Public Art page 5
June 2004
Page 4
Exhibition Preview: Salt Lake City
Pop Nostalgia
by Allen Bishop

“Pop Nostalgia” is an exhibition of recent years’ work by Joe Carter and Paul Heath, who have teamed up at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center Gallery. As suggested by the term “nostalgia,” Heath’s and Carter’s sense of “Pop Art” has a far warmer, friendlier evocation than the distant, anonymous multiplicity of Andy Warhol or the wry comic book cynicism of Roy Lichtenstein. Perhaps this fact is an expression of Pop Art as reflected in a warmer, friendlier city.

Temple City Motel

In paintings (some on scroll-cut plywood), silk-screens, pastels and ceramic tile, Paul Heath celebrates cherished pop objects and remembered images of growing up in Utah and Salt Lake City, where he still lives. Heath considers his work an “eclectic record” of past and present states of Salt Lake, before changes have or will occur. These images are auto-biographical in that they provide a sense of both continuity and change from his childhood to adult years in a particular place. Even an image of an old toy (“Fire Chief”) likewise addresses the theme of change through time.

Most images Heath has chosen would likely evoke fond memories from anyone who has lived here, especially if for more than a decade or two: signs from the Temple City Motel, Snow King and a variety of old movie theatres. The silkscreen “SLC Alphabet” provides the viewer with a patchwork of alphabet clues from sign snippets of old Salt Lake sites and invites us to play a game of identification. Harman’s, the Avalon, the Villa and Dee’s were readily apparent to me. Others elude quick recognition.

Heath feels a need to live for a time with an object or place before feeling that he appreciates it fully and can paint it authentically. His affection for his subject matter is manifest in his enjoyment of careful craftsmanship. He loves the physical nature of cutting and assembling plywood pieces for painted relief works such as “Rainbow Randevu” and “Ogden Snowdome.” His clean drawing and hard-edged color areas are flat, even spatially planar, but reflect a sense of affectionate loyalty to the nostalgic subject matter and a linear Pop Art sensibility.

Joe Carter is an experienced electrical engineer, but left the field in 1998 to pursue his lifelong dream of painting. His engineering background carries through to solving the problems of naturalistic painting, one step at a time. He works to record, as faithfully as possible, relatively small objects that he collects for their very quality of being considered common, mundane or worthless though they reflect the very culture that considers them so. Many of these are displayed around the studio, where he has lights and an elevated stand for the object he is currently working on. This allows him to easily study the object closely and carefully enough to satisfy his demand for detail and “getting it right.” His approach to realism is more illusionistic than Heath’s, with carefully blended colors giving a greater sense of 3-D modeling extending behind the picture plane.

ball by Joe Carter

Carter’s quest for precision in portraying the mundane objects of pop culture (such as in “7-up”, “Clipettes” and “Philco”) does not disallow a more imaginative quality in some of his paintings. “Ball”, for example, features a two quart Ball Mason jar painted meticulously in pale aqua tones on a simple modulated light gray field. Floating in this field is one multi-colored fish and the tail of another swimming away, giving a vague, surreal sense of being under water.

Even more open to interpretation is “Mercy”. Here a blank-faced paper doll dressed in white (an angel?) stands in the middle of the painting. She is surrounded by strands of brightly colored ribbons and has a “halo” of golden tinsel above her head. The title certainly seems fitting, but much is left to the viewer’s imagination.

In all of his images, Carter seeks a sense that these objects are in their “own world,” where there is a kind of “daydream existence,” a space where the painting takes on a more precious value than does the object.

A careful caressing of old objects, places and memories. A sense of the nexus between misty dreams and the popular market culture of decades past. This is “Pop Nostalgia,” as defined by the work of Joe Carter and Paul Heath.

 Mercy by Joe Carter

Making Waves . . . from page 1

The Kipas are both prominent visual artists in New Zealand. When it comes to art, the Maoris are traditionally known for their weaving, carving and ta moko (tattooing). Julie is a master at the art of ta moko as well as a painter, multi-media installation artist, designer, and writer. Rangi is also a ta moko artist, a sculptor and a painter. Ostraff first came in contact with Julie in 2002 when preparing for a study abroad program. He had his students seek out indigenous artists from New Zealand over the Internet and see if they would be interested in speaking to a group of university students. "Julie wrote back and said she'd love to talk to us,” Ostraff remembered, “but she wanted us to come stay at their marae (sacred meeting area) in Taranaki. We changed our whole schedule to go over there for a couple days. They had a bunch of other students from the local university there. They were teaching a class on Maori culture, so our students just blended with theirs for two days and it was a blast." The personal connection with the Maori artists seemed to make all the difference for the BYU students, so Ostraff knew Julie and Rangi were essential in making this year's program a memorable one.

