In Memoriam | Visual Arts

Enamored of the Visual Gaell Lindstrom 1919 – 2009

Park City by Gaell Lindstrom, courtesy Springville Museum of Art

Gaell Lindstrom’s lifelong dedication to artistic endeavors was driven by a voracious curiosity for and delight in the visual world. For sixty years he mapped out a unique visual world, portraying in delicately rendered oil and gritty watercolors the visual splendors of locales far and near.

Gale William Lindstrom was born in Salt Lake City on July 4, 1919, the youngest of four children. His earliest artistic influences were found close to home. His father, a house painter and decorator, often employed artists from the Sugarhouse area and the Highland Park chapel across the street from his home contained murals by Lee Greene Richards, J.B. Fairbanks and others.

Gale Lindstrom as a child

Throughout his life Lindstrom expressed himself through a variety of mediums. During the Depression he developed an interest in photography and would continue to use the camera throughout his life, both as a tool for collecting reference materials for his paintings and as an end in itself. He enrolled at the University of Utah to study painting with LeConte Stewart. He also studied with George Dibble and Joseph A.F. Everett. Lindstrom called Everett a “poet with paints” but he was not swayed when Everett told him watercolors should be executed in a pastel palette and in single washes. To prove his teacher wrong, Lindstrom darkened his palette, mixing colors like Prussian Blue and Burnt Sienna, and scrumbling and pushing them across the paper in multiple layers. After graduation, he took his moody watercolors and unconventional techniques to Cedar City where he began a teaching career. While he was teaching at SUU the school asked him to redesign their logo. When an assistant asked him what if the school didn’t like his design he replied simply “They’ll have to find someone else to do it.”

Though he could be fixed in his opinions, Lindstrom had a generally unassuming manner, dappled with sparks of dry wit and bursts of genial enthusiasm. While in Cedar City he asked a pilot friend to take him on a trip over Zions canyon. When they returned the pilot made a less than controlled landing, and when he apologized to Lindstrom the artist quipped: “Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.”

In 1957 Lindstrom secured a position at Utah State University and began a decades long career there. His watercolor techniques influenced a number of students, including Osral Allred, who became hooked on watercolor when he took a class from Lindstrom in his senior year in order to satisfy a graduation requirement. At Utah State Lindstrom was known for his ceramics. He had developed an early interest in ceramics, pursuing the form in Montana and elsewhere and while at Utah State he developed the school’s first ceramic institute. His pieces were often made from Utah clays and frequently when traveling with friends or family he would point out various clays that would make good pots. He studied with Navajo potters to emulate their techniques, and produced a film — Ernesto Mateo, Potter of San Bartolo de Coyotepec — on an Oaxacan potterthat was shown on PBS.

Oaxaca was a frequent destination for the artist, who always loved to travel. He spent time in Western Europe, Asia, North Africa and Central America. His advice for travel was simple: Take a bus to the center of town. Walk to the corner. Look both ways. See which direction looks most interesting. Go that way. Repeat.

When he traveled he often remarked on details others would never even notice let alone note. He might point out the width of highway stripes in one country or the size of a church doorknob in another. This delight in detail is evident in his paintings, which create orchestras of color out of busy marketplaces, the undulating stripes in a Guatemalan dress, or the run down buildings of an old mining town.

His visual appetite was matched by an avid intellectual curiosity. He always seemed to know something about everything — though he took no effort to show it. He was interested in various cultural activities, including the symphony, ballet and opera. He loved books, which he frequently gave as presents, and might reward the searcher of a hard-to-find volume with one of his watercolors. He even authored his own book, a study on Thomas Moran’s time in Utah published in 1983.

Lindstrom was never a prolific painter but he was always striving to expand the range of his artistic voice. His earliest watercolors were loosely rendered studies of form, reminiscent of the WPA era. In the 1950s and 60s he deepened his palette and expanded the grit in his paintings. In the 1970s he began opening up his watercolors, making wide-open spaces of scrumbled paint layered with strips. A series of nearly monochromatic watercolors depicting dense woods owe as much to Jackson Pollock as to Andrew Wyeth. In the 1980s he traveled to Hong Kong to study Chinese ink painting, and returned with a series of experimental landscapes executed in ink and watercolor.

Lindstrom’s work became tighter and more solid as he got older, always displaying an acute knoweldge of form and color. He recognized the pitfalls of a purely formal approach, however. “There’s nothing worse than a bad academic painting,” he once said. He wasn’t above critiquing classics — he once remarked to a son, while in the Louvre, that the Mona Lisa’s hands were too large, and the flesh of her chest, because it was of the same dimensions, detracted from the point of interest, her face.

After decades of teaching Lindstrom and his wife Marilyn retired to a home east of Hurrican, where he had a view of Zion Canyon. He continued to paint and travel, content to explore the labrynths of Venice by himself, or the dry vistas of Morroco with his sons and a local driver. They eventually moved to St. George where both were active supporters of the St. George Art Museum. Lindstrom stayed enamored of the visual world until the end. At one point in his last days he remarked on the beautiful blue mountains he could see, the late light casting undulating shadows on their surface. He was admiring the rumpled blue comforter at his feet.

The St. George Art Museum currently features A Tribute to Gaell Lindstrom 1919 – 2009, an exhibition of works by the artist through January 16, 2010.

Gale Lindstrom with his father William in front of the Highland Park Chapel

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