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November 2005
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Diana Gardiner . . . from page 1

images 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Through graduate school, Gardiner strived to establish a strong artistic identity, exploring different methods and materials. She experimented with objects other than brushes to apply paint, such as kitchen utensils, and eventually she turned to collage, using grocery labels and garbage in place of paint. The result was pleasantly surprising. “The surfaces were very lively. They started to imitate the kitchen counters after you made a big mess. To me that felt really honest so I started accentuating that with the paint on top of the paper.”

Naturally, Gardiner drew subject matter from her surroundings and her daily housecleaning rituals. She came to realize a “curious harmony” in herself. She describes it as “an absurd juxtaposition that involves the urgent need to make art and the necessity of dealing with the menial tasks of everyday life.”

Her content is clearly domestic, and one might observe “Pop” influences with the depiction of consumer products (soup cans, condiments, etc.) |0| in a fine art environment, but Gardiner insists that an important distinction be made: “The coolness of ’Pop’ art eliminates the love and devotion of the subject,” she explains. “My intent is to give back those emotions and elevate the symbols of the industrial revolution.”

Gardiner finds motivation and meaning in the objects surrounding her: a washer and dryer, a bowl of cereal, condiments in the refrigerator. She is inspired by the words of Joseph Campbell, who claimed: “By participating in a ritual, you are participating in a myth.” Gardiner began to write mythologies based on her daily rituals. She painted and collaged images she wrote about, attaching gender to the objects in her kitchen. She also did a self-portrait of a can of Ajax; |1| underneath the surface of course, was a mythological story. The objects began to take on a life of their own; they began to mean more than she anticipated.

At times, the substance of Gardiner’s work is subconscious, especially when she thinks she is mindful of the content. In 1994, she created a show called “Duets” at Finch Lane Gallery where she placed two objects side by side in each painting. |2 -3 |She did seven duets where each painting described her activities that day. “A friend made an interesting observation,” relates Gardiner. “She said, ‘None of them are touching, and they’re all very formal.’ I didn’t plan that, but the more I thought about it, it’s a personal expression of duet. I’ll collaborate, but ‘keep your space and I’ll keep mine.’ That really does describe me pretty well.” Her friend started to point out other things that repeated themselves throughout her work. “That blew me away. I thought, ‘I don’t want people to know that about me!’”

One of her most significant pieces, “The Gatekeeper,” is a straightforward image of a cheese grater.|4| “It began with the cheese grater that was a tool in my kitchen. When I scaled it up, it became more about an instrument that is used to refine myself. When you think about the motion of using the grater, it’s taking the outer skin off of something. I really hate using the grater because it causes pain; it exposes the inner parts. I hate pain and I hate death and I felt this was a metaphor that related to that. And then it started taking on spiritual and scriptural content. I thought more about the theology behind my beliefs and it became a symbol for Christ. Some people wear a cross, but the cheese grater applies more truthfully to me.”

It was when Gardiner enlarged more of her modest imagery that the items took on monumental meaning. “Scale has a huge impact. It suddenly humbles you. You’re almost brought to your knees because you feel this sense of worship.” So she created 6’ x 6’ “paper giants” as she calls them.

They were meant to be confrontational, but the larger scale also allowed Gardiner to be more playful and creative with the collage. She believes a work of art should be just as interesting up close as it is from far away. “They become more abstracted when you look at them up close. I like that the distance seduces you to come look closer – and up closer, you’ll find things that are maybe camouflaged because of the scale.” She finds that viewers spend a lot of time studying the papers that she used for the collages. Because the content of the papers she collects are often closely related to the content of the artwork, people often find themselves searching for something, almost in a “Where’s Waldo” fashion.

Collage remains her medium of choice, not because she enjoys it the most, but because she likes the outcome the best. “I have a tendency to work too tight with painting. When I translate paintings into collage they become looser and abstract, and that’s what I like about the process. A painting I can predict, but the papers I can’t.”

Gardiner compares it to playing a difficult piece of music: “It takes more energy for me to do the collage. I really have to focus and think things through. The hard thing about working with papers is you only have a hard edge, if I need to soften an edge I have to use gradations of color. And the glues with collage are unforgiving.” She won’t layer the collage because she doesn’t like the crisscrossing of papers. “Usually when I put something down I’ve got to get it right.”

