Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Trent Alvey and the Perishing, Mortal Eye

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.

Trent Alvey, “Green Dreams”

For a couple of magic years during her adolescence, I drove my step-daughter to and from school five days a week. During those shared moments, one of her favorite things was to tell me her dreams. Eventually I realized her narratives went on far too long for her to be remembering them: that she had, in fact, returned to the dream state and was telling me the dream as she witnesses it continuing. The literary novelist, Robert Olin Butler, describes the process of artistic creation just so, as dreaming while awake, and I realized that I’d had the rare privilege of witnessing that process in play. 

That description comes close to accounting for the art of Trent Alvey, in that her works are rooted in abstractions and resist ascribing them to subject matter. Her luminous pyramids floating on the Great Salt Lake, or the neon line that changes its nature with the viewer’s perspective, which is part of the permanent collection of the Springville museum and can be seen just upstairs from “Green Dreams,” do not re-present things she has seen in life. And the truly remarkable thing about “Green Dreams” is that it doesn’t either: rather, in it the viewer is privileged to witness the artist continuing the act of dreaming into physical being a place and an experience she began while sleeping.

What makes this landscape so dreamlike? Is it that what Blake called our “perishing and mortal eye” cannot resolve the relations between its ethereal, unfinished parts? Strolling up along what appears to be a stream marked by stepping stones, viewers arrive at a womb-like dwelling that suggests a cave. But gliding down like a bird from above, the “dwelling” looks more like a hut that the stream flows behind, then down and around. The spring greenery of the rise give way to peach-colored slopes above. The rocky crest feels too close to the peaks that rise behind it, while their color reflects off the clouds that ring the bluest of skies. Those colors, lime green foreground, black and gray rocks, and blue sky ringed with peach shared by mountain slopes and clouds, are pure and powerful beyond their representational roles, the result of their delicate and luminous, watercolor-like transparency and their skilled application.

Something very much in evidence throughout the Salon is the use of text to tell viewers more than the art can. Here we are told by the artist that “I vow to share with the mega flora and fauna and also respect the very small and microscopic life that will surround my domicile.” In the past, an artist might have included a buffalo, a soaring eagle, or a Native American in a landscape to portray such intentions, though we don’t yet have a visual language that includes invisible, but crucial life forms unknown to painters past. Perhaps this poetic form completes the painting in a less ambiguous way. In any event, verbal reassurance has clearly become a part of our contemporary connection to the artist through her work. 


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

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