Exhibition Review: Provo
Photography of William Post @ BYU
by Bren Jackson
William Post's simple, small platinum prints, sixty of which are now on display at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art, do not shout for attention. Rather, it is the images' unassuming presence that intrigues and draws the viewer in. Primarily landscapes, Post's images emphasize the solitude and quiet majesty of turn-of-the-century rural New England. The exhibition, The Quiet Landscapes of William B. Post, organized by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts and at BYU through May 28th as part of a national tour, is the first exhibit devoted to the artist since his death in 1921. It explores the thirty-five year career of the broker turned photographer and places him in the context of the larger photographic movement known as "pictorialism."
Post associated himself with Pictoralism largely because he believed that photography was a fine art that could simply be "art for art's sake." He became a leading member of Camera Club of New York and his work won the respect and admiration of Alfred Stieglitz. Post's interest in landscapes, the play of light, and abstraction can be traced to Impressionism, while his elongated formats and understated aesthetic are attributed to Japanese art forms.
Despite the quiet rural spaces of much of Post's photography, traces of human existence underlie both his subject matter and printing techniques. These traces of human presence underscore man's connection with earth and his ability to draw nearer to the divine through nature. The spiritual connection between man and nature is found in the signature piece of the exhibition, "Intervale, Winter" (1899). |0| Faint footprints lead the viewer's eye to the horizon. Unobtrusive, these footprints quietly suggest human existence amid the vast foreground. Footprints, in this case, do not vandalize the otherwise untouched snow, but complete the scene by making a faint diagonal that leads the eye towards the horizon. The trees placed conspicuously along the high horizon provide a stark contrast against the snow and hazy skyperhaps reminding us of life after the harsh Maine winter. Post and his contemporaries considered landscapes to be a true form of religious art. Pictoralism, much like Romanticism, sought to commune with nature and lead the viewer to spiritual rejuvenation.
The Industrial Revolution of the early 19th-century corrupted the idealistic tranquility commonly associated with rural landscapes in both Europe and America. Dangerous factories, over-crowded cities, and mass-production inspired amateur photographers to capture the simplicity of the countryside using complex printing methods. Pictoralist photographers created art for art's sake and Post took particular interest in the production and development of each print by experimenting with various formats, chemicals, and paper. Like the Arts and Crafts movement popularized by William Morris, Pictoralism emphasized the individuality of each artist. Although Pictoralism pitted itself against industrialization, it contained no political or controversial connotations. The primary focus remained on the individual emotion of each viewer as it relates to the scene.
Simplicity and an understated aesthetic may be the key elements to Post's success. He doesn't include more than is necessary. As with Impressionism, the viewer is left with the essence of the scene. His photographs are not of a particular place, but of a particular feeling, as seen in "Wintry Weather" (c. 1903). |1| This photograph, along with several others, was taken in Maine, where Post eventually made his permanent home. Although Post worked in the United States, he was undoubtedly influenced by the Impressionists working in Europe at the time. In "Untitled" (1900), |2| we see that Post shares Monet's interest in capturing the nuances of light. Nature is more monochromatic in the winter, so Post worked primarily in the cold to capture the subtle gradations of light and dark. Untitled is similar to Monet's Water Lilies in the fact that the horizon line in both is absent.|3| The water and the flowers become abstractions removed from space as we understand it. Post's open compositions, unusual visual angles, and focus on light invite the viewer to find a place within each landscape.
Many of Post's photographs are influenced by what may be called a "Japanese aesthetic." They are refined, elegant, and simple. Like Japanese scroll paintings, Post uses an elongated format for his photographs as seen in "Untitled" (1898). Here, the image consists of only a cherry tree in full blossom. Thus, the composition can be broken into three simple shapes: the grass, the trunk, and the top of the tree. In other works, Post places sparse, dark trees along a light background of snow as if they were painted on rice paper by a swift calligraphy brush. Post's interest in Japanese art came as a result of his trip to Japan in 1891, as well his knowledge of Japanese-influenced European movements like Impressionism.
The Quiet Landscapes of William B. Post at Brigham Young University's Museum of Art is a companion to the Museum's exhibition of pre- and Impressionist paintings. Paths to Impressionism includes Monet's "Les Nymphéas, Paysage d'eau" and notable works by Childe Hassam, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and Camille Pissarro. These exhibits complement one another and serve as gentle reminders of how art and nature work together to be simply beautiful.
