Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Some Things We Noticed at the Spring Salon: Gillian Mark, Patrick Spenser, Santiago Michalek, Haley Youd Davis

The Springville Museum of Art’s Spring Salon is the largest annual exhibition of work by Utah artists in the state. More than 1000 works are entered for consideration each year. From these, the museum manages to hang several hundred on their ground floor galleries. The Salon is too large, too heterogeneous a show to try to make sense of as an exhibition. So, taking inspiration from something Bob Olpin wrote for us years ago, we invited our writers to choose a few pieces that struck them, for whatever reason, and write about them.

Gillian Mark, “Late Sunday Breakfast,” 2023, acrylic on canvas

The intimacy of a Sunday breakfast scene is palpable in Gillian Mark’s “Late Sunday Breakfast,” the unmistakable feeling of warmth and stillness nearly jumping off the walls of the Springville Salon. Using a rectangular medium brush, Mark gives the work a softened angular sense that gives the impression of one peering into a faded memory. The table scene is simple: cut strawberries, a bouquet of white flowers, a light sandwich, eggs, bacon and toast. A glass of orange juice sits in front of the father and daughter duo, and judging by the amiable atmosphere of the work, it is most definitely half full as opposed to the opposite. Mark employs a slight distortion that pulls on the corners of her work, giving it a slight fisheye appearance. This furthers the work’s impression of a memory, its fuzzy distortion giving a sense of fleeting time and the simplicity of the chosen subjects. What remains is what Mark chooses to remember, like the furrow in her father’s expression, her hot pink nail polish and Hogwarts crewneck duo, the sunlight pouring in from screened doors, and the calmness of enjoying breakfast with family.

Patrick Spencer, “Pas de Quatre,” 2023, pastel

As a retired ballerina, I was struck by Patrick Spencer’s ability to perfectly capture the complexity of proper ballet technique in “Pas de Quatre.” The central dancer, layered over herself in four movements, exudes the familiar, solemn contemplation of a ballet dancer so accurately that I mistook the work as photography. As opposed to depicting his subject in classic satin pointe shoes, Spencer chooses for her to be barefoot, holding an intimate physical connection to both her space and to the canvas. Perhaps the dancer is thinking of her next movements and the snapshots act as a premonition, or perhaps she has just completed a variation and the ghosts of her steps surround her in silence. Either way, the work plays on the famous and classic four ballerina scenes that grace well-known ballets, namely the Pas de Quatre from Swan Lake. These archetypal group performances performed in unison cement the idea that being a ballerina is to be a member of a set, to be identical to the dancer next you. Spencer cements this idea through his divisive repetition, the pas de quatre truly being a dance with oneself and a loss of one’s identity rolled into one. The black and white pastels work to further obscure the dancer’s individuality while the simplicity of her white leotard and tutu act to blend her into the background. Out of the plethora of works in the Spring Salon that subject ballerinas, Spencer’s work digs the deepest through his minimalistic approach to deep realities exposed through careful and specific repetition.

Haley Youd Davis, “Hurry the Hell Up,” 2022, oil on panel

The subject’s eyes in Haley Youd Davis’ “Hurry The Hell Up” pierce you from amongst the various works clustered beside it on the salon wall. Davis paints with a realism that pulls you into the dimension of the painting, almost as if you were actually standing in the backrooms of a bloody butcher shop. What strikes me most about Davis’s work is her ability to capture the rawness (pun intended) and excruciation of masculinity and deliver it to the viewer through her use of realism. I felt as if I was taking too long on a work break at the butcher shop, my boss looking at me with an aged and wrinkled face that reads of disgust and disappointment. Literally sporting a blue-collar, Davis’s bothered butcher personifies the confinements of male labor. The raw carcass in the background exposes excoriation and pain, being stripped down to one’s bare bones with an air of carnivorism. The fluorescent lights Davis inserts to illuminate the shop strip the work of the context of time, as it could be dawn, noon or late in the evening, and one would never be able to decipher which. Instead, Davis’s careful exactness beckons an eternal cycle of male labor and exposes harsh and hidden alcoves of masculinity.

Santiago Michalek, “Art Begets Life, Life Begets Art,” 2023, oil on linen

Truly an “art imitates life” moment, Santiago Michalek’s largescale work beckons viewers to question what we glorify in the art historical cannon through his use of realism. Michalek’s lifelike painting style, namely his use of extreme contrast through highlighting, compares classic romance depicted in art to the love in the modern day. A priceless marble statue of a man pursuing a nymph reads as the pinnacle of courtship, yet the shock on her face and aversion to his touch lead to questions on the consensuality of the pair. In stark contrast, Michalek depicts the modern couple leaning up against the statue, ignoring any docent requests to refrain from touching the artwork as they touch each other in complete ignorance of their surroundings. A cell phone peeks out of the pocket of the young woman, a careful homage to online dating culture that sharply contradicts the towering statue. Michalek is cautious with his atmosphere, the marble museum carefully painted in neat brushstrokes so that his loving couple sticks out starkly. What is true art when we suffer the consequences of glorification?”


99th Annual Spring SalonSpringville Museum of Art, Springville, through July 8

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