This discipline comes from her undergraduate studies with Alvin Gittins. “When I learned to paint, especially with Gittins, I was taught to mix the right color and put it down. Now you see a lot of artists mixing on the surface. If you start mixing on the surface, you lose the freshness and it looks amateurish.” So Gardiner carefully considers her material, placing the papers as she would a brushstroke.

Gardiner is not in the kitchen as much now that her children are grown, so she has moved away from creating images of kitchen appliances. “I find that it still surfaces in my work, but it’s not as conscious as I made it initially. I find I still do things that seem somewhat domesticated.”

Gardiner is always open to trying new things. She has taught at the University of Utah for the past sixteen years, but just this year she began teaching drawing for the Architecture Department. “It suits me. I’m teaching perspective, texture and line logic. I think that is such the core of what I do. Being trained in a traditional way, I can abstract from that but I can’t completely deviate from that. I have such a conviction that if you don’t have that basis, you’re cheating yourself. It’s been very valuable to me and I wouldn’t dare be an artist without it. In the Architecture Department, the more disciplined I am in my approach, the more they appreciate it.”

Teaching architecture students has inspired her to add a three dimensional aspect to her own work. “I haven’t refined it or anything, but I’d like to do some more exploration with it. There’s a thing about houses that I’m curious to develop.”

The business and marketing side of being an artist is something Gardiner feels she is looking at for the first time. Currently, she is working on a series of collages representing children’s toys that she hopes to submit to Portfolio and have reproduced as posters. “I’ve always had a love for graphics, and I’m not opposed to going down that road. I’m a purist to a sense that a painting is a painting and it should remain as such, but I have a graphic background, so to me it’s just another extension of the world of art. And if I can tap into that and be successful, I’ll take it. If you have one or two interesting pieces that you can mass produce as posters, it can be pretty lucrative.”

Gardiner recognizes that a lot of the artwork readily available to the public isn’t always good art. “The most sellable art is not the best art. My next move is to think about that more seriously.” She wants to further explore and emphasize the impact of art that is painted well.

Through her own studies and her career as artist and instructor, Gardiner has been privileged to work with wonderful painters. At the same time, she came together with her own voice and astutely found her niche as she continues to stick to simplistic ideas and implement them with devotion and skill.


In Memoriam
General Delivery: Brent Gehring
(June 2, 1942 – October 15, 2005)
by Frank McEntire

On Friday morning, October 21, I received a telephone call from The Salt Lake Tribune’s visual arts writer Brandon Griggs. He was preparing a tribute about Lee Deffebach, 76, who just died of heart problems. Within minutes of learning about Lee, I received another call about the death of friend and sculptor Brent Gehring, 63, who died of heart failure on October 15 – another unexpected loss.

Two great artists passed away within a week of each other. Of the two, Brent is probably less well known. After he retired from his teaching post at Brigham Young University in the early 1990s, he and his spouse, Fae Ellsworth, moved from the Wasatch Front to Virgin, UT, not far from Zions National Park. He is survived by Fae, seven children and four stepchildren.

To those who knew Brent, he seemed healthy – a gardener and rigorous hiker – so his passing was a complete surprise. A memorial service was held in Virgin on Saturday, October 22. In lieu of flowers, the family requested that donations be made to environmental causes, echoing Brent’s love of nature.

Brent was a person “in the now.” He genuinely respected everyone he met. When you were with him, it was as though he suspended all other parts of his life – his family, his obligations, even his own artmaking. He focused his attention on you and was completely fascinated by whatever you talked about.

“Brent took a real interest in the vulnerability and frailty of human beings without ascribing a moral judgment,” remembers painter Kent Wing, who took a graduate-level Readings in Contemporary Art class from him twenty years ago. “He acknowledged the breath of what it meant to be human.”

Brent rarely talked about his own work, as he seemed more interested in what others were doing than promoting his own projects. During rare moments of self-disclosure, he revealed his doubts about the ideals of classical beauty being able to carry a meaningful dialogue about 20th Century conditions, preferring such painters as Philip Guston and Ivan Albright, for example.

