Simmering with spring are the sumptuous studies of empty pink- sateen ballgowns painted by Lindsay Frei at 15th Street Gallery. In “Formal Facade” and “Surplus Satin,” our eyes dip and swoop into hanging, empty bodices, imagining the feel of the satin, drinking in its color like palest of strawberry ice creams, studying its carefully enfolded and sewn-in back zippers, the etherlike blue shadow behind them, wondering if the day this dress was worn by a young woman was a day of dread, or delight, or both.
These two oil paintings are so wonderfully evocative, so wondrously done, we could look at dozens of them and not be weary. Somewhere in one woman’s life story is this springtime, highly structured, pink satin gown.
Then Frei takes us to be with a woman with beautiful bobbed dark hair (surely also the one in “Solitary Submersion,” bathing like Cleopatra in a white tub) sitting on the floor gazing toward but not directly at a mirror; it is as if she has been distracted by a sound. She looks well beyond sateen debutante gowns. She wears a beautiful silky blouse with a flower pattern of all colors; these flowers look like ones hand-painted on silk umbrellas in old Japan, or hand-painted on teacups. In the mirror, we see reflected from the opposite wall perhaps a framed image of European rooftops, in gold and brown and grays. Germany? England? Long ago or now? Is it a real scene in a window, or is it a painting of European buildings and roofs? A real background, or a wish to be there, expressed by a framed painting?
And in yet another, “Promenade Turn,” perhaps this same young woman steps confidently toward her apartment door; she is clearly going out, on her head a hat almost like a Roman centurion’s helmet, almost plumed, perhaps a fantastical creation by the artist, or perhaps real. Under an arched, distant window at the end of the room is another woman, huddled and plain, at a desk, her back to us, bathed by the light of the enormous window, which she looks out toward. This painting seems to represent the two halves of an artist: one emboldened by her artistic career, striding out dramatically dressed, to socialize; the other staying home, deeply private, as all artists are, eschewing, as they often must, the typical social world.
On the other side of 15th Street Gallery are Trent Call’s paintings: half of them brave, crisp, stylish nudes, the most imperious of them, “Center Mantel,” hung beneath the gallery’s tall glass-blocks window, a woman standing in front of a modest fireplace mantel, one arm resting on the mantel, her feet on the black-and-white checkerboard linoleum on the floor, giving it all a classic Westminster Abbey gravity.
Call loves to play with squares and angles: many paintings by him not on display in this show are shot full of them: cupboards, soda machines, repeated doorways, old telephone booths. One of his most pleasing paintings here, “Picnic Burger,” is a small simple square portrait of a burger and fries; you can feel Call’s delight in the red-and-white real-cloth tablecloth, which has as much pink in it as red and white; his delight with the gold of the French fries (gold is scattered all throughout the painting, as if in ecstatic echo); the intense red of the ketchup; and, the decisive half moon of the burger patty peering from its paper wrapping, almost like a planet about to be born.
It is Call’s style to modulate each brushstroke with a stutter-shimmer of movement and varied color, so it is perhaps not an attempt to give anonymity to his models that their eyes and facial features shift and dodge almost as if identity-hiding software was used in a photo to provide anonymity: it just happens.
The nudes are cheerful, playful; sadness is in Call’s street scenes. In “White Pickup” a truck is parked beside a wooden fence beside an old building with windows that are somber dun, indicating either they are boarded up or their window shades completely pulled down, their dull color signaling perhaps the fading memories or perceptions of the original owner of this truck. Two startlingly green young trees thrust their leaves into the air, but they seem to have grown by accident here, or have been planted simply because it is expected every building must have at least two trees around it, to look civilized. They seem to have little room to grow. Once, this truck, we see, had some crisp red pinstriping; now, its pinstriping is in stuttering fade.
More sadness is in “Empty Cafe”; here, cheap construction has been quickly and easily humbled by time: above is swaybacked electrical wire, leading to a once-lit sign, making it look like an abandoned ship at sea, its sails fallen away. Above the sky is a tired blue like a many-times-chipped cup.
Tired, tattered blue is over “OK Garage” too; the old tire store seems to beg for company, hoping for the lonely and lame from the road, a sort of rescue pier. Someday spring will come to these lots: these buildings will be replaced by others. But their dejected state makes you wonder what happy places they once must have been, and how proud many may have been to have their livelihoods there, once, in their heyday.
Spring is also at the front barrier reef of 15th Street Gallery: multitudinous necklaces, earrings, bracelets, scarves. Personal adornment expresses hope, and hope-filled too are the large very silvery trays and bowls, to adorn houses and parties and gatherings; everything’s ready to begin all over again, turn the wheel. It’s spring.
Lindsay Frei and Trent Call: Paintings, 15th Street Gallery, Salt Lake City, through May 11.
Rebecca Pyle is a writer and an artist with work in dozens of art/literary journals, in the United States and also in journals (in the English language) in Hong Kong and the U.K. and Northern Ireland, Belgium, India, France, and Germany. She graduated from the university the Wizard of Oz adored, the University of Kansas, where she studied art and lit. See rebeccapyleartist.com.