Holly Mae Pendergast
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Initially I thought I would be interested in the exhibit for what insights it could potentially reveal about Native Americans and their cultural, religious and philosophical beliefs. But when confronted with the works, I became interested in exploring the emotional and intellectual process the artist went through as she worked her self-transformation.
The first piece that really caught my attention was a small 9” x 12’ monochromatic study of a woman’s head.|0 | It was oil and graphite on prepared paper, beautifully rendered and very sensitive. It speaks volumes.
This study is rendered with soft brushwork and features graphite lines drawn on top of the painting, as do many of the other works. The subject -- a mature woman -- exhibits the beginnings of facial metamorphosis often associated with a hard life lived largely outdoors. The features of the face seem to have become modeled to match the landscape features they may be generally associated with. The forehead protrudes slightly and is rounded like a large sandstone bolder. The cheeks are softly faceted and contoured as if eroded by wind, sand and rain. The nose is sunburned, elongated and hooks slightly as if broken long ago. The lips are closed, offset, and the mouth is almost clenched. The eyes are closed and contorted, as if swollen shut. The hair looks roughly cut and the expression is one of sad determination and resolve.
The questions began to surface. Are these eyes the eyes of contemporary society, sore and swollen, closed to the social conditioning experienced during each person’s formative years? Are the modeled and contorted facial features representative of further learned behavior, reflecting the distorted values of society at large? Is the set of the jaw the determination to eradicate the roots of discrimination and prejudice from the artists’ own persona?
On a more superficial level, the expression could be representative of the suffering Native Americans have endured at the hands of their conquerors.
The accessibility of the works welcomes the viewer to ask their own questions, and find their own answers.
“People seem to be really attracted to this work, even people without formal art appreciation training,” confides Lubbers. “There is something about Holly’s style that is very comfortable and familiar”.
Lubbers points out the rendering of the hands in the larger paintings. “They are so strong and animated as if they have a life of their own. Almost spider like.”
I, too, had noticed the rendering of the hands, as in the piece "Lance Bullcreek".|1| Enlarged and with elongated fingers. Not at rest. Agitated, even in waiting. Strong, yet delicate. They could be analogous to the artist’s hands, strengthened by working the particular muscles used to paint and draw, waiting and ready for the next task and artistic challenge.
In her artist statement, Pendergast retells her experience of seeing a troupe of Native American performers dressed in T-shirts, jeans and sneakers, and her friend’s remarks about their dress not being authentic looking costuming. “They are wearing authentic Indian clothes,” Pendergast answered. Indeed, T-shirts, jeans and sneakers are what native people wear these days, the world over.
Another striking aspect of Pendergast’s paintings is how many of the subjects do not “look’ like Native Americans. Pendergast has specifically chosen these subjects to call attention to the stereotyping often associated with prejudice and has created another graphic analogy between herself, Native Americans and the universality of the human experience. “This could be anyone’s grandmother,” Lubbers points out. “Or these kids on the steps look like the typical kids next door.”|2|
There are, however, several portraits of very ethnic looking subjects, wearing more traditional clothing, such as "Corbin Harney - Spiritual Leader" |4| and "Lisa Bullcreek and Ty."|5| Pendergast explains, “This is because they participate in traditional activities as a normal aspect of their lives”.
The attentive viewer becomes entranced by the calmness and inner peace expressed in these works. An almost meditative quality expressive of an inner reserve and a quiet dignity exudes from the paint, as if the artist has captured actual spiritual auras. There is emotion expressed here. It appears to be a combination of the humble acceptance of forced social position and accompanying resignation, with the Native American tradition of an innate humbleness before the mystery and magnitude of creation.
The artist's style is conducive to the overall presentation of the subjects and adds to the ambience and aesthetic experience. Her use of raw, largely un-mixed colors, straight from the tube, are expressive of Native peoples connection with the environment. The choice of earth tones, turquoise, blue and red lend to the feeling of authenticity of the subjects. Her painterly style and broad brush strokes provide power and animate the surfaces. The contorted body shapes and thickened and elongated forms lend an alien quality to the figures. Indeed, Native Americans remain a largely alien sub-culture and almost a “secret” society.
Pendergast has committed herself to learning about these individuals and what they contribute to society. They are elders and leaders, healers, teachers, politicians, bakers, activists, teenagers, mothers, and children. Learning about them and coming to appreciate them for their personality, character and morality is part of the process of opening her mind and growing a new “seed” of understanding within her heart.
The subjects have been Pendergast’s teachers, and Pendergast is now the viewer’s teacher.
