In ancient Greek mythology, Arcas, the son of Zeus and Callisto, ruled over Arcadia, a utopian paradise that later housed the god Pan. Arcadia eventually eclipsed its namesake to become a symbol for a mythical and unblemished landscape, a visage much revered by Renaissance artists. Now, a group of emerging Utah artists seeks to grapple with this longstanding art historical trope in their group exhibition, The Great Good Place, on view at the Alice gallery until May 5th.
A recent graduate of BYU, Madeline Rupard organized the group exhibition featuring fellow classmates Lim Kheng Saik, Aloe Corry, Pearl Corry, David Raleigh and Greg Caldwell. In addition to investigating the implications of the two-dimensional image, the show explores how artists discover their own escape and peace.
The press release provides further context for the quest for the “great good place,” noting, “whether the composed parlor paintings of the 19th century, the wild urgency of expressionism, or the intentional grittiness and mundanity of modern and post-modern painting, we observe that this pull never evades artists, even if the symbols and shapes surrounding it may change.” For Rupard, the act of painting is a notable trend in contemporary art, and one she sees as a welcomed return.
“I think there’s a lot more we as artists can say with two-dimensional space, [because] in a way you don’t have to follow the laws of gravity,” she says. “I think we’re seeing a new sincerity movement, and the influence comes out of a need for stability.” For some, painting — at once art’s most revered and well-known medium — has never gone out of style. Conversely, post-modern critics have shunned painting’s traditionalism, favoring instead the radical trends of three-dimensional art or even more radically, those art movements that reject material mediums entirely. The once-revolutionary movements such as performance art are now over 50 years old and have lost their countercultural muster. It’s no wonder that in the 1980s, painting had seemed to make its triumphant return; only to once again get eclipsed by the nontraditional trends of a fast-paced art economy.
For Rupart, painting’s so-called “stability” isn’t pejorative. Instead, stability can be an optimal basis by which to explore surprisingly contemporary themes. Rupart’s large-scale “In Arcadia,” acrylic on panel, (2017) depicts an open picnic view replete with tall trees, figures, animals, and furniture. Evoking Manet, Rupart’s landscape combines the lush with the mundane, allowing viewers to visually feast upon the disparate details and images she has included. She describes her work as a “search for a paradise within the bounds of the contemporary,” a recipe which combines the past pastoral landscape tradition with contemporary Internet images. Rupart is fascinated with the idea of the “objective correlative,” which T.S. Eliot coined to describe “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events that shall be the formula of that particular emotion.”
Indeed this idea of space and the interconnectedness of objects and people within such space are present not just in Rupart’s work, but that of Greg Caldwell, Aloe Corey, and Pearl Corey as well. Caldwell’s charming illustrations comprised of crisp vertical lines and bright colors depict cartoonish figures with text boxes denoting mundane actions and thoughts. Aloe Corey uses acrylic, whiteout and ink to devise four small, yet vibrant interior spaces ripe with geometric illusion. Adjacently, Pearl Corey’s “Various Ills,” a huge oil and chalk on canvas, is a cacophony of pink, purple and yellow forms made sharp and geometric by the impression of dark charcoal lines guiding, then thwarting, one’s gaze in a variety of directions.
Seemingly distinct from the other artists are David Raleigh and Lim Kheng Saik, whose pieces would better have been suited for their own show. Raliegh’s paintings depict garish figures whose features appear disturbingly reductive and disfigured by layers of paint. As the antithesis to arcadia, Raleigh’s works evoke a sense of alienation and decay. Lim Khen Saik’s abstract paintings, “Space Portal,” and “Landscape 1,” are dreamily enticing, each showcasing the ease with which an artist and viewer can become “lost” in layers of paint. “Space Portal” frames painterly layers of brushstrokes with a multicolored archway within the frame. Saik’s abstract “Into the Woods,” however feels out of place both in comparison to his other works and compared to the exhibition as a whole. An amalgamation of green, the painting fails to visually resonate with the exhibition’s shared narrative.
Viewers and curators frequently discount the critical role of artistic collaboration as a motivating force behind the creation of one’s artistic vision. For Rupart, collaboration is critical. “I like having a bit of space in between works and content, it’s not about a literal heaven or paradise or a physical reality…it was more about us talking with each other, this idea of trying to find something that feels justified…a place with all the imperfections and absurdities of life,” she says.
“The Great Good Place,” various artists, Alice Gallery, Salt Lake City, through May 5, Gallery Stroll reception April 21, 6-9 p.m. heritage.utah.gov.
Scotti Hill is a lawyer, art critic, and curator based in Salt Lake City. She has contributed to various publications and serves as an adjunct professor of art history at Westminster College. She has a Master’s Degree in art history from the University of Utah.