Exhibition Review: Salt Lake
FabAb: Paint and Painting Live On
by Ehren Clark
Over twenty years ago, philosopher and art critic Arthur C. Danto published his seminal essay reinterpreting the Hegelian concept of "the end of art" and introduced his notion of the "post-historical era." Thirty years prior, another influential philosopher and shaper of aesthetic theory, Theodor Adorno, gave his own European interpretation of Hegel's concept and suggested that "the extreme is demanded by artistic technology," and the evolution of art would proceed along the lines of the "life process of human beings." The Salt Lake Art Center's new exhibition, Fab Ab, curated by Jay Heuman, explores the development of the "life process of human beings," examining what may be considered a new era of art media, revitalizing what lies beyond "the end of art"; not only an era of new ideologies but new artistic possibility in form. In the exhibition at the Art Center, one may witness a flourishing of new approaches to an old and familiar theme.
Twentieth century abstractionist movements -- Abstract Expressionism, Post-painterly abstraction, Op art and other branches of pure abstraction -- were limited to the artists' usage of basic painterly devices used for millennia. Technological advances over the past fifty years, especially the development of acrylic paints, have provided artists with the type of new aesthetic possibilities for paint not seen since the Flemish development of oil painting in the 15th century. One may see this clearly and vividly in the works displayed now at the Art Center. Although each painting is so strikingly articulated that it may stand on its own, the exhibition as a whole becomes a testament to the power of technology in the hands of artists. These works deserve more than a passing glance, as their full vitality is discovered in the choices of each artist's media and technique and their unique approaches to the use of acrylic. These abstract artists share some things in common with their predecessors, but the use of new materials, unavailable at the prime of the abstractionists' movements in the twentieth century, set them apart.
One might compare the work of Colin C. Smith, his multi layered "popish" compositions to an artist like Warhol thirty years before. The work of Jesse Simon and his ethereal acrylic and painted foam in graceful simplicity might be compared to Arp, whose works evoked the ease and tranquility of Simon's, but did so with an arduous chisel. Seeing Prudencio Irazabal's graceful panels of soft color, one might call to mind a Frankenthaler or a Lewis. Graham Peacock's multi-media constructions are reminiscent of Rauschenberg. Works displayed by William Betts may be familiar to those who have seen paintings by Newman, as Joseph Drapell may bring to mind a Rothko. And one might be tempted to think of a Riley or a Vasserly when eying the impressive pieces of Susie Rosmarin. However, the differences separating these artists from their pioneering ancestors is prodigious.
Colin C. Smith layers his canvas using pigmented resin and many coats of pattern stencils to an effect which is almost psychedelic. They are light and airy but also complex, and color is used to balance the composition. Such effects, as for example in Smith's "Suburban Dynablob Conspiracy" |1| (which is more precisely rendered than his title suggests) far surpass traditional screen printing methods used by those such as Warhol.
Jesse Simon uses foam-coated acrylic to create three dimensional paintings such as his "Claim." |2| He creates high sculptural relief, to an almost cloud-like effect, which, in their pastel coloring and inviting shapes, allow the mind to explore them. Simon is from California and these painting/sculptures are as soothing to the eye as a sunny day in Malibu. Each piece has a certain "personality," an entity in and of itself that invites calm contemplation.
Prudencio Irazabal has achieved similar aims as the Post-Painterly Abstractionists, but one must see them head on to appreciate their full impact. Irazabal, in his "5N2" 2004, |3| experiments with the pigment of paint, as did Frankenthaler, yet carries his project much further in his experimentation with his matt finishes and glosses. One must inspect his work closely to appreciate the glassy translucent effect that sets his work apart. The reflected light off the serenely smooth surface reacts well with his pigments and the effect is masterfully articulated and stunning to behold.
Graham Peacock, in works such as "Spiders Eyes" 2005, |4| has the brazen, "found object" collage quality of Rauchenberg's work, yet his paintings easily match the complexity of Rauchenberg's more developed "combines." These compositions are extreme, often overwhelming to look at in their psychological impact, due in part to the lucidity by which Peacock arranges his collage amidst the surfaces of his hypnotic acrylic. Peacock uses his paint to harness the collage elements, layering them, and then drying and layering once more. The effect is astonishing and, like Simon, has a high degree of relief.
The works of William Betts may seem to be trailing in the era of Newman, yet the differences are significant. Newman used only paint to create his ground breaking "zips," yet Betts' work has an entirely different approach. In his "Canopy" 2000, the viewer may appreciate the technology that was utilized in these canvases. |5| To the eye they are vivid, sharp and linear, a veritable bar code of thin verticals, all with a unity of color. Yet on learning of Betts' technique, one finds his work is even more impressive. He has reused photographs and technically unified them via a computer, examining this motif in a way impossible to Newman.
Like a Riley or a Vasserly, the neo-Op Art of Susie Rosmarin is easily categorized with the excellence in graphics that would put her at the top of the field. Yet, as in "(#312) Untitled," Rosmarin proceeds with the Op Art past to explore new territories in graphic optics: color relationships, symmetry, and illusion. |0| Her works are highly refined and will satiate any appetite for Op Art.
