Public Art page 5
May 2004
Page 4
Metaphorically Speaking  . . . from page 1

 detail Ron Richmond When I first thought of viewing an exhibit of symbolic spiritual art, I thought of Ron Richmond, who creates dreamscapes, usually in a loosely defined interior or vague exterior setting.  In “Exchange #1” we see a favorite trope of Richmond’s: a colored cloth on a chair. In the foreground, a toppled chair is covered by a red robe and in midground (there are almost never backgrounds in his pieces) is an upright chair holding  a white robe. The piece is an obvious symbol of redemption that does not need spelling out to anyone.

In another work, “Fall No. 1,” Richmond uses another obvious religious symbol, the apple, but in a much more nuanced way that I found particularly appealing.  In this case we see two apples presented in a fairly straightforward manner, sitting on one of Richmond’s characteristic diamond floors. The apple. Nothing could be more obvious as a representation of the Judeo-Christian tradiaition of the fall. But in this work Richmond shows that he knows how to use a symbol, which as long as we don’t tie it down too tightly may flutter about with various pregnant meanings. These apples have been ripped from the tree and are still attached to their branches. The leaf from one branch reaches out and barely caresses the leaf of the other apple. This is a wonderful allusion to the two very human  subject of the fall and the physical and spiritual intimacy that unites them.

David Hoelt’s “The Long Night is Over,” a delicately drawn graphite work, is a modern still life to represent resurrection and rebirth. A fowl – or rather what seems like its dead carcass – appears pinned to a projection wall.  It rises above a Nike shoe box. If we have read the dictionary definitions on the standards for this room, we know that Nike is the Greek Goddess of victory. The shoe box as tomb doesn’t seem so much a symbol as a visual pun, a play on images. To bring alive the Christian tradtion of the victory of the Resurrection by uniting it with Greek mythology made sense for th Renaissance, which was steepd in both traditions. But in this case, the shoe box seems more a cute pun (and maybe not even that cute considering the labor-exploitating reputation of the commercial brand evoked by the box). Its mundance everyday quality fits in with the other elements of the still-life – an acorn, and a key chain with a vial of consecrated oil. But these “everyday items" do not fit with the fowl (which seems something out of a Flemish still life). I suppose all the mixing of references might seem post-modern but the work does not seem to come together for me. Hoelt's work shows some of the strengths as well as the pitfalls of using symbolic language.

The works of Jacqui Biggs Larsen are much more vaguely symbolic, defying easy attempt at reading. While pregnant with symbolic images, they evade overt statements. Her multi-media collage pieces contain images of girls, princesses, zodiac signs, crowns, ladders, angels, shoes – all either painted or pasted on to a surface which gives no easy answers as to whther the whole work should be read left to right, right ot left, up or down. Without making explicit statements, these works give the general sense of themes: journeys, dreams, relationships.  The collage process Larsen uses  itself speaks about layers of meaning, intersection of experience and understanding. These are the type of works that seep into your consciousness like water into a crack in concrete. These works are personal palmistry, hints and symbols that allow for personal searching and understanding.

Jacqui Larsen

Sean Diediker’s works resemble altar pieces in their framing, but their painting and presentation are very postmodern. Diediker contrasts elements of figures represented in a high contrast format – something out of a rock band promo – with impast work of scenery or still life in the secondary portions of the pieces. “The Last Supper” presents a traditional scene of figures around the Christ, but in the high contrast style of the figures, and the models in their youthful, modern dress, there is something refreshingly present in events two millenia old.

Brian Kershisnik, one of the better known artists in the exhibition, has a number of his trademark figurative pieces in the show. They seem less “symbolic” than the general tone of the exhibit, and not particularly interesting in this setting. The lyric wonder of a man learning to fly in “Flight Practice with Instruction” was a delight, however.

Metaphorically Speaking contains a number of object-oriented pieces, that are certainly symbolic, but in their very objectness seem too obvious. Galen Bell Smith’s “Book of Feasts” features a red velvet covered book of scripture, lying on its back, with ruffled papers coming out of its center. To the side is a fork and spoon, inviting one to the feast of the word.

The curators – or at least the artists they selected – enjoy lighted suspension. The introductory piece to the exhibit, Smith’s “Embrace” is an installation piece that creates an altar type setting using rock, wood, paper and light. A pillar of wood – from the true cross maybe – is encircled by stones on the floor and, suspended in the air, by floating pieces of linen and parchment, some with holes, others with writing. They are veils and layers of understanding at the same time, getting us near but also obstructing us from the center. The center is a nail, or spike rather, suspended above the wood, almost about to touch it, creating the same sense of delicacy you find in Richmond's apples.


Mandi Mauldin Felici’s “Haven” is  a large nest, encircled by a protective netting of branches that ascend upward. The nest is large enough for an eagle, but the protective netting establishes the space of a human being, providing a visceral-in-the-round feeling for what a visual symbol can be.