Although Brent conversed easily, when attention turned to him, he retreated into an enigmatic and closed character until he could change the subject, which, Wing says, “was an irony, a contradiction.” This conundrum, a disregard for public attention, carried into his art – sculpture and works-on-paper made strong by his respect for materials, place in art history, and attention to details were also imbued with a sense of irony and mystery as can only come from a person well acquainted with both.

To the dominant Utah art scene, many may have thought that Brent’s move to the small town of Virgin, with a “General Delivery” address, was a move into obscurity. This, however, was not the reality. Fae, his wife and partner-artist, countered his reclusive, hermit-like tendencies. His self-effacing manner, generosity, artistic integrity, and love of the out-of-doors created a large circle of new friends without diminishing relationships formed in years past. His memorial service, for example, had to move to a location that could hold several hundred mourners, instead of several dozen as initially planned.

It was Brent’s ability to give individuals the sense that they were on equal ground with him – students, colleagues, neighbors, or local tradespeople – that attracted such a large gathering on Saturday morning. This sensitivity to others also revealed itself in his work. His sculpture and prints are inherently narrative – primarily the commentary of others. As the artist, he tried to remain an anonymous participant.

What was the narrative? Through his work, he told stories, poems actually, about what it means to be human, to be vulnerable, awkward and displaced. “Here’s the word,” Wing says, “Grace. That’s the whole thing.”

Brent Gehring 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Image Credits:
|0| "Brent Gehring" by Grey Brent
|1| Daniel & Naomi Wattis, Brent Gehring
|2| Fae Ellsworth
|3| "Ephedra"
|4| "I'm Not Good Today"
|5| "Do I Have to Change"
|6| "As Seen From the Earth"

Images 1 -3 courtesy Art Access Gallery. Images 0, 4-6 from exhibition catalogue "The Unclosed Hand: An Exhibition of Works by Alex Bigney, A.F. Caldiero, Brent Gehring, Jean Lambert, and Kent Wing," Salt Lake Art Center, 1994.

If you would like to add your thoughts on Gehring and his work, click the Letters to the Editor icon at the top.

NEWS NIBBLE

To include your news item in our News Nibbles section email us your information at artistsofutah@netzero.net

SALT LAKE

Tom Rugh has resigned as Executive Director of the Musuem of Utah Art and History.

The Utah Cultural Alliance announces an open call for board membership starting in January 2006. Particularly needed are advocates, those with a passion for the diverse culture of Utah, and those with accounting or legal expertise. The Utah Cultural Alliance is a coalition of individuals and organizations representing cultural interests. The mission of the Utah Cultural Alliance is to act as a voice for the entire cultural community through public awareness and advocacy.
for more information visit www.utahculturalalliance.org

One Modern Art has announced that it is closing its brick-and-mortar space in Sugarhouse. The Gallery will continue to operate and exhibit art in non-traditional ways.

Bob Olpin, professor of Art History at the University of Utah and author of books and articles on Utah art, suffered a massive stroke on Friday, October 21st and remains hospitalized.

LEHI

The Utah Arts Council has scheduled a town meeting in Lehi on Thursday, November 10, 2005, 7:00 p.m. at Thanksgiving Point, Utah Room (restaurant building), 3003 North Thanksgiving Way. The public is invited to attend and participate.
The Utah Arts Council wants to know what's important to the public, to individuals, and to communities regarding arts and cultural interests. "We would like to hear from as many people as we can about how they feel the State of Utah should invest in arts and cultural opportunities, communities, and people. The Utah Arts Council is dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding of the power of the arts in building healthy, livable communities and providing the highest possible quality of life," stated Margaret Hunt, director.

For more information, contact Lynnette Hiskey at (801) 236-7552.
AWARDED

The winners of the Ogden Arts Festival Plein Air Competition:

1) Eric Zschiesche, $500
2) Lindey Carter, $300
3) Jeff Hepworth, $200
Honorable Mention - Daren Wilding, $50
Honorable Mention - Roberta Glidden, $50


The winners of the Everett Ruess Days Plein Air Competition:

The $2000 First Place Purchase Award Watercolor/pastel/mixed media: Clay Wagstaff of Tropic.

$2000 First Place Purchase Award in the Oil/Acrylics: Darrell Thomas, from Centerville

Escalante Resident, Lynn Griffin, won the People's Choice Award and a $500 Award of Merit with his 16" x 20" Acrylic painting "Spencer Flat Wash".