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    May 2007
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Exhibition Review: Salt Lake
Joshua Luther and Jeffrey D. Winkler @ the Main Library
by Geoff Wichert

Joshua Luther and Jeffrey D. Winkler are two very different artists with one thing in common: they both doubt the effectiveness of rational thought in enabling consciousness to even approach, let alone make contact with, objective reality. Where they differ lies in how each presents his critique of reason. Luther constructs sophisticated jokes that undermine our conviction that the picture show in our heads has anything to do with what’s really going on outside our minds.|1| Winkler focuses instead on the irrational experience left to us as faith in enlightened science withdraws. Then he paints the chaos that remains.|0|

Antecedents for Luther include René Magritte, Conceptual art, and all of late 20th century “epistemology,” as philosophers like to call the study of knowledge. As Luther reminds us, everything we know comes through our senses, which evolved to make us compete better, not see vast truths. Thus we never know for certain how closely experience reflects reality. In the space between what’s outside and its electrochemical image in our minds, Luther locates artworks that call attention to the uncertainty they inhabit. For viewers who think, his is an engaging art: engaging us in the way it teases our pretensions to certainty, but engaged also with elusive reality, which always seems to lurk behind the next puzzle. Even as he mocks the pursuit of “truth” and “beauty,” he cannot resist the temptation to go on seeking, thus becoming the object of his own joke.

Working in several mediums, Luther characteristically uses some form of printing, often labels. The six works in this exhibition cover only part of his range: they hang on the wall, each a set of two, three, or four identically–sized surfaces, and all include language. In four, the components are square, warning viewers up front that their energy will not be visual. Images, if they appear, stand in for the idea of information. In "Resolution Images," two pixilated photos of a sunflower argue that degraded information can be replaced but not restored.|2| The texts on "Existential Photographs 1—4" deny everything visible behind them, making a futile claim for the eye’s ability to control what it sees.|3| In "Hidden Messages," citations from the Bible, scientific cosmology, and philosophy allegedly appear in the same color as the fabric they are printed on: the truth is at hand, but not in a form that can help.

In "Perception Test," three red paintings are labeled The Perceived Color, The Color God Intended, and The Actual Color.|4| All three appear identical, raising the question how categories can be useful, or even exist, if no two things are ever really the same. Despite their manufactured quality and resistance to virtuosity, Luther’s creations urge us, as good art always has, to view each prospect as if we were seeing for the first time.

In one of Luther’s printed texts there’s a typographical error. It’s a measure of their differences that nothing by Winkler could be similarly labeled a mistake. In spite of the implied patterns in his neat rows of numbers cut through, or collaged atop, canvases covered by impastos of churning or swirling colors, his attempt to render chaos in the universe as we encounter it makes standards of accuracy—or what he calls the beauti/futile systems of quantification, value, and control—meaningless.

If Luther’s conundrums please thinking viewers, Winkler’s paintings are for sensualists. It’s not that they are bereft of ideas: to contrast landscapes of industrial waste, corrosion, and deterioration with the eternally pristine abstraction of numbers is, after all, an idea. But the point is less telling than the way the simultaneous contrast between these two qualities makes both of them more extreme, more febrile, and more deliciously tactile. Where the skin is cut away to mark the numbers it curls delicately, or paint gathers into membranes trying to heal the fissure. The numbers, once pure but rapidly being reclaimed by their environment, could be the good intentions whose transmogrification into material form produces the chemical wreckage we see.

Winkler uses language only for titles, and even these are less conscientious than Luther’s. "Bleach," predominantly yellow, and "Cyanide," mostly blue, suggest a sensory or emotional correlation. Or it may be the sound. Occasionally, a reference is clear: one title refers to war in Baghdad, and three streaks across the surface of its canvas suggest rockets in flight. Another canvas is called "Across," apparently in reference to a heavy wire that meanders over its front from one side to the other. It seems Winkler hasn’t imposed a system on himself yet. Better if he doesn’t. The galleries are full of one–trick ponies, and an artist could stand to have room to move.

Like "Across," some canvases claim the third dimension with scraps of tape, hardware, and wood that may refer more specifically to the material limits of painting. A heavy cable moors "Birth Certificate" to something that looks like a fencepost. All three elements are painted the same red, suggesting that the real world is not just a poor choice, but a matter of bondage. Thus Plato, with his belief in ideals that precede material existence, finds relevance even in today’s more pragmatic world.

Winkler’s overall title—A Failure of Imagination—may refer to this collapse of the orderly ideal into the chaotic real. But while enjoying his voluptuous simulations of organic and industrial detritus, of workshop walls and factory floors, observing how the artist -- as a photographer friend of mine once said of Kodachrome film-- makes even pollution beautiful, I couldn’t help think of the old theme of art’s conflict with technology. I rode up the glass elevator to the gallery on the Library’s fourth floor: technology makes the space and makes it accessible. But it was an architect who made the building beautiful—like the City and County Building across the street, but like so little else in human enterprise. Maybe in the long run the irrationality, the inscrutability of the universe, and the contrast between dream and waking that so fascinate Joshua Luther and Jeffrey Winkler, are just a failure of imagination: a failure they can do something about.||

Obstructions by Joshua Luther and A Failure of Imagination by Jeffrey D. Winkler will be on exhibit at Salt Lake City's Main Library (4th Floor Gallery) through July 7. This exhibit is co-sponsored by the Utah Arts Festival, which will host 130 artists during the four day festival, June 21 - 24.

