Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Vomela, Payan, and Downen: A Symphony of Color at Downtown Artist Collective

Celine Downen’s “Meditations in Blue”

“Use of color” is an expression over-abundantly used, often because someone doesn’t know what to say about art, or artists: as an artist, you are congratulated on “your use of color” when, of course, you usually have no choice. Color’s there, it happens; you might have chosen the tubes of paint closest to you as you painted; there’s yet to be invented a colorless paint.

If using black and white, you might be congratulated on your use of light and dark, or shadows. A bit like being congratulated, when you’re dressed, for your “use of clothes.” It’s all requisite.

But here, the three artists in krōmə (the phonetic spelling for “chroma,” meaning: “an intensity or purity of color”) — whom the gallery statement says are together because of their use of color — are playing color as if, well, musicians.

What if the works of Celine Downen, Micah Payan, and Miroslava Vomela, now lining the Downtown Artist Collective (a serene and brilliant rectangle of old brick walls and blonde-finished wood floors) — were not the colors they are?

Celine Downen’s cyanotypes would not be blue, the blue this photographic process creates, a medium marine blue very starkly silhouetting leaves, roots, plants, pure solid blues and whites these things never are. Arranged on one wall just above some handsome, brown-leather sling chairs, they are like blue and white lines of china: really, really blue and white. What if we could see ourselves in silhouette this way? We might rethink ourselves in blue and in this photographic process, if we saw our own silhouettes, or a whole movie transpiring in this marine blue and brilliant, brilliant white, spurring meditation about motives, motion, and simpler miracles.

“Are you hallucinating part 6″ by Micah Payan, with Celine Downen’s “Meditations in Blue” reflected in the background

Micah Payan’s photographs would lose their underwater pull: in “Are you hallucinating part 6,” a woman sips on a straw on a bed in a sea of rich green which protects and enfolds and makes the moment of the photograph forever. She’s in an intense green world, as if undersea; she’s safe and strange and sealed away here by the color. You want to know how Payan made these photographs so rich in hue; but, yet, you don’t. You want to believe they are as they are, and only Payan has camera-entry into this waterlocked world.

And Miroslava Vomela’s artwork world of seaside greens and blues and corals and pinks — this deliberately soothing palette — could come terribly undone. Though Vomela is from the Czech Republic, a landlocked place, and she lives in Utah, another landlocked place, these pieces have a gentle sense of enclosure, containment, their frames looking a bit worn by salt or sun, most colors gently marine, greens and blues and aquas. Plump little roses appearing in them are a rockrose seaside pink; these, especially, are like a shy young girl’s wishful colors, the colors of someone trying to soothe one’s self, like aromas of lavender or camomile or pink carnations.

In a display on the wall are many of Vomela’s small beloved objects: tiny empty glass bottles, miniature jars of old brass buttons, a plump but small curling seashell. There’s a little bit of Glass Menagerie going on here: then to the right of this delicate, careful display, there is a large black-and-white image, likely a passport photo of the artist. The gaze in “(Self) Portrait of an Immigrant” is best described as lost: there’s terrible worry in it, shock, a bit of hopelessness, as if something is vanishing in front of a transfixed person’s eyes; it all can’t be stopped. Then you see, around this dim black-and-white photo — a photo once small but now enlarged — very declaratory and defining words: They begin with REFUGEE; then they thunder on in black ink to descriptions of emotion/personality (INTROVERT), profession, family (WIFE/MOTHER), sport participation (SKIER), all the facets of a brave and rooted life here in the United States; and the artist, below these boldly written declarations, has added, like an overspilling and joyous European windowbox planter beneath her photo, drawings of spilling leaves and rosy flowers. (There is a truth about a window box of flowers: no one ever had to plant one; they were always only planted for the thrill and joy of color, beauty.)

So don’t think too-critical thoughts about any “use of color” statement here. Here, against the old brick walls of the Downtown Artist Collective, once the Cosmic Aeroplane, color is deliberately protecting the three self-contained worlds of artistic work; and color has made, from a sad black-and-white photograph, a window box declaration of joy.

“(Self) Portrait of an Immigrant” by Miroslava Vomela

krōmə, works by Celine Downen, Micah Payen, Miroslava Vomela, Downtown Artist Collective, Salt Lake City, through June 15.

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