In a time of globalization, Holly Mae Pendergast’s exhibit at Art Access Gallery provides a wonderful opportunity for the viewer to explore their hearts and minds in regards to their preconceptions of ethnic groups different from their own. Pendergast does not preach with her paintings, but takes her own journey through them and allows the viewer to follow along. May we all be blessed in our efforts to become planters of new seeds.
Kent Rigby is a sculptor and president of the Salt Lake Gallery Association.
Artist Byte: Salt Lake City
The People in Your Neighborhood
by Mariah Mann Mellus
an amazing local photographer, has lived down the street from me for seven years. Over the years, I would stroll into his studio and check out his most recent work or say hello as we picked up our morning coffee. As far as a in depth conversation the time never seem to be available - me always on my way to work, him, well, I guess I should have asked where he was off too. As I mull over my encounters with Dennis I’m reminded of the song from a PBS program. “Who are the people in your neighborhood, in your neigh-bor-hood the people that you meet each day?
Dennis started out as most artists do, trying to find time and money to pursue his passion. His diligence is still visible today and conjures up visions of a young boy working for a mapmaker to pay for his college education. His work began first with architectural photography, then in to the less practical but more intriguing nudes.|1|
Dennis is a man of strength and conviction, always trying to improve on what he has done before.
“ I get a lot of comments on Gallery Stroll about the quality of my prints, I’m always trying to push the envelope artistically and technically." Mecham says. "It’s like being a chef, it’s the love and passion that goes into it that escalates the work from what a short order cook would make.”
Since he has worked in photography for over 25 years I wondered if the recent expansion of digital camera’s had influenced his work or thoughts on photography’s future? “Not that it doesn’t have it merit," he tells me, "but it doesn’t have the hand made quality and the magic when a person captures just the right moment. First run prints will always command higher praise and value than a digital print. There use to be more overlapping between fine art and commercial but I find that digital is used so much for commercial and now I don’t see as much of a connection. Digital Art should be considered it’s own medium.”
Dennis has worked very hard to fine tune his craft but as any artist would tell you the promotion of your work can be even more of a job than the actual creation of the work. Recently, Dennis has turned his efforts not only on promotion here in the states but globally with ads and recognition in the nationally distributed and highly acclaimed Black and White Magazine. The recognition afforded him the opportunity to be nominated and awarded a Black and White Spider Award in 2004 for his work on the architectural piece, entitled "Gehry #2,"|3| for the Frank Gehry music hall in Los Angeles. His work will be on display at the upcoming Photo San Francisco EXPO as a guest from Ink Magazine, which will also feature Dennis’ work in a six page spread for the July issue. He will also exhibit at the Moore Gallery in New York City this fall. On the home front, look for Dennis’ work in the upcoming Summer Group Show at Phillips Gallery from July 15th through September 9th and a solo show at the Finch Lane Art Barn next spring.
I’m amazed and inspired by what Mecham is doing with his work and I am grateful for his contribution to our art community in Salt Lake. I’m sure that you have artists and neighbors who do amazing things all the time. Take the time to ask, get involved and appreciate the people in your neighborhood. Community is a combination of come and unity. Support your local artists as they support you.
Art Byte: Salt Lake City
Culture Bytes or Bites?
On Tuesday, June 21, The Utah Cultural Alliance
held its second "Culture Bytes," a continuing monthly series discussing issues relating to the arts.
Salt Lake critics Celia Baker, Brandon Griggs, Frank McEntire, Kathy Adams, and Claudia Harris discussed art/culture reviewers -- how they think, what their readers want and what they can and can't do. Everyone attending was invited to enjoy a pizza lunch during the discussion (discount for Utah Cultural Alliance members). The event was hosted by the Salt Lake Arts Council's Art Barn.
The July Culture Bytes will discuss censorship, and, we imagine, will include food as well.
We're not sure exactly why it is called Culture Bytes
? Afterall, the pizza they eat has more to do with bites than with cyberspace's bytes. Maybe the UCA, whom we should all thank for their efforts to block budget cuts to the NEA and PBS, feared an ambiguous slang interpretation by anti-art activists -- Culture Bites!!! Down with Museums!!! Maybe they just wanted to ride on our immensely popular, witty, innovative, and all around awesome coattails :)
Whatever. We're happy to have them with us, whether on our coattails or leading the way. The Utah Cultural Alliance does extremely important work for the community, informing and advocating for us all. And we've used their newsletter more than once for our News Nibbles section. We're excited about their new forum (reminds us of the Salt Lake County's ART TOO! ART NOT!
) and hope to include expanded coverage of some of the issues discussed in future editions of 15 Bytes.
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