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November 2014
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
Page 5    

Bernard C. Meyers . . . from page 1

At the dawn of the 19th century, romantic poets and painters found nature sublime: vast, alien, and threatening to puny humanity. In the early 20th century, romantic photographers like Edward Weston and Ansel Adams sought to reboot human nature through images of wilderness. As the 21st century looms, Meyers, who draws more on Minor White’s post-impressionist feeling for structure, finds his subjects in greenhouses and hydroponic gardens. Here, in the uneasy boundary zone between vegetal vitality and human ingenuity, where natural impulses and engineering vie with each other for primacy, he finds fresh insights into the totality of creation.

In one of his most effective tropes, seen in “The Rent Veil,” “Both Sides Now,” and “Forbidden Fruits,” the landscape format divides horizontally into vertical stripes. Ramshackle details, like an opaque door on the left and a transparent one on the right, present surface and form, both close to the work’s actual surface. In the center, the interior beyond the passageway plunges deep into a space where patterns of rectangles and straight lines attempt to domesticate nature: a readily perceived and self-confident space that is present here only in the viewer’s mind. In “Victorian Amazonia,” giant round lily pads spread organically over rectangular mullions that are actually reflected in the water that supports them. Knowing that it was precisely these exotic plants, imported to England in the mid-19th century, that gave rise to the combination of steel and glass that has dominated architecture and urban skylines ever since only adds to the pleasure of seeing the elements interact here.

Meyers is a photographer of enormous experience, and an encyclopedia of techniques feed into these images. The needs of architectural clients have taught him to make large, sharp, impeccably printed photos. Shot using infrared-sensitive film, plants appear white: sometimes in sharp detail and at others like luminous clouds. The resulting contrast with the pure black that only printing with ink on paper can produce exceeds the range of what traditional silver prints can achieve. The control available through digital processes contributes to the layering with which Meyers builds his compositions-in-depth: the eye is able to discern and penetrate multiple veils of translucent and semi-opaque material: gauze, burlap, screen, corrugated plastic, and glass painted to control light, each rendered in sharp detail and proportionate luminance. Skill plays an indispensable part here, of course, but it’s clear that the hapless amateur is not alone in profiting from the advent of computers throughout the light-fixing process; visionaries of every level of accomplishment will benefit from greater freedom to shoot and more control of the printed result.

Metaphors suffuse Between Worlds. Some, like the spurious distinction between natural and human, loom large. Others, more local and intense, occur when two identities approach each other and even seem to cross over. The apparently abandoned hydroponic facility that figures in “Above and Beyond,” “Hydroponic Score,” “Line Study” and elsewhere challenges the idea of a difference between the neat order of human farming and the seeming fertile chaos of the jungle. In fact, here the distinction between nature and human order all but dissolves. Even if the larger chaos can be blamed on immediate circumstances, the detail shots of spidery distribution networks make the industrial seem, if anything, more free-form than the neat alternation of branches seen in the plants. Like those venturing to clone or genetically modify naturally occurring organisms, the engineers reveal themselves to be beginners at doing what DNA—even their own, in their species biology—makes look like child’s play. Meanwhile, the plants, in their neat geometric rows, perform a simplified, schematic version of what they would do far more abundantly, if chaotically, on their own.

Meyers is also an academic: a popular teacher whose students at the Waterford School in Sandy enthusiastically filled the gallery on opening night. And his knowledge, not only of the history of photography, but of art as well, pervades his own efforts. For “Starry Day,” he noticed countless pinpricks, dots of white light scattered across a roiling sky of muslin sunscreen, needing only his title to recall Van Gogh. The colored veils of “Rothko Reverie,” here dividing a portrait format into vertical thirds, not only suggest the hugely popular American painter, but support the interpretation that his stacked areas of color represent not just the spiritual or emotional states they evoke, but the vividly felt landscapes that may inspire them. And in “Homage to Sudek” he connects with Josef Sudek, the influential Czech artist whose breathtaking photographs of mundane windows are among the most moving masterpieces of 20th-century art.

The generation that remembers when photography was synonymous with black-and-white is still around: is, in fact, the same one that survived the Depression and fought World War II. But as we’re often reminded, they are passing away, and soon the expectation that photographs come in color—not to mention 3-D and motion, with sound—will be universal. Bernard Meyers extends the tradition of art photography in shades of gray alone, and in his defense might well point to Occam’s Razor: the principle that nothing should be added unless it substantially improves the result. Indeed, these photos don’t suffer for the lack of color; in many, a case could be made that the addition of color would only weaken their visual impact. That said, several in fact are in color: the aforementioned “Rothko Reverie,” wouldn’t work without it. “Porters’ Porch” contrasts the bright green forest landscape outside with the monochromatic interior, the two divided by a wall of water droplets like floating lenses. Similar magic occurs in “Roadside Attraction,” where a vividly crumpled, black-and-white scrim separates viewers from bags of brightly colored spheres. And the show’s masterpiece, “Fern Farm” constitutes one of the most visually haunting, mentally adhesive photo images I’ve ever seen. The largest work here, it begins by suggesting a ruined photo, its surface irretrievably damaged by water or mold. On closer inspection, the intervening layer consists this time of moss growing on a screen, so optically ambiguous that in places it appears to be on the trees, while in others it extends into air. Without the subtle shades of green, this spooky (to say the least) image wouldn’t read anything like the way it does here.