Building Icons: John Bell @ Patrick Moore
by Kent Rigby
Salt Lake artist John Bell will exhibit works from four separate bodies of work at the Patrick Moore Gallery, March 7th through March 31 in an exhibit entitled Building Icons.
Mr. Bell further distinguishes himself as the thinking man's abstract expressionist as he continues to develop his hallmark style of intellectual art. Bell strives to amalgamate many aspects of art into his works. "My big, 'ah ha' moment came three years ago when I determined that I did not want to be just another good abstract painter. I wanted to create something new and different," Bell confides. "I was reading an essay written by Harold Rosenberg in the 1950's about the action painters, where in he concluded that abstract expressionists go through a daily annihilation in order to re-invent themselves, and create the new stylistic vocabulary they were developing at the time." Bell, who felt he was also going through such a re-invention of himself as an artist, liked the term "daily annihilation" and used the phrase for a new series of paintings.
This new series was born from Bell's investigations of Jackson Pollock's drip paintings. During his recent re-evaluations and studies of Pollock's work, Bell began to see underlying patterns emerging. Sketches were made of the patterns and scanned into the computer where they were further manipulated. Using the inspiration of motion and emotion evoked by the patterns, Bell began work on the new series. "The painting process was all spontaneous," he explains. "Each background was quickly painted within a few hours." The painting process continued with further deliberation of the printed patterns and the over painting was done, further defining the patterns. Examples of this series will be on exhibit at Bell's exhibit this month at Patrick Moore.
Another new body of work that will be premiered at this exhibit is the artist's five-piece work, "SOFG #3" (KIND OF BLUE), where his interest in expressing many facets of cultural influences is readily apparent. This piece is a tribute to jazz great Miles Davis. A 96" by 60" "wall piece" painting acts as a set backdrop for the four musicians "on stage" and in front. Of course, Davis, as bandleader, is placed ahead of the other three musician pieces. The musicians are 12" x 84" x 12" four sided towers. This set interprets graphically the Davis album Kind of Blue, and is painted primarily with blue tones.
Bell's series "Standing on Foreign Ground," is comprised of a number of 12" by 84" by 12" towers, again painted on all sides, and operating as three-dimensional paintings. This is an extension of his "Re-Defining Space" series, and further explores the changing relationships of the backgrounds and dynamic shapes painted on each side of the towers. "I became interested in the concept of kinetics, and determined that the pieces themselves did not have to move," Bell says. "Instead, the viewer could move and the pieces would suggest movement as they interact in differing ways according to the position of the viewer." In "Standing on Foreign Ground#2," the background washes are more developed and the surface painting is softer and not hard-edged.
The new "Monolith" series, the final body of work represented in this show, features more active background painting, employs more colors, and a highly developed sense of movement. In this series, Bell has painted only vertical stripes on the surface. The stripes set up a cadence as the viewer's eye sweeps the large 120" by 48" by 3" canvases. The stripes also interact strongly with the organic patterns of the background painting. One sees the progression in Bell's work, as the individual paintings of each series develop.
"I painted the works of the different series during the same time period, first working on one canvas, then another. This strengthened the entire body of work, as each new painting profited from the experiences of the previous," Bell says about the work. "In this way, they all became stronger and more highly developed and refined."
One can see a natural and rather consistent progression and refinement in these new works. The background painting is more developed and softer. The surface painting is more complicated and rhythmic. Ideas and concepts from the fields of architecture, literature, theater, philosophy and religion are incorporated and expressed abstractly, calling for the viewer's emotional involvement. And, because many of the works are three dimensional, the viewer can move around them, setting up new relationships.
These new works, as well as the New York premier of the "Re-Defining Space" series, have caught the eye of New York art dealer and gallery owner Charles Cowles. Bell is scheduled for an autumn exhibit at the Charles Cowles Gallery. Congrats to Bell for his achievements and complete dedication to the development of his art. He is definitely one of the hardest working artists I have ever seen.
Be sure to see the Building Icons exhibit at the Patrick Moore Gallery, March 7th through March 31. The opening reception will be Friday March 16th, 6 9 p.m. 511 West 200 South, Salt Lake City, Utah. (801) 521-5999.
Thank you, and happy art viewing and making.