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May 2006
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Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Crossing a Bridge: Ben Behunin & Mark England @ Finch Lane

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For an artist to continue growing, to stay interesting -- to themselves and to their public -- they must be willing to engage their work in new modes, materials and methods. Such changes often require an artist to cross a bridge. The flow, the river of work, is still theirs, but to examine it from the other shore helps to push the artist in new directions. Two well-known Salt Lake City artists, Ben Behunin and Mark England, are currently showing together in the Salt Lake Arts Council’s Finch Lane Gallery, and both have crossed a bridge of sorts in their work.

Behunin is a ceramicist who for well over a decade has devoted himself to quality craftsmanship, concentrating on imaginative designs, color and texture. He is best known for his functional works in clay, so this exhibit, filled with wall hangings, pedestal sculptures and free-standing ceramics, may come as a surprise to some. The works here are multi-media pieces, based in ceramics but also incorporating metal, painting and other elements. In simplistic terms, we would say they are "fine-art" rather than "functional art," though in examining the work I can't help but wonder if Behunin isn't really calling into question some of these easy categories we give to objects.

Take, for instance, the general aesthetic of the pieces in this exhibit. Many of the works are arranged in grid structures, with minimalist design, and repeating smaller components within a larger whole. In other words, they follow some general outlines for the type of work you might encounter in Artforum or in a "contemporary" art gallery. But at closer examination, the grids and panels are made up of smaller ceramic elements, marked by Behunin's trademark designs, which seem more appropriate to the child's funhouse than the coffee-soaked seriousness of identity politics or deconstructionist determination found in many white cubes. In the Finch Lane's West gallery, Behunin's five "pillars" are wonderfully whimsical creations, which are essentially stacked pots whose functionality has been transformed into "fine art" sculptures that look like minarets and make me think of a child's book of The Arabian Nights. In other words, Behunin seems to mimic some basic, elementary aesthetic components of "contemporary" art, but his funny, fanciful creations -- devoid of the sarcastic elements that would make them ironic -- seem to want to deconstruct the deconstructors. Or at least to say, "Hey, I'm a potter but I can do this too, so get over yourselves."

Mark England's bridge has taken him, like young Dorothy, from a grayscale world of graphite and image transfer to an Oz-like land of full color. For many years, England worked principally in graphite, creating monochromatic works that concentrated on the process of drawing, to map out his own metaphysical world. Often his drawing resulted in works that gave a bird’s eye view of large regional and continental landscapes. In the Finch Lane show, England has developed his graphite series into full-bodied paintings. The color is new, but the content is the same idiosyncratic vision of North America that England has been examining for years.

You'll find England's trademark landscape landmarks: the trees -- poplars, evergreens, boxed cacti, palms; the street signs and wire entangled telephone polls; the crop circles. And of course, the ever present “Spiral Jetty.” You can identify the viewpoint -- "somewhere over Alberta" or "looking west from New England" -- of most of England's drawings by the ever-present image of the Great Salt Lake and Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty. " This orientation will help you to identify, let's say, the Colorado Plateau, often seen as two or three buttes intersected by the Colorado River. But being able to identify such a viewpoint will not help anyone trying to use one of England's paintings in conjunction with a Global Positioning Satellite.

England is stubbornly idiosyncratic in his vision(s) of North America, oftentimes condensing or expanding sections of the landscape, giving emphasis to what is important for his personal vision. For instance, in "North America," we can easily identify the San Francisco Bay area, with its two bridges, one red and one umber, but the larger Los Angeles is hard to pinpoint. Phoenix looms large with a gaggle of potted cacti. Subtle crosses litter some of the states along the Mason Dixon line. The large poplar tree that stands above the Colorado Plateau will be incomprehensible to most people outside of the state, but easily recognizable as a symbol of central Utah to those who have traveled the area.

One work in this exhibit, "Holy Land," stands out as being non-North American. One can easily identify the Red Sea and the Pyramids in the distance. We are somewhere over Jordan, looking down on a landscape with two lakes connected by a river. A long wall sections off a third of the drawing. But, with the similarity of the Holy Land landscape to that of Utah (two lakes, one saline, connected by a Jordan river), I can't help but think there isn't some irony going on here. In my Utah misreading, then, the wall would serve to enclose (to keep out or keep in?) Utah County, where England grew up and lived before moving to Salt Lake.

