Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Squash Courts & Tupperware Parties: Dave Hall & Family

by Laura Durham

On October 17 and 18 Squashworks will exhibit Four Generations of American Painting, featuring the artwork of Dave Hall , his father Vernon Hall, his grandmother Esther Bailey Hall, and his great-great grandfather Thomas H. Snow. And to answer your question, no, Squashworks is not a gallery; it’s a place where you play squash. But for these two nights, artwork will dominate the squash courts. “I play a lot of squash,” artist Dave Hall explains. “Craig Bennett who is the owner of Squashworks said, ‘Let’s do a show here’ so we’re going to open it up for two days and put the work right on the courts. My idea was originally to do it with my dad, but it just made sense to show his mother’s stuff and my great-great grandfather’s. It just had a good feel to it right from the start.”

After a twenty-year career in education, Hall decided to pick up a paintbrush and take an art class. In fact, that was the first time he even picked up a paintbrush. About ten years ago he found himself going to galleries in Salt Lake and Park City, and it was only four years ago that he took a community ed art class at Roland Hall St. Marks where he taught physics. That class triggered a whirlwind of changes and fortune for Hall and his new career – and most of his fortune has come just this past year. Long story short: First show, 16 paintings sold, second show 12 paintings sold, gains representation from Meyer Gallery in Park City, Phillips Gallery in Salt Lake and now in Jackson Hole and Montana as well.

You know what, let’s make the story long.

Hall took a class with Wayne Geary at Roland Hall St. Marks four years ago this fall. “I just knew when I started painting that it would be oils. I liked the texture and the smell. I had never painted in oils before. I kind of knew the feeling I wanted, but I didn’t know anything about what you mix with oils or the dos and don’ts. That year or the next I went half time at the school where I worked. A couple years ago I took a class at the University of Utah with Connie Borup, which was mostly color theory. She’s been a real mentor for me.”

Hall says the best thing he did was to get a studio a little over a year ago. “As soon as I got the studio at Rockwood, it felt like a job. I just decided to leave Roland Hall and paint full-time.”

His first step as a professional artist was donating a painting to the Roland Hall St. Mark’s Auction. “A lot of people I didn’t even know bid on it — which was a good sign and it did incredibly well. After that I asked the headmaster if I could do a show in the new library. It was kind of like a big Tupperware party: you have all your stuff, make a lot of food and invite all your friends. I sold 16 out of 22 paintings. The first thing I did was schedule another show. I did another one several months later, made a lot of food, invited my friends and sold 11 or 12 paintings.”

This initial success was just the beginning of Hall’s fast-forward artistic career. After his first two shows, he decided that the do-it-yourself exhibits were over for him. “It was working, but I needed another venue where more people could see my work, rather than just my friends. Susan Meyer Jones saw my work and liked it so I’m showing at the Meyer Gallery in Park City and then I just had another show in Jackson Hole. I also opened up at the recent floor to ceiling show at Phillips Gallery and sold a couple paintings there.”

The Four Generations of American Painting exhibit in October is a family show that Dave Hall and his father have been planning for awhile. Even though he has a strong presence of artists in his family, he didn’t give it much thought until he was well into his newfound career (granted, several months was “well into” for David Hall). “I knew my dad’s eightieth birthday was in the fall. I always loved his work and the fact that he was an artist. I decided that I wasn’t going to ask him to do it until my first show was over. For all I knew, nobody would come or nothing would sell. After it did well I suggested we do a show together and we’ve been planning it ever since.”

Dave’s father, Vernon Hall, was an engineer before he started painting professionally, but unlike Dave, he dabbled in drawing his whole life. “Growing up he was always the guy people came to for little art projects. He was the sports cartoonist for his college paper. His stuff has always been around, but his style is not my style. My father is very geometric. The way he signs his paintings is very horizontal with nice clean letters. I remember when I was about eight years old, he taught me perspective drawing. I also remember coloring in a coloring book and my dad leaned over my shoulder and said ‘Remember to stay in the lines.’ I remember the feeling I had, like I immediately wanted to scribble.”

Hall also has many childhood memories of his grandmother Esther, who died in 1982. Out of the four artists in this show, Esther is the only one who made art her lifelong profession. “She started out as a fashion illustrator, before they used photography for that sort of thing. I grew up about an hour away from her in New England. I remember she showed me gold leaf when I was really young. I also remember her sending hand-painted Christmas cards to everyone in the family. They were wonderful little watercolors.”

Thomas H. Snow, Hall’s great-great grandfather was more of a mystery. “He’s this person I haven’t really given much thought to until the past few years. His paintings were in the family growing up, but he was just this relative who was out there. I don’t know if Thomas Snow even sold any paintings or not. He did sporting scenes. He was an avid hunter and fly fisherman and painted a lot of grouse. He hunted back in the mid 1800’s. I do a lot of fishing so I started relating to him and I started asking my dad more questions about him just in the past year.”

Hall says out of all the artists in his family he probably relates most artistically to Thomas Snow. “Snow did rural landscapes and he painted in oils like I do. Right from the start I knew the feeling I wanted to evoke. I really had a good sense in my heart of what I wanted. I love landscapes. I love morning light and evening light. If I get out before the sun comes out and there’s mist coming up, it really inspires me.”

Hall’s artwork has a hazy and Tonalist nature that is better appreciated in person. After all, muted colors and faint forms don’t translate to pixel or print with much accuracy. “The way I paint is how I feel about those places. I really like simple shapes, a horizon and a group of trees. I take a digital photograph and look at it and then don’t refer to it again. I’m trying to stay away from the side of my brain that’s analytical. I don’t feel like it has to be exactly what I saw, it’s more the feeling.”

The Four Generations of American Painting will feature the artwork of all four artists in Dave Hall’s family, with the paintings by Dave and his father Vernon up for sale. Hall is thrilled to be exhibiting with his father. “Two years ago I put my first frame around a painting and showed it to my dad. He said, ‘What is this impressionistic crap?’ I think he’s real proud. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Hall knows that he’s enjoyed unusual fortune. It typically takes years and years for an artist to reach a point where they even make a profit – if that ever happens. “If I hadn’t had those successes early on I don’t know where I’d be. I’ve had enough success that I can keep going. I feel good about where I’m heading and how I’m developing.”

Four Generations of American Painting will be on display at Squashworks, 255 South 500 East in Salt Lake City for two days only: October 17 and 18 with an artist reception on Gallery Stroll evening, Friday the 17th. After that, the show will move to 15th Street Gallery/Framing on 1519 South 1500 East from October 23 to November 20, 2003.

This article originally appeared in the September 2003 edition of 15 Bytes.

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