David Linn’s pieces are large, heavy paintings on wood, also suspended in air, their weight a marked contrast to the lightness of Smith’s piece. Linn’s sepia-toned paintings have always held an interest for me. Their stark monotone quality, their repetition of images, creates a feeling I like. Here, a room has been given to four of his paintings hanging from the ceiling (see image page 1), while the walls have a series of blurred images of faces, of what appear to be “ancestors”. The whole piece is entitled “Where They Walked” and the paintings are typical Linn, showing a vague landscape that is really about journey.

Like Richmond, Linn likes to use a flat picture plane while depicting classical receding space. Often done with a hazy horizon. Here there are large foregrounds, often paths, heading far into the horizon to an unknown destination. Oftentimes, there are fields of rocks -- an impossibilivty to walk through -- one in this case with spotlights hitting the ground being the only indication of a light source. Contrasting these harsh scenes there is also a pleasant meadow with a path through the center. Linn seems to create spiritual landscapes that happen in the past, in the present of our own minds, and in the future of our lives after death.

Overall, Metaphorically Speaking  was superbly presented and had some very compelling artists. It is an apt demonstration that Mormon art can deal successfully with the religious and spiritual values of the community without needing to rely on some sort of propagandist realism.

 But, alas, nothing is ever perfect. I certainly would have enjoyed the exhibition much more if they had turned off the music playing over the loudspeaker – a whining crescendo of violins that detracted from the contemplative aspect of the ehxibt. The exhibit, after all, is an attempt to give the puclic a chance to contemplate and appreciate the symbolic quality of “spiritual art" being crated by contemporary Mormon artists.

Also, the educational aspect tended to detract somewhat from the nature of the exhibit. When symbols are overtly defined, as seems so often in Mormon culture, they become allegory and lose the power that resides in the vagueness of a symbol. The museum does not go so far as to spell out the meaning but they come close. They even provide scriptures to accompany the words they have defined, so that your journey for a symbolic understanding is like looking through a biblical topical guide or word search. Despite the tendency towards didacticism, the curatorial guideposts of the show are done in a such a visually pleasing manner that they seem to become part of the works themselves; as if the curator was an artist using all to make an installation.  I highly recommend the exhibition to anyone in Utah interested either in Contemporary Art or Mormon Art or both.
-- Tony Watson

the women

Exhibition Preview: Salt Lake City
The Women
by Shawn Rossiter

The impetus for artistic output can come from the most varied and sometimes the most unforseen sources. A fleeting image, a chance encounter, an accident; all can be the catalyst for a surge of creative output and even major stylistic changes in an artist’s oeuvre.

Had Pollock not taken notice of his spilled paint, had Derain and Vlamink not met on an outbound Paris train, each artist’s output (as well as the course of Western art) might have been drastically different. An artist is the one whose eyes are open to possibility and who takes advantage of chance, of opportunity.

Salt Lake City artist Bevan Chipman had no idea he would dedicate nearly a year of his artistic life painting Sudanese women when he stepped into the Art Access Gallery in the Fall of 2002 to visit his friend Ruth Lubbers. Chipman, a watercolorist with a studio in Sugarhouse, often travels and paints the people and scenes he visits, but he had no particular interest or affiliation with Africa or the war torn East African country of the Sudan. But when Lubbers showed him a photograph she had taken of Sudanese refugees living in Salt Lake City, Chipman became immediately intrigued.

The women’s colorful attire and noble faces faces appealed to his artistic eye. So, Chipman asked Lubbers to arrange a meeting where he might take some photos of the women in their traditional attire.
He had no idea where the chance encounter would take him.

Since that first meeting, Chipman has produced over thirty paintings of the women. In addition, he has been busy preparing for a one-man exhibition of the work at the Forum Gallery which will feature his new work and will also be a celebration of the culture of the Sudanese refugees.

The May 21st (gallery stroll) opening of “The Women” will feature Chipman’s paintings as well as the stories of the women who have captured the artist's interest. In addition, music and food of the Sudanese culture will be celebrated. Chipman will be using the opportunity of the exhibition to help raise funds for the Sudanese Education Fund, which strives to help provide vocational training for the refugees here in Salt Lake as well as provide tuition for some of the orphaned children of Sudan, still refugees in eastern Africa.

Salt Lake City’s Sudanese refugees come from Southern Sudan, which has been in a violent conflict with the politically dominant North for close to twenty years. The conflict is driven both by religion, the North is Muslim and the South Christian, and the power of oil. The result has been a bloody destruction of many communities in the South, the scattering of families and the exodus of many refugees.

Though Chipman has done a few pieces showing groups of women, sometimes with their children, most of the works are of a single woman, often a bust view. Chipman portrays each woman in a dignified individuality. His watercolors have a very earthy, grainy quality to them, and he has added pastel to many of the pieces to bring them to life. The colorful dress of the Sudanese is adeptly balanced with their strong, dignified visages.

“The Women” will be at the Forum Gallery May 21st through June 12th. The gallery is located at 511 W. 200 S. in Salt Lake City and is open Wednesday through Saturday noon to 5 pm. The opening reception, May 21st, will be from 6 to 9 pm.

For more information contact Bevan Chipman at 364-2491
For more information about the Sudanese Education fund contact Dr. Susan Quaal at 363-1228.

utah arts council