Of course, that might just be my own misreading of England's purposeful (mis)readings of the North American landscape, but that is part of the fun of England’s paintings, and the drawings they are based on. I am still foremost a fan of England's graphite work -- the immediacy of the artist's hand mapping out his existence seems central to the work -- but England's transformation to color in this exhibition is very pleasing. The color remains subordinate to the overall theme of the pictures, but is used to good effect. For instance, when you peer over North America towards Central and South America, seeing Antarctica looming in the distance, the brilliant white and blue of the frozen landscape does add provide a certain “retinal shudder” – it may not give you any content that isn’t there in the drawings, but it is nice to look at.

Works by Ben Behunin and Mark England will be on display at the Finch Lane Gallery through June 2nd. On display downstairs in the Park Gallery are the photographs of Dennis Mecham. His photographs of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao use the sweeps, edges and sexy lines of the Museum Guggenheim to create abstracted images of light and form.

Up & Upcoming: Salt Lake Galleries
What's Up and Upcoming
Compiled by 15 Bytes Staff. Unless otherwise noted, UPCOMING shows begin April Gallery Stroll, May 19th, with a reception 6 to 9 pm.

ART ACCESS GALLERY: UP: Simple Beauty :Simultaneous Works from Life by Salt Lake husband and wife artists Brad Slaugh and Tracy Strauss. In Access II Gallery, a group printmaking exhibition by artists from the Sanpete Community Training Center including Spencer Ashton, Chris Barrett, Ashley Bingham, Matthew Buckner, Michael Duncan, Ben Smith & Kenny Sorenson. UPCOMING: May 18th, 2006, from 6:00 ­ 8:00 PM Art Access's annual fundraising event, 300 Plates. It's that time of year when people wait in line to get in the Art Access front door for their chance at a piece of original art from Utah's finest artists for as low as $50. This year's talented 64 artists will once again be offering some of their best work in a small format: 10" x 11" recycled metal litho plates. The art selection is extensive, including landscapes, portraits (real and imaginary), abstract art, realism, commentaries, and other imaginative works. Plate prices start at $50 and continue by one-dollar increments. The cost to attend is $25 in advance or $30 at the door. Because space is limited, guests are asked to RSVP in advance. Invitations can be requested by calling (801) 328-0703 or e-mail amanda@accessart.org.

TANNER FRAMES: In conjunction with the Rockwood Studios semi-annual Open House the weekend of May 5-7, Tanner Frames will open an exhibit of works by three Utah artists: collages by Shawn Rossiter, mixed media assemblage by Travis Tanner, and printmaking by Peder Singleton.

SALTGRASS PRINTMAKERS UPCOMING: Koichi Yamamoto & Oversight Print Exchange: Master Printmaking Class with Koichi Yamamoto in conjunction with an exhibition of his work. Saturday May 20: all-day workshop with evening lecture. Class fee: TBA. Evening Lecture: Free
Professor Yamamoto is our first Visiting Artist and will give our first Master Class at Saltgrass Printmakers. He will also give a Master Class in smoke-ground etching and monotype techniques in the studio.
Open print exchange at Saltgrass Printmakers. The exchange is open to all print artists. Edition size 13, 8"x10" paper size any archival editionable print media. For more details go to saltgrassprintmakers.org

PATRICK MOORE GALLERY UP: Marilyn Read & Elizabeth Matthews. UPCOMING: Cary Griffiths & Mark Knudsen.

UTAH CULTURAL CELEBRATION CENTER ART GALLERY The art of Arnold Friberg including The Ten Commandments series. Through May 26.

GALLERY 814 (814 East 100 South) UP: Unprocessed Edible Art with a side order of Organic Furniture, featuring paintings by Erin Berrett and furniture by Kimberly Christensen. Through June 10th. M-F 8:30 - 5 or Saturdays by appointment.

PHILLIPS GALLERY: UP: Lee Deffebach (see page 5). UPCOMING: Jean Arnold & Francesc Burgos.

UTAH CENTER FOR THE ARTS The graduating senior students from the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Utah will present their work at the annual Bachelor of Fine Arts Exhibition May 4 through Friday, June 3 (see page 6).

WOMEN'S ART CENTER:UP: Large photographs by Melissa Kelsey. UPCOMING: Paper Dolls, the Center's 2nd Annual Fundraising event.