The visual conundrums of Bernard C. Meyers draw us into optical encounters that challenge our eyes and minds. The resulting conversation, including, but not limited to, the photographer and his subjects, what the viewer sees and what that individual (or group, if one is fortunate enough to share the experience with friends) already knows, and memories old and new, makes this show the antidote to the all-too-common experience of skating through a gallery, untouched by what’s on view, and ultimately emerging unchanged. The first-ever solo show at Alice Gallery will send you home enriched with visual experiences to keep, and that will change the way you view the world around you.

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Musings on Space
Blake Luther, Anne Wolfer, and Jill Barton at 15th Street Gallery

This month 15th Street Gallery has brought together three local artists, who, though individually working through their own aesthetic sensibilities, all create works that succeed through their exploration of space. Shown together, the works of Blake Luther, Anne Wolfer, and Jill Barton create a formal unity and harmony that is rhythmic, soothing and revealing.

Luther’s landscapes might be called stark, bold, and, in his use of vertical structures, even figural. There is a sense in his works of human presences that might even be called “existential,” as his use of the linear, in these contexts, is so strong. Even in “Park Matrix,” where there are a number of trees, there is less of a tendency to grove the trees than there is to stand them alone in their place, together, yet isolated, in the existential manner of Giacometti. 

In Wolfer’s landscapes there is more of a Diebenkorn-esque tendency to play with the patterns of the land. “All Terrain,” makes the most of turquoise, blue and yellow, and like Diebenkorn’s work, creates divisions in the expanse with color, with the same element of Modernist flatness, up until the horizon, where there is an implied recession and then a great white of sky.

Whether the artist uses a figural monumentality or a stylistic structuralism, space is the controlling factor that allows each of these singular characteristics to be.  Spatiality admits for the monumentality and the stark, bold approach, dividing up the land, and spatiality allows for the being of the expanse and recession into space and then sky.  As these paintings are hung next to each other there is a marvelous synergy.

With Luther, we see an extremism of the allowance of space to articulate the dimensionality of his landscape in a work like “Francis Silo.”  It might be a lonely and barren scene, but the contrasts made between the large rounded tree, the tall silo, and the shallow cluster of farming structures creates a scene of powerful minimalist structural interest.  Again, the silo stands alone, a figural allusion to an existential phenomenon represented in these reductive and barren elements, which becomes intriguing in their isolation.

In Wolfer’s “Harpswell Dock” we find the opposite, a canvas consumed by structure. The subject, which fills the picture plane, is a weathered and weary dock in a bay, with only three basic picture planes, a band of ivory sky, the lifeless dock, and the glistening and refreshing water, the redemptive element to the painting contrasting lifeless elements with animation.  Again, in whatever ways these paintings may differ, in each, spatial structure creates their being, and lends compositional elements that unites them.

Space also activates Wolfer’s series of still lifes.  These are empty bottles cursorily painted against a nondescript ground.  “Dark Bottles 2” is the composite of a short glass medicine or cosmetics jar refracting the green from the ground beneath it.  Next to it is a taller, black jar, an olive oil container perhaps, refracting the menthe and cooler tones in front of the blackness.  These bottles are defined by their space.  Their being and structure is made recognizable by the space they inhabit.  This is no different than Luther’s “Sentinel” where a lone evergreen stands erect in the middle of a field, isolated against the field and hazy hills behind, and an even hazier sky.  It is its spatiality that makes possible its being and acknowledges its existential presence in the field as it resides alone and silent.

We have asked what is the figure with or without spatiality to give it presence and reality.  But what is space without the figure, the lone, silent tree?  What is space without the bottles, or the dock, or the silo, or the planes, or the grouping of trees to give it presence and reality?  Barton’s paintings, in their abstract purity, present a representational counterpoint to this dynamic.  Her “Big Ocean” is a painting totally abstracted, with the most reductive elements of color: steel and cold gray, blue, and ice white, with slate gray, painted in an ethereal application of horizontal stratus-like streaking, with no subject other than the purity of the color, mood, tone, expression, emotion, intensity and subtlety. Her “Little Bird I” and  “Little Bird II” form a diptych, each requiring the other. As teal blue melds into pearly white and chalky gray, it creates space itself, charged with meaning.  Apparently, space is not autonomous, but like the figure, space, too, is a reality that must be defined by “the other,” in order for it to be present and real.

Space is frequently seen as the negative, as the surrounding, as the thing that isn’t around the thing that is, but as this grouping of three intriguing artists at 15th Street Gallery reveals, space  is an activating dynamic, a reality as important as form to create compelling works of art.

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