Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Light & Color: Dave Hall and Collins at Williams Fine Art

“Fall, Little Cottonwood” by Dave Hall

Utah art, like other regional arts, has its own distinctive Modernist canon, with masters like Minerva Teichert, Maynard Dixon and LeConte Stewart using the unique qualities of their home state to achieve their own interpretations of 20th-century techniques. Teichert’s abstracted narratives read something like the structural foreshortening of the figure in much of Paul Cezanne’s oeuvre; Dixon’s graphic and segmented approach has a decidedly cubist influence; Stewart was heavily inspired by both impressionists and post-impressionists as he sought to express mood through various processes. In these various methodologies, landscape is often the subject of choice and, today, artists like Dave Hall and John Collins, two landscape painters showing this month at Williams Fine Art, boldly progress the Utah landscape tradition with unique and inventive approaches that focus on the subject synonymous with the state. These paintings are linked in an unbroken artistic bloodline of vision and inspiration that goes back to major artistic trends of 20th-century Utah Modernism yet these artists reveal 21st-century perspectives and a subjective eye.

Both Hall and Collins attribute their creative impulse to a concerted upbringing surrounded by artists. Though Hall was immersed in a family of artists, he says it was not until later in his life that he felt compelled by an insatiable passion to paint. He is a master of his chosen signature manner, a tranquil and minimal approach to landscape, which is a very approachable aesthetic but paradoxically complex. Above all else, Hall hopes to evoke real feeling in his views of nature and this he does powerfully in muted horizons, serene valleys, still rivers and hushed mountains. It is difficult not to be affected by the tones within tones of color, the gradations of light, the serene shapes as all is reduced to the elemental, and the overall feeling is true and specific to each work.

“Dawn at the Ranch” by Dave Hall


The power in Hall’s landscape is something akin to a Modernist sensibility. While a traditional landscape presents an illusion, a valley perhaps, with a one point perspective that opens up, with a lake or a forest, or a stream with jagged rocks and other devices that draw the viewer’s eye within the depths of the picture, Hall’s landscapes work in a different manner. Many of Hall’s minimalist horizons have planes that divide the picture and suggest the foreground, middle, rear ground and sky. Each is a band of color that rather than creating a traditional illusion of depth and drawing the viewer in, abstractly implies the reality of depth through the pure use of color on a canvas that is in fact flat. The result is a flattened plane with a sublime beauty of landscape in a Modernist manner. With this flattened plane the pure beauty of the canvas reacts with the viewer and invites contemplation, meditation and ultimately the real feeling that Hall desires in each piece.

In this respect the effect of a work like “Fall, Little Cottonwood” calls to mind the reflective works of abstract painter Mark Rothko; or take “Dawn at the Ranch” — Hall’s interpretation of Harriman Ranch — a meditative piece par excellence. As the composition breaks up into registers of color that imply horizon, foreground and distance in a method that avoids exacting representation, the canvas flows with myriad soft tones and warm lights that elicit authentic emotion. Like with a Rothko, an artist that Hall greatly admires, the viewer might enjoy this piece in comfort and solitude and meditate on the universality it invites.

“Ways to Make Us Small” by Dave Hall

Hall chooses his subjects carefully, usually landscapes with personal significance, and responds to certain atmospheres that resonate with his own sensibility: mist or fog, snowstorms, haze, and low light characterize his work. This type of atmosphere is far more conducive to his artistic temperament, he says, than a sunny day and stark light. This temperament is revealed in “Ways to Make Us Small,” an ethereal horizon that elicits cognitive, emotive and spiritual meditation. It is an expansive landscape in cold tones of blue that are made more warm with a golden light with a vast appearance as the viewer is given only enough visual suggestion to recognize the immensity. In the foreground is a dot of a fly fisherman but to the viewer it could be an Eskimo, a Native American or an adventurer. This canvas works beautifully and it has a serene reflective quality that is an open channel to a profound emotive experience.

While Hall concentrates on the effects of minimalism and mood, Collins focuses on another modernist preoccupation: color. Color was the core principle of impressionist and post-impressionist art, which sought the reality of the complexity of color in form and not merely hue with light and shade. Like Hall, Collins was raised amongst painters, most notably his father Gary Collins. Collins paints an enormous range of natural subjects drawn from Utah landscape but it is his expressive employment of color that, depending on his utilized range, is an indication of his own imagination, spontaneity and insight.

“Colombine Blossoms” by John Collins

In “Columbine Blossoms,” Collins uses white set off by hues of violet, turquoise, pink and stamens of gold to capture the purity of the form of the columbines, calling to mind the work of Georgia O’Keeffe.|3| These columbines have a striking verisimilitude and evoke a bright joviality and playfulness in their pure rendering.

The artist says that he paints colors as dictated by the atmospheric light but sometimes his imagination transgresses the natural limit. Compare the iridescent “Deer Valley Aspens,” whose minimalist rhythmical quality is animated with a vibrant light full of rose pink, violet and icy blue, to “Aspens in Autumn,” a similar subject rendered with an entirely different character: Collins evokes not only the visual aspects of autumn but an intangible essence of the autumnal season. This is accomplished through the pure use of color that is a harmony of golds, greens, browns and yellows and is a soothing and inviting image.

“Snowfields on Superior” demonstrates Collins’ ability to marry dabs of dissimilar colors in an impressionist manner that exist in nature but might be passed over by the untrained eye. This results in a complex composition that is balanced and harmonious. A monumentality is achieved in the very impressive “Lake Powell Red Rock,” with intensely saturated reds and strong contrasts set against a plein air sky filled to capacity with pinks and blues with an expressive grandeur difficult to achieve even by the most exacting of redrock painters.|7|

Knowing how a painting works is not always as exciting as simply enjoying a spontaneous encounter with the beauty and feeling it evokes, yet such understanding enables insight into experiencing the full fruition of the artist’s accomplishment. With these two very different artists engaging their common natural subject, we find very distinguishing approaches evoking individual aesthetics. We find they are a testament to the wealth of creative ingenuity and diversity that is inspired by the signature Utah subject that is exciting, intuitive and an ongoing investigation into the depth of nuances of the nature of this state that is seemingly inexhaustible and an ineffable source of ingenuity and inspiration.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.