Metaphorically Speaking . . . from page 1
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.
| 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
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
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
Exhibition Preview: Salt Lake City
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,
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.