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October 2011
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
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Shilo Jackson . . . from page 1

At a glance one might think these bits and pieces of collected material are collaged to a cork or fabric background. That’s the trick. Actually, they are carefully and highly realistically painted. Even the cork is an illusion, painstakingly painted to make you believe you could feel the rough texture if you touched it.

The French call this trompe l’oeil, which means “trick the eye.” When a viewer looks at Jackson’s painting and says, “Oh my God, you painted this?” she’s delighted. “Initially they think I’ve just stuck pieces to a board,” she says. When they realize it’s really a painting, not mixed media, “then I know I’ve accomplished something successful.”

But it’s not just the visual trickery that draws you and holds you to study Jackson’s work. The images she selects are combined in ways that have meaning for her, often with tongue-in-cheek humor. It may take a minute or two for the viewer to get it. Or the viewer may get a completely different meaning entirely. That’s perfectly all right with Jackson. What may start as autobiographical becomes shared meaning. “I leave it up to the viewer to interpret what that meaning is. In doing so, they become part of the experience,” says Jackson.

Take, for example, the painting of the “eyes.” On a painted cork background, Jackson has painted images of a half-mask of a woman with big eyes; a portion of the Mona Lisa, including those famous eyes, divided into puzzle pieces; a card promoting Fortune Teller Miracle Fish; and a strip of paper like the fortune from a cookie, on which is written “You shall soon achieve perfection.” One might interpret this painting to be about a puzzling future; the fact that nothing, be it our eyes, a fortune teller, or a fortune cookie, can really help us see or predict our future. Someone else might find something entirely different in the juxtaposition of those images.

“I had a friend who bought one of my paintings and he thought I painted it specifically for him, which is great. But I hadn’t. But he found some intricate messages in what I had painted and that’s great because it spoke to him on one level and it spoke to me on a completely different level,” she says.

This body of work is an evolution of work she exhibited at Art Access in 2008 – her first solo show. The works in that show, called “Note to Self,” were the beginnings of her use of ephemera in an autobiographical way and developing the trompe l’oeil style (read a review here). However, her earliest experiments with the technique go back to her days as a student at Salt Lake Community College. Her instructor, Sandy Gagon, challenged her to try trompe l’oeil painting. That was the first time she painted cork, and she’s been hooked ever since.

“My work allows viewers to question what they are actually seeing,” says Jackson in her artist statement. “As in life, things are not always what they seem upon first inspection. It’s important to take a closer look.”

After completing her associate degree at SLCC, Jackson enrolled in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the University of Utah. There, Jackson says she was fortunate to have professors who allowed and encouraged her to continue developing her highly realistic style. One of her paintings won Best of Show in the 2008 student exhibit. She was also the recipient of a College of Fine Arts scholarship while at the U.

Even before graduating in 2009, Jackson boldly entered the life of professional artist. In late 2007, she became director at the Women’s Art Center, which, unfortunately, by that time, was doomed to close. In January 2008, she took over as owner/director of Kayo Gallery. By this time she had also been selling work from her studio at Poor Yorick, and she had a good sense of what sells and what doesn’t. This is knowledge she not only applies to her own work but also to the progressive artists she selects to exhibit in Kayo. It’s a bit of a high wire act to find the balance between “progressive,” “conceptual,” and “saleable” in today’s Salt Lake City art market. But Jackson seems to find that balance by painting in a series and being faithful to her theme and style, while infusing her work with humor and whimsy.

Jackson feels very fortunate to hold this show right downstairs from Kayo at the Stolen and Escaped gallery space owned by Matt Black and Amanda Hirtado. Black took over the space about a year ago for his filmmaking offices but decided to use the reception area for a gallery feature installation art and other experimental artists.

If you attend the opening reception during Gallery Stroll on Oct. 21, prepare to be confused, excited, and amazed. Above all, have fun deciphering the hidden meanings in Jackson’s new collection.

Denevan, Julie Nester says, doesn't share much about his process. My imagined "aha" moment may be as fantastical as one of the scenes dreamed up by Leonardo. But in these long, horizontal paintings, filled with jewel-like hues of amber, copal, topaz and jade, it seems apparent that Denevan has manipulated his paint surfaces with some chemcial reaction that causes the paint to spread across the surface in an even craquelure, or else curdle into lines and masses. But unlike the mess you might make out of a home repair project, Denevan appears to be in expert control of his material, creating dynamic works full of radiant light and engrossing detail.

Denevan is a San Francisco artist whose studio rests on the shores of the India Basin. During low tides there kelp and earth become sinewy patterns that blend with the still waters.|1| This landscape has been an enduring interest, as evidenced by earlier works available on the gallery's website, where the artist's gaze looks down on to the vegetation so that sky and horizon are outside the picture plane. In these works, painted on canvas, Denevan tries to mimic the liquid quality of the water and humid air, but his streaks and blends fail to captivate in the way his newer landscapes fixed on the horizon line do. Denevan's shift, in this body of work, to painting on metal -- he uses sheets of aluminum and steel -- gives his tones an increased luminosity, and allows the artist to bathe the paint in solvents. Technique, then, necessitates the strict horizontals of paintings like "Coral Sky," |2| where paint dissolves towards the top or toward the bottom of the work; necessity has created astounding, marvelously minimal compositions shifting between calm elegance and dynamic action.

Years ago a local gallerist told me they didn't accept seascapes: in Utah they simply didn't sell. That the scenes I was proposing were painted within 20 miles of the gallery, along the shores of the Great Salt Lake, was irrelevant. If that is true, one might wonder what appeal Denevan's work, of low marshlands and estuaries, could hold for a local audience. Denevan could have used his technique to create strictly non-objective works, minimalist bands of textured colored similar to the work of many of his contemporaries; but he chose to portray the landscape of his home, as well as his travels. His paintings evoke the magical effects you might see in Denevan's India Basin and across the country in the Chesapeke Bay; or farther afield, these could be paintings from the parts of the Venetian lagoon ignored by tourists, or the broad expanses of the Amazon Basin|0| (in his paintings, though, we might also recognize those shallow pools north of the Salt Lake airport you marvel at every time you leave for one of these other destinations).

In opting for mimesis, for representing a subject, Denevan's work plays in that universally appealing place between is and is not. To describe something by what it is and what it is not is a classic analytical process for bounding a problem. In art, though, it is the quality that makes mimetic painting so fascinating. A strictly representational painting usually remains inert, but a painting that both achieves the likeness and feel of a subject, while insisting on its quality as paint, is an active, dynamic work.|3| This is why we enjoy a portrait by John Singer Sargent even when we have no idea who the sitter is, or care, if we do. Sargent's ability to create a likeness makes us marvel at his techincal skill, but to see that line of white paint swirled through a wet patch of gray to create a collar gives us a sensual pleasure in the paint itself.

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In other words, fascinating works of art are as much about the materials as about the subject or technical dexterity. In a work like "Submerged,"|4| Denevan's paint effects create a convincing representation of kelp-strewn islets, receding into the distance until they become a single mass. But then, just before the amber glow of the horizon line, the sediment of grossly precipitated paint sitting on the painting's surface reminds us that it is and is not a landscape.

In painting, a discussion of mimesis always goes back to the Greek story of Zeuxis, a painter who produced a still life so convincing birds flew down to peck at the painted grapes. In Denevan's work it is not so much that we are fooled into thicking the cluster of grapes is real. It is that we see that they are paint and want to eat them all the same.


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