Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Chuck Landvatter, Megan Mitchell and Joe Strickland at Rio Gallery
A few years ago, a Snow College graduate was nearly dropped from the BFA program at Weber State for submitting drawings that resembled photographic double exposures. In one, a woman had two heads; in another, an ear of one face burst through another’s cheek. Ironically, they would look right at home among Chuck Landvatter’s large portraits,|1| which just goes to remind us that new art rarely comes wearing an academic imprimatur. Like that student, Landvatter sometimes overlays two poses, or he may double up a segment of a face,|2| or he may slice and dice a face, then reassemble it so as to alter its proportions.|3| That we still perceive recognizable faces speaks to our ability to learn new perceptual tricks as quickly as we can create them.
One untitled portrait flips back and forth between monstrous and motherly, alternating faster as the mind tries ever harder to stabilize her image. Yet in “Marshall & Marshall,” wherein the most extreme and geometric shattering overwhelms the senses, the mind’s perceptual response is to simply invent a coherent image where, in reality, there is none. Like walking past a fence, where the scanning slots between the boards enable our minds to see through solid wood as if it were transparent, these portraits are parables of how we actually perceive: not neuron per pixel per se, but by assembling an image from bits, often remarkably accurately.
Coming from another, related direction, Landvatter’s Crumpled Face Series revels in the novelty of making permanent the distortions that result when a meaningful set of symbolic marks is rudely translated from two dimensions into three, once again transforming them in ways that tease but fail to fool the astute, well-practiced brain.|4| A fourth technique seems to alternate an image of the presence of the subject with one of his absence, thereby taking cubism from three dimensions to four: from being in space to being in space-time. Of course, where one viewer sees science in action, another may just as well find evocations of humor or horror. Aesthetics, after all, is by far our richest way of thinking.
Megan Mitchell’s ceramic objects are contained within compact, eloquent profiles that possess enough solid presence to complement a Zen garden. Yet their three-dimensional simplicity is belied by the sophistication and rich complexity of their ornamental surfaces. “Incomplete Road II”— ‘Press-molded stoneware, slip inlay, lithography transfer, screen print, glaze, cone 6 oxidation’—is as complex as it sounds, all this appearing on three pale, off-white rectangles that undulate like a ribbon across the wall, their skins as riven and marked by stress as the salt flats.|5| In platters, tiles, and a box, the image is sometimes a decorative pattern, like a William Morris chintz; at others, a landscape drawing embeds itself in the soft glass surface.|6-7|
Given that the pieces all resemble utilitarian ware, but carry landscape elements of one form or another, they all lie along the indoor/outdoor divide. Other borderlines Mitchell invokes include functional and decorative, positive and negative, new and antique, authentic and simulated, window and wall, superficial and incised, complete and incomplete, red and blue . . . and so on, limited only by the patience of the philosopher contemplating them. To see them is to imagine how it would feel to touch them; to turn away is to anticipate and desire seeing them again.
Architectural photography isn’t exactly a sexy genre, and Joe Strickland has compounded the challenge by choosing as his subject public restrooms. The gold-and-marble temples of ablution glimpsed in some modern palaces of wealth and commerce don’t necessarily lack glamour or the ability to inspire passion—or envy, at least. Photographic drama is another matter, as are public toilets (as they are labeled nearly everywhere but the United States). Built on a budget and designed for minimum maintenance, these anonymous spaces are routinely remodeled by vandals and rebuilt by the lowest bidder. This is not a formula for photogenic results. What makes them such excellent subjects, as Strickland finds them, is their universality. Were the results of his visit to Carmel in 2012 a portrait of a married couple, we might note on the left the superficial look of confidence on the face of the groom, comparing it to the complex backstory suggested by the bride’s elaborate self-presentation on the right. In the landscape he captured in Big Sur the same year, the rivulets of water on the floor might recall the sea wrack found and photographed on a nearby beach by the incomparable Edward Weston. We feel we can tell something, and not just something superficial, about the people of Park City and Madison River|8| from the complacent way their restroom presents them. This isn’t sociology; it’s the ability of art to reveal life’s limits in an instantaneous glimpse. Compare Brigham City’s single, discrete toilet to the County Fair’s|9| four exposed metal boxes, with their darkened floors. Bright colors and smooth surfaces here, subdued hues and textured materials there. Strickland’s photos are fashionably large, but for a purpose: standing in front of one is like being present, confronted by the physical facts of biological necessity. Behind the obvious division—the door between public identity and what goes on in private—there is a much more important borderline we cannot be reminded of enough: what we would choose to leave out of almost any catalog if we could are almost always the essential things that, if anything, should receive our attention first.