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake
Cary Griffiths' New Abstractions @ Palmers
by Ehren Clark

In the new show of paintings by Cary Griffiths to be exhibited at Palmers Gallery this month, viewers will find themselves confronted with works that may seem familiar -- appropriations building upon twentieth-century painters from the New York school such as Pollock, Louis, Frankenthaller, Rothko, and Motherwell. Yet decidedly these are creations of the twenty first century and there may be more to these images than mere appropriation and technique.

The abstractionists of the last century worked primarily with a specific directive in mind -- new objective developments in art with the aim of art for art sake in mind. Griffiths' work is highly reminiscent of these artists and the comparisons to Pollock in many of Griffiths' painting cannot be denied, yet his is a post-modern revisitation of old themes in very contemporary ways.

One aspect by which this is immediately apparent in Griffiths' work is his use and application of color. He has developed a technique using pigments intended for glass which he applies to a wetted canvas. He also uses the drip techniques of Pollock and other experimental methods to achieve his aims. The outcome mimics twentieth-century Modernism, yet the result is distinctive and unique. "Blues in Sunrise" emulates the Frankenthaller technique of using color washes, though Griffiths' result is a more opaque and fluid canvas. The difference is his material results in a harmony of color combinations with striking results. Each piece has a distinct character and effect. The colors blend together, retaining the original pigment while creating a mesmerizing fluidity of intermediary hues. "Eddy," one of Griffiths' most vibrant pieces, uses a broad color palette focusing on vivid reds, oranges, and yellows, and fully reveals the artist's unique quality of allowing the pigments to flow together creating an unlimited range of hues. "Flowing Space and Time" is a reminder of a Louis, though its color gradations separate it from Louis' canvases.|1| Louis experimented with color washes in broad bands but Griffiths' bands merge and grow together to create an amazing range of ethereal colors. While Jackson Pollock is the stongest influence apparent in this body of work, Griffiths uses a color palette foreign to Pollock. "Sojourn" is a wonderfully unified ménage of cool colors- greens and blues, which through the use of mediums allows for interplay of many gradations of color to emerge as Griffiths' limited pigments blend.

How are Griffiths' experiments, revisiting old twentieth century artists, any different than the aims of his predecessors? How are these works original and not merely extensions of the old? "Eddy" is a Kandinskyesque panel, similar in color and vibrancy to the others mentioned. Griffiths describes, while creating this piece, experiencing a musical sensation, an almost symbolic synthesis of color and abstract sound to create this panel. To many of his other canvases he ascribes other sensations. Such is where the real distinction between his work and that of the artists of the last century begins.

Griffiths paints of the moment: what he thinks, feels, sees, experiences, remembers. He likes to paint what he senses and even sounds in his mind. Griffiths' motivation towards his canvases are born from these thoughts, recalled experiences, etc., But more importantly is the hope that the viewer will be engaged in a moment, a visitation of his work, which is equally subjective and equally as personal to the viewer as Griffiths' own experiences. The paintings, according to the artist, are mediums, beings in of themselves. The work, opposed to twentieth century objectivity, is an appropriation into post-modern subjectivity.

My Mother's Eyes by Cary Griffiths
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"Illusion," is an example of the ideology behind most of Griffiths' work.|2| A black canvas with a wash of white and pigments of blues and greens, the painting is reminiscent of Rothko, who enjoyed the purity of his panels and the impact but also invited the viewer to meditate upon them. The conceptualism of Rothko is solid ground for what may be the ideology behind the majority of the works of Griffiths. What the artist renders and what the viewer responds to are two very different things and this is Griffiths' aim. The art is the vehicle between the two. The emotive aspect of artist and viewer are as important as the substance of the work. The experience of the viewer is essential in the full realization of Griffiths' art.

Much of the quality of Griffiths' techniques invites this, such as his choice of pigment and color, or colors which are literally invented on the canvas as the hues blend and merge with one another. One may get lost in the labyrinth of color, which, as Griffiths has stated, has qualities of its own, as was the thinking of Kandinsky. The effect is one that invites contemplation and admiration. Although Griffiths' paintings have a vast range of techniques, they are unified in their primary aim at an emotive connection, via the art, between viewer and artist.

Visually the works are highly striking, something that if seen at a distance one would stop one and encourage a closer look. And with this closer look one is drawn into the work, where one may loose one’s self in these compositions, the emotive colors, the patters, and the fluidity as forms emerge. But most importantly one may find their own person feelings, meanings, experiences, memories, etc, in Griffiths' canvases. This is something Griffiths hopes will impact the viewer as they encounter his painting; a creation that is the bridge between the artist and viewer, an organic being able to transmit ideas and allow for the viewer’s own revelations. These works are post-modern traditionalism, a new approach to traditional Modernism. These paintings are not only engaging, but they are fun too! And the more one looks the more engaging they become.||
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