Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Janiece Murray and Meriem Wakrim: Expressing Nature in Unusual Ways

Merrier Wakrim, “Carboniferous Vision,” courtesy of The University of Central Oklahoma Melton Gallery

They’re clearly plants, though unlike any we see here in Utah. The tallest one looks like a tree, but with something like a handful of twisted fingers at the top. Closer to the viewer, something pink looks like a Fourth of July firework: a single stem like the rocket’s trail leads up to a ball like a frozen explosion. A green, cigar-shaped object lying on the ground might actually be an animal, judging from what appear to be pincers probing the soil. The color scheme might be taken for granted, part of an illustrator’s artistic license, if only the reflections of the plants didn’t make clear that the pond water is colorless, but reflecting a green sky. This is “Carboniferous Vision,” one of six medium-sized giclée prints of paintings by Meriem Wakrim, who was born and grew up on the seaside just outside of Casablanca.

Alternating with Wakrim’s fantasias are five striking botanicals by Utah’s Janiece Murray, who explains, “One day I was stuck by the similarity between a geometric pattern I love to use in my work and forsythia, a beautiful flowering spring bush that I also love. Through this series I want to analyze and share some of the beauty and geometry that can be found in nature and its design.”

Janiece Murray, “Forsythia”

How these two artists came to share a gallery space at Salt Lake Community College is due to the practiced perception of James Walton, SLCC’s Art Gallery and Collection Specialist, who saw in their applications a common interest in nature that each also expressed in unusual ways. For instance, like many of her Utah colleagues, Murray studies and applies traditional artist materials and techniques, such as the use of geometry in her designs, gilding to add another dimension, and the use of handmade watercolors, so nature doesn’t just inspire her, but actually becomes part of her work. Her designs may appear simple, but they have the directness that makes botanicals so attractive to the eye, whether as decor or demonstration, and seen in person combine that conceptual strength with the tactile appeal of living paint on fine, textured paper.

No two of Wakrim’s landscapes are quite alike; each is a vision conceived in, and drawn from, her imagination. This may be due to her extensive training and practice in cinema, which led her to an awareness of the role of perception in art. While that role may seem obvious, there’s a difference between a static view, like we have in “Carboniferous Vision,” and the sense in “Dawn of Feelings” of watching a film in which the camera is moving through the scene and, while paused for an instant, leaves us feeling like we are in the middle of something larger. A number of Utah artists have spoken to 15 Bytes about this being part of their work: that they feel they somehow paint the moment just before something will happen. That imminence, though, is different from this feeling, wherein, as the painter’s eye has paused briefly while panning through an experience, we remain aware of the motion that came before and will follow.

Years of looking at art in public places can convince one that no perfect place exists to see art. Of course, large, well-funded institutions can, and do, construct a custom architectural setting for a blockbuster show. But the workaday gallery curator must accept a space that is great for sculpture or for painting, but not both, or has various areas that must be allotted among the works, which don’t all get the same quality of light or visibility. In SLCC’s Southwest City Campus Center for Arts and Media, the Edna Runswick Taylor Foyer was conceived differently from the usual box. Its display space is a long, curved wall made of translucent glass, on which the art hangs. This makes it possible for someone walking through the space to scan an exhibition in passing, without breaking up their path or having to double back. Additionally, the glass wall was meant to change colors almost subliminally, eliminating the white or gray wall and giving the eye, the mood, and the room a refreshing change-up, several times a minute. Over the years, this elaborate and mechanically sophisticated system broke down, and it turned out the manufacturer was no longer in business, so it couldn’t be repaired. In time, a replacement system was found, and this show marks perhaps the first time in recent memory that the Foyer can be seen as was intended. Audience members will draw their own conclusions about it, but it’s worth a trip just to check it out and see how it affects the art and the viewer’s experience.

Nature and Geometry: Janiece Murray and Meriem Wakrim, Salt Lake Community College Southwest City Campus, Salt Lake City, through June 22.

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