Unlike the UMFA, the UMOCA, or the Finch Lane Gallery, each of which can isolate disparate artists among separate rooms or even floors, the Rio Gallery’s calm and formal, single space forces the works it shows into the kind of dialogue urban landscapes press upon their buildings. While it’s uncommon, if not rare, for three artists with similar programs and equal impacts to turn up at the same time, it’s not necessarily the case therefore that one or two will make the third look weak by comparison. In the case of Borderline, works that might be overlooked or struggle to impress on their own draw strength from the sympathetic atmosphere surrounding them, and the viewer comes away conscious of how a single boundary can separate more than one pair of contrasting dimensions. Just as an opposing pair of watersheds draining into a common stream may have contrasting political systems, cultures, topographies, and habitats, so two mediums, two design envelopes, or two architectural functions can inform each other. At a certain point, only an observer can fully appreciate just what an artist is doing. Sometimes that’s a dealer, a gallery director, or a critic. Here, three artists have done that for each other, and found so much in common in the process that they chose to show together. The result is a cohesion that can be felt gathering strength as one walks from one work to the next, until the room seems to vibrate, to hum an inaudible chord or glow with an invisible color harmony.
Exhibition Review: Park City
Finding the Universe in the Center of a Fig
Teresa Kalnoskas at Julie Nester Gallery
What is the nature of a narrative? It has a beginning, it has a development that involves content, often conflict, ideally growth and progression, and it has an end. The best narratives are the ones that have an end that does not end, that through our experience of the narrative, transform us so the narrative goes on living in our experience. This conception of the living narrative may have more to do with the art of Teresa Kalnoskas than is immediately apparent. Kalnoskas, who is showing this month at Park City’s Julie Nester Gallery, paints abstractions of luscious ripe fruit, but what may appear static in her work is in fact a living narrative.
Contemporary still life can frequently be just that, still, devoid of any temporality. Take Logan’s Christopher Terry, who distills all traces of temporality from his very precisely articulated still-lifes. Terry is at the top of his field for doing what he does, but it is something drastically different from what Kalnoskas does, proving that genre labels can be as harmful as they are helpful.
Rather than stillness and immobility, Kalnoskas views the still life as a narrative, full of life, with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Many of her current works are large, square-format work, filled with rich color that is used with great density in hue that varies in totality to create a product that can only be described as lush. The fruit that appears in these paintings look sweet. They feel juicy to the eye. The paint appears something to be bitten into, with juices dripping from the corner of the mouth.
Kalnoskas, who works in oils, alkyds and wax, has a singular use of the brush that builds or diminishes her intensity of color, from highlight on top to great shadow underneath. The brushstroke can be described as Japanese in stroke. In “Viva” it seems a samurai sword has taken great swipes of color and, through these many strokes, built up the subject, which, ultimately, has an abstract quality that in itself has a Japanese quality of universality or simplicity: Zen. This is carried on over the top of the fruit where strokes, like electrons circling an atom, highlight the forms and give a vibrational energy to the painting. These forms and lines are in the end held together by dense areas of flat space, executed in an equally abstract format.
In some cases, the fruit of Kalnoskas’s paintings seem only to be an excuse for paint, vague, almost obliterated anchors in a swirl of fecund color and movement of paint. The guava of “Mexican Guava,” are recognizable objects, as are plums and pears in other paintings, but in a painting like “Heirlooms Orange” the subject has become almost unrecognizable, the glimpse of a stalk the one hint at what lies beneath the paint.
In “Joie de Vivre with Figs,” Kalnoskas’s full painterly and narrative powers are revealed. The subjects are several figs, one cut open in sections. The unopened figs are opaquely dark with a heavy texture that makes them very robust with a texture that seems fibrous and flaxen. Contrast this to the view of the opened fig — it looks like the kind to put to your mouth and suck the juicy flesh out of, enjoying the rich sweetness as it caresses the back of the throat and slides down in an experience of epicurean ecstasy. The mouth is full of a sour sweetness that feels so satisfying another bite is in order and this fruit begs to be nursed upon until every last morsel of this delightsome meat has been washed down the throat with the utmost pleasure.
The fruits in "Joie de Vivre" are rendered in a manner that unites them with the abstract qualities of the paint, thus capturing them in their greatest fecundity: we are at the climax of this particular narrative, something that is rendered in a Zen-like abstraction that heightens this fecundity, universalizing it and making it much more than a simple still life. The painting is a moment, a slice of time, that has embedded in it a full narrative: the unopened figs a past, and the dripping ripe fruit a very sensuous present, but one that implies its own decaying end.
We can see in these assemblages of fruit, these microcosms of existence, the macrocosm of that temporality that is a ruling factor to everything; and to everything there is process, and to all process, there is beauty, be it at the beginning, the climax or the end. The colors will be a different intensity, lighter or darker, or more or less intense, the juiciness may be more or less full and abundant, bursting from the flesh like a full sponge, or quite dry. But always the abstraction will be the same, the universal thread of life that brings harmony and unites all phases of life, and we can be assured of our own universal unity just as these still lifes are a testimony to a universal harmonious unification.