After a few lazy days of exploring our new surroundings, we met the Kipas. They introduced us to the Maori university in Whakatane called Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi. Ostraff knew Julie Kipa was the director of an art school, but he didn't know it was part of something this big. The students and faculty are mostly Maori and infuse the indigenous culture into all their programming and activities. It is their mission to empower the descendants of Awanuiarangi to claim and develop their cultural heritage. Our first experience on campus was a unique one. We were greeted with a Maori ceremony and hongi (Maori form of greeting, involving pressing noses), which let us know they accepted us as their guests. The every-day tourist is not usually welcomed in this way, but because of Ostraff’s friendship with the Kipas, we were granted this honor. After the ceremonial welcome, Rangi stood up to say a few words and then, to everyone's surprise, Ostraff gave a little speech in Maori. I didn’t know what he was saying, but the administration and faculty smiled and nodded as he spoke, so I assumed he was making sense.

The next morning we had the privilege of spending a few hours with the university students at the art school. We split up into groups and sat down with the artists as we tried to understand more about their curriculum and what they studied. The artistic disciplines varied from student to student, but they were currently learning about theory and symbolism in Maori art. We shared a lot of information that first day as they let us look at their notebooks and portfolios. It was the beginning of a three-week relationship we didn’t expect to have.

Wilcox demonstrating photography

We were able to learn first hand about the Maori culture and traditions by accompanying their class on a field trip to holy sites pertaining to Maori prophet Rua Kenana in Waimana and Matahi. The following day, we collaborated with the students in creating installations along the beach that incorporated some of the symbols we learned about on the field trip. The faculty also invited us to attend weaving classes and participate in other school activities during our stay. In return, Ostraff and Wilcox facilitated a couple of photography workshops. The students were divided into four groups and each was given a camera and the assignment to shoot photos around town that exhibited an element of juxtaposition. Wilcox demonstrated the development process and taught them how to develop their own film. He and Ostraff also helped install a dark room in the art building so they could continue to study and practice photography.

Photography is something Ostraff and Wilcox asked all their students to practice on the field study. Each student brought a Holga camera, which is probably the cheapest medium format camera out there (short of building your own out of plywood). The cameras have soft focusing, can shoot double exposures and have interesting light leaks that add to the unpredictable nature of each exposure. The students loved these cameras, shooting rolls and rolls of 120 film during the trip. In fact, the art school hosted an exhibit featuring some of the students' photographs at their gallery to coincide with an exhibit featuring major Maori artists.

After a week in Whakatane, I took a moment to sit down with Malia Andrus, a student of sociology and art at BYU who attended the New Zealand study abroad in 2002. She noted the differences between the experiences this year and the one two years ago. "Our first trip to New Zealand was a study abroad; we went to the south island and the north island. We jumped around and got to see a lot of cool places, but we didn't meet anyone except for Julie and Rangi in Taranaki. That was everyone's favorite part of the trip; those two days when we got to meet them and work with their students. That's what I really like about this trip is how we're staying here and we're able to see the same people over and over again and understand their personalities – and they understand us. Because this is a field study, we're in charge of our own learning. This trip is totally what you make of it. You can choose to not make any friends or you can learn about the students. And look at us! We have some over right now,” she laughed as she looked into the living room at her fellow BYU students trying to learn some traditional dances from a couple Maori students who came to visit.

Working closely with the local students and faculty for an extended period of time was a unique privilege. Andrus explained, "We're not here to study them. We're here to learn from them. When I finished the prep class for this I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to study. But being here has changed my attitude toward my sociology project. My ideas were kind of arrogant. I was going to study and evaluate the Maori values and how they resist modernization. I realized that they don't need me to come in and do that. I want to focus more on a specific value that I've noticed and how they preserve it." One of these values is an emphasis on family and a continuation of future generations. This was evident when we learned how to properly pick flax for the weaving projects. When picking flax or "harakeke," students are taught to never cut the three main leaves in the center because those are the parents and the child – you must preserve the family so the plant can continue to grow.

New Zealand was just the first adventure for these BYU students. As I sit here at my desk, typing this article, they are treading around in Tonga pursuing their projects and research (unfortunately 15 Bytes can't pay me to do these “on location” pieces so I must to return to 40 hour weeks and earn more vacation days). Ostraff has friends in Tonga from previous trips whom the students will be staying with, but again, nothing is set in stone. Ostraff has the advantage of being more selective with those who participate in field studies as opposed to study abroad programs. In fact, when I commented on how knowledgeable and respectful this group was, he smiled and said, "Well, they were hand-picked." He knows from years of experience that it takes a unique person to fully appreciate different customs and values. These trips also require patience and flexibility with last minute schedule changes. Last I heard the group had to take a 25-hour ride on an over-booked freight boat to Tonga because the only inter-island airline went bankrupt. And, according to one of the students, “the Olevaho ain’t no love boat,” but the passengers were very kind and considerate of one another. The very nature of the Polynesian culture seems to be relaxed and unpredictable, so if the students haven't already adopted that mentality, they soon will as they continue to play it by ear, day by day and see who they meet and what wonderful opportunities arise for them in the coming weeks.
students before class