-walled conference room: conference rooms at Kiln are in practically endless number and variety.) If not for this painting, in the boldest, bravest, shiniest hues of red and black you may ever see, this room would be a complex and dull diagram, made only of whites and blacks: the room would cry for focus, or distraction. This painting is as loud as a baby’s cry, very red, the color of blood and life. A good abstract painting can be very rude, a map of no and why not, and why didn’t I and I thought I said so — alluding more to mapping, both through time, and place, and (discardable) finally apprehended delusions (history of emotions, experiences) — than to the simple efficient now of a place, the function, say, of an office. Carlisle’s painting, in red, despite its calm name “Untitled”, checks all the boxes, as they say, upsetting coolness just as it should. If Kiln was really a kiln, and needed a fire — this is it.

Not long ago an aging Salt Lake City woman, who made quilt after quilt, bravely-colored and abstract and daring, died (15 Bytes, Victoria Acoba 1944-2022). She drove far away in her car, couldn’t find her way home. But in her lifetime she was well-known for making her quilts — heartrendingly, overwhelmingly, just like abstract paintings — containing often almost endless plotting of ways, or directions. You could even call Acoba’s quilts a prescient, sharp belief she’d someday need, desperately, a warm blanket, a quick way to know right turns, a way to bring a car back to where she started, a way to find gasoline and a charged phone she could borrow. A way to keep sane, and safe. Abstract paintings do the same thing. In the case of an office complex like Kiln, (now based in places like Boulder, Colorado, Park City, and California, after beginning in Lehi, Utah), an abstract painting like this could keep you, largely, sane, in such an intent beehive full of workers. Forget sometimes, the abstract painting says, fear; forget how you look, and most manners: rise above, stay warm, with all your determination do what you must. Somehow, resume your route.

“Untitled,” 36 x 36 in.


Abstracts by Carlisle, Kiln, Salt Lake City, through Dec. 3

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