UNKNOWN GALLERY UP: Compute This - the pop surrealism of Pennsylvanian Damion Silver and Kelly D Williams from Idaho.

RIO GALLERY UPCOMING: Untitled, a collaborative exhibition between thirty Utah artists and the patrons who view their work. (see article page 2)

MICHAEL BERRY GALLERY (163 E 300 S) UP:"Pilar's Portraits," a wide array of portraits by Pilar Pobil. UPCOMING: “Historical Prints of Utah Territory 1850 – 1897.” And a special exhibit of antique rints fo the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River Gorge.

THE GALLERY AT LIBRARY SQUARE: Constructing Self: Thirty Self-Portraits, an invitational exhibit of self-portriats created by Utah artists and presented by The City Library and the Utah Arts Festival in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Festival.

LOCAL COLORS ARTWORKS (570 S. 700 East, second floor at Trolley Square, next to Rocky Mountain Chocolate801-583-0500) UP: Paintings by Nancy Lund and Jeanne Hansen and glass by Gail Piccoli. UPCOMING: John Collins, Painting, Monika Gerszewski, Painting, Jim Simister, Ceramics, Mike & Penny Stevens, Glass

UTAH MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS: UP: Revisiting Utah's Past, on view at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts through July 23, 2006. (see March edition) ALSO: Hyunmee Lee (see April edition) and Design Your World Children's Art Exhibition by Bad Dog Rediscovers through June 18, 2006.

GROUTAGE GALLERY UP: As It Was, works by Harrison Groutage (see page 6).

UTAH ARTIST HANDS: UP: FIESTA group exhibit featuring Ruby Chacon, Guillermo Colmenero, David Maestas, Pilar Pobil, José Riveros, and Michael Trujillo.

HORNE FINE ART UP: Opening this Friday, May 5th, Roman Holiday, a new series of paintings by Karen Horne. In her latest series of canvases and pastels, Horne celebrates her recent experience of the enchantments of Italian cities -- from the parks and piazzas of Rome and Florence to the canals of Venice. The gallery also continues their very popular Wall of Wassmers, featuring over forty recent works by Utah's oldest producing artist, Ted Wassmer.

My Other SkyMy Other Sky

NEWS NIBBLE

Art Access is pleased to announce that local artist Vojko Rizvanovic has been selected as one of 23 international artists with disabilities, out of 292 artist applicants, juried into the prestigious Transformation Exhibition. The exhibit is hosted by VSA arts, a program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Transformation will hang in the Terrance Gallery of the Kennedy Center from June 5 ­ 29, 2006.


ROSE WAGNER ART GALLERY UP: Celebrating the Freedom of the Soul and the Spirit, mixed media works by Marah Brown Rohovit through June 30th.

CONTEMPORARY DESIGN & ART GALLERY UP: Colors of Spring - Inspiration with Yevgeniy Zolotsev as a featured artist. Watercolors, acrylics, oils, drawings, monotypes - from Russia with love.

WASATCH FRAME SHOP UP: Aaron Fritz, through May (see March edition).

A GALLERY UP: Group Spring Exhibit. UPCOMING: May 11th, Bruce Robertson (see page 1).

KAYO GALLERY UP: To Leave and Never Return - featuring works by Cein Watson and Joe McVetty. (see page 1) UPCOMING:down to this featuring work from emerging artists Nathan Craven, Cameron Major and Cory Oberndorfer

SALT LAKE ART CENTER UP: Robert Motherwell: Te Quiero; Defference to Deffebach Through May 31. (see March edition).

MAGPIE'S NEST GALLERY UP: The Intermountain Society of Artists will have its annual miniature show in the red gallery, and gallery regulars will exhibit cityscapes.

ALICE GALLERY UP: Dean Faussett, paintings of the John Wesley Powell Expedition through June 30th.

MODERN8 GALLERY UP: James Shuman and Ben Howell.

ART BARN/FINCH LANE GALLERY UP: Through June 2: Mark England, paintings and Ben Behunin, ceramics. (see article this page)Park Gallery: Dennis Mecham, photography.

VISAGE SALON (2006 S. 900 E., 860-4333) UP: Group show by the East High School Art Club, through May 13.

PALMERS GALLERY (378 W 300 S Suite #3) UP: Painting by Heart: Figures by Michael J. Nickle, oil on canvas.