Joseph Drapell might be considered a post-modern Rothko. His work, as with a Rothko, invites contemplation, a synthesis of artist and viewer, using many layers of acrylic in contrasting hues to ignite the imagination. His "Black Magic" 2004, finds its viewers eye exploring the freedom of his painting immersed in the autonomy of his hand and the rhythm of his panels. |6| It is a psychological invitation, like Rothko's work fifty years previous.
No, painting is not dead. Painting is alive and flourishing, moving with "the life process of human beings." The Fab Ab exhibition reveals this explicitly, revitalizing traditional themes in works with not only immediate gratification, but works which speak of and attest to new possibilities for painting, abstraction or otherwise. The exhibition investigates new possibilities that artists are utilizing, new technologies and advances in materials and methods by which art "after the end of art," may be an open door to an optimistic future and innovation for art.||
FabAb: New Acrylic Abstraction continues at the Salt Lake Art Center through May 30th.
project 337 . . . continued from page 1
Schwitterer's first Merzbau
was constructed in his own home in Hanover, Germany. This "installation" began in the room he used as his studio and grew until it encompassed eight rooms of the house. The Merzbau
projects were, according to Schwitters, "the most significant work of my life." The constructions were very personal and autobiographical in nature. Developed during the political unrest in Germany prior to World War II, Schwitters' Merzbau
became his refuge, a safe place where he withdrew into his personal world of artistic fantasy. The walls and ceilings were covered with three-dimensional shapes and objects Schwitters termed "spoils and relics." The Merzbau projects
were "on principle" uncompleted works, intended to under go continual growth and change. Many parts became covered or embedded as new constructions were added.
The 337 Project has some interesting parallels to Schwitters' Merzbau
projects; primarily it is meant to be temporary and will only be open to the public The brainchild of local attorney, Adam Price, 337 Project is being created in a building slated for demolition, to make way for a new "green" multi-use building. 42 rooms have been opened up to more than 100 artists to use as their "canvas."
"This has been an incredible and energizing experience," relates Price, "and it has brought a real sense of excitement into my life, as well as many of the artists working here, the neighborhood and art community in general."
The inspiration behind the project came when Price and his wife visited New York recently and saw the 11 Spring Street graffiti project. 11 Spring Street had been a graffiti site for years. Recently the inside of the building was opened up to artists, prior to its demolition, and opened for public viewing. On the plane back to Salt Lake, Price and his wife decided to make their 337 South 400 East building available to local artists.
The building started life as a 1900's vintage bungalow and has been remodeled and added onto so many times it's a broken up and chaotic, jumbled mess inside. "The building has outlived its commercial usefulness and has been vacant for years," explains Price. "We're going to take it down and build a new "green" mixed-use building here, with commercial spaces on the ground level and residential on the upper level. There will also be a live-in artists studio in the back." GSBS Architects have been retained for the new building design.
The thing that is so cool about this project is not necessarily what artist did what where, but the interaction and collaboration that has occurred during the course of the project.
"Many of the participating artists have expressed their concerns about the Salt Lake art scene being somewhat stale and rigid. It is hoped that this project will help shake Salt Lake City out of its doldrums by creating new connections between artists and the community. Opening night should be a real mix of people, a diverse intermingling," says Price. "From the 12 year old skateboarders who have been coming by and bringing back more and more of their friends, to the 80 year old neighborhood gentleman who came by and said seeing the building made him smile for the first times in years."
The project will bring together people from all walks of life during the six days it is open to the public. They will be rubbing shoulders and enjoying being captivated by the diversity and creativity of the art. Both the outside and inside of the building have been utilized for the artwork. There is a sculpture garden in the back parking lot created from doors and sunshades from the building. The gamut runs from familiar Graffiti type spray-can paintings, paint roller paintings, stencil work, installations, political statements and observations regarding contemporary society, an audio piece, to more traditional types of brushwork and frescos.
Some of the artists have stripped off the remodeled elements and reverted their room back to its original materials. During one such "restoration," newspapers from 1941, with headlines about Germany invading Poland, were uncovered. They will be used as collage somewhere in the project, a fitting find, considering the project's Merzbau antecedents.
The project has generated a lot of enthusiasm in the art community. "It's been wild," says Price. "It started with me telling one artist about the project and there are now 112 artists involved. We received a small grant from the Salt Lake City Arts Council and the Salt Lake Art Center has been helping with promotional work. The Art Center is considering doing a one-year retrospective look at the project's impact on the local art scene."
A motion picture film crew and still photographers will document the project. The web site will be up for an indefinite amount of time. When asked about the impermanence of the project, the artists all agreed that it is an important part of the deal. They do not want their works or the building to be preserved. There seems to be something about the impermanent nature and urgency of the project that generates so much excitement. Plus, it is out of the ordinary.
Like Schwitterz, these artists have become enthralled with the process and the creative experience rather than being concerned with any commercial viability. The works will not be signed. This is a calculated measure to help ensure the project is viewed as a whole, rather than as parts made by such and such an artist. Artists will only be identified on the web site and the documentation.
The public is invited to tour the 337 project
, free of charge. For the opening, May 18th, the building will be open 6 to 11 pm. For the other days, May 19 -- 20 and 25 -- 27, noon to 8pm. Be sure to visit and share in the elevated sense of community this project has fostered. And, by all means, don't let this be the last such community wide art collaboration project in Salt Lake City.
Photos by Craig Cleveland, courtesy 337 project. For more images go to www.337project.org