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    November 2007
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One-eyed Jack Armstrong by Keith Johnson
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Spiritual & Religious Art . . . from page 1

It is a measure of how sacred something is that one person will paint its picture, and someone else will pay to hang that image on a wall where it can be seen. Static images of LDS temples abound in Utah homes, alongside opaque images of Joseph Smith and officials of the church he founded, and both are in evidence at Springville's Annual Spiritual and Religious Show. The principle of religious freedom is often interpreted to mean we may not comment on what others revere, but venerating an institution must be one of the more literal-minded shapes the spiritual impulse can be blunted into. "One-eyed Jack Armstrong," Keith Johnson’s photograph of a man's body tattooed with portraits of the prophets, marks one extreme.|0| On the other, Faye Truman's monochromatic drawing of an instantly recognizable hand gripping a cane for support shows neither the Prophet's temporal authority nor the gratitude of the sheep for their shepherd. Instead, it connects to an outpouring of feeling for someone at the pinnacle of achievement who has managed to retain the common touch.

Unusual materials and points of view are here as well. Andrew Kosorok's "Thou Art the Voice of the Lord and His Trumpet" is a house of glass, its crystalline walls intricately carved with sacred symbols.|1| Tom Taylor's panoramic photo presents the Salt Lake Tabernacle like a scroll unrolled, as if one could stand in the center and see in all directions at once. Speaking of scrolls, the traditional religious text written on parchment achieves a kind of apotheosis in "Four Thousand Years," Richard H. Passey's bravura display of leather crafting.|2| Apparently a kind of pop-up scroll covered with vignettes from the Book of Mormon, its carved and dyed surface recalls the painted friezes of Classical architecture, while the double-walled, fret-worked montages that arise on either side of the central Mayan calendar present the Central and North American versions of Pre-Columbian Christian life.

A more challenging perspective characterizes the sculptures Frank McEntire makes from a combination of recycled and original materials. "U-Turn Eucharist" began as an antique vending machine that allowed the customer to select from eight different rotating gumball-type dispensers. Here the upper four contain only wafers of unleavened bread, but the lower four contain plastic charms—statuettes of saints and symbols of disparate faiths—jumbled together with large caliber bullets. Mounted atop the machine is a spire on which an angel sits. His pose recalls Rodin's "Thinker," but the little fellow's sagging, weary posture underscores how all is not well in the Lord's house. McEntire's other assemblage, "The Golden Wing of the Winged Temple," |3| is also ambivalent, suggesting both the pinnacles of Gothic churches and elaborate Victorian birdcages that mimic human habitations. Behind bars, the outsized gold figure of the wingless angel Moroni blows his horn atop a Salt Lake Temple that has grown wings: a visual metaphor of immaterial power and temporal restraint.

Other works are less refreshingly kitsch-free. Sometimes it goes with the territory, since historical representations can hardly avoid calling up Hollywood epics and fin-de-siècle ornamental chotchkis. Still, the realism inherent in the meticulously rendered but ultimately imaginary costume of a warrior or a siren is categorically different from the charming sentimentality of Rebecca Lee Peery's "At All Times and in All Places," in which two anonymous missionaries, their cuffs rolled up above bare feet, wade through a flood in a third-world town,|4| or Marilyn Z. Nielson's "Feed My Sheep," depicting children preaching to some tolerant sheep, or Jean J. Clay's "Mary, Joseph, and the Child Jesus" rendered in the ultimate democratic medium: papier–mâché.|5| The generosity and humor in such works lifts them above their sectarian references, just as the inclusion of various Native American images—and one of Krishna—deliver on the Museum's promise to include "sincere and empathic reflections” of faith regardless of “artistic form or religious/spiritual belief.”

As an aside, there is one "artistic form"—present here only marginally—that is just as well excluded. As a student of human nature and history, I find recriminatory images of past atrocities, whether perpetrated in Serbia during the middle ages or in Missouri in the 1830s, about as helpful as throwing gasoline on a neighbor's burning barn. If a crucified savior could return eighteen hundred years later to offer everyone a second chance, that—and not cleaving to an old injury—should be taken as a model for our own conduct.

Kaziah Hancock presents another challenging model for consideration in "Stand With Integrity."|6| Hancock, herself an exemplar of integrity and a painter of suburb if unfashionable technique, depicts a poor woman, none of whose material circumstances will be envied by anyone who sees her, yet whose robust joy challenges such superficial judgments. Here we encounter, without the distractions of dogma or narrative, the aesthetic principle that links religion to art as naturally as science connects to technology. Other examples of revelation found in close observation of the physical world include both of Chris Young's incandescent realist canvases: Emblems consecrates bread and water by making us see them as if for the first time,|7| while the crackeleur that covers the face of Christ captures the aging of icons, invoking the centuries of veneration that surround its subject. In Herman Dutoit's photorealistic "Consider the Lilies," one of the largest charcoal drawings I've ever seen, the eye penetrates the material realm in a visual parable that illuminates a sacred use of the flesh.|8| And Deborah Teare's "Testimony" likewise argues that seeing requires disciplined looking, and that contemplation is a form of prayer.|9| Her trompe l'oeil shelves also hold a lily, in addition to the Book of Mormon, images of Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ, bread, water, and a snapshot of the Manti Temple. In its illusion of peeling paint and real objects it evokes the kind of painting that was in vogue around the time and locale of early LDS history, but like those didactic works it also contains an ironic warning: Look closely, but don't be fooled.

I can't overlook what may be the most courageous artists in the exhibit. Abstraction is a minority taste and, despite its evident ease in capturing emotional and spiritual states, is particularly unpopular for depicting what is often conservative subject matter. Spencer Budd's "John 1:15" consists of a white bar cutting through a stormy purple field like a waterfall plunging into Armageddon, the entire surface scratched into and scribbled on with crayoned text.|10| J.M. Hutchinson's "Genesis" (“…we are all the work of Thy hand.” Isaiah 64:8) composes a mandala from a crouching, rising figure and concentric lines that suggest organic or crystalline forms.|11| Both represent attempts to find a paradoxically more direct route to underlying reality than an accessible, but ultimately misleading illustration of a Bible story. Such illustrations, meanwhile, are the subject of a critique by Scott Allred, who projects himself into a meticulously crafted meditation on Daniel in the lions' den, and Tom Black, whose study of what may be the wrapping paper from the crucifixion involves some of the most remarkable illusionistic painting I've ever seen, used to present concepts rather than real things. But for the evolution of half a millennium of art history, any of these would be right at home among those medieval artists whose sacred art was their highest form of worship and praise.

The 22nd Annual Spiritual and Religious Show continues at the Springville Museum of Art through December 27.
Exhibition Review: Ephraim
An Unusual Blossom
Elizabeth Tremante @ the CUAC
by Laurel Hunter

Why does it make perfect sense for a performance and installation artist from Los Angeles to have an exhibition of paintings in rural Utah? Elizabeth Tremante's Inside the Landscape, at the Central Utah Art Center through November 14, showcases a series of paintings and drawings that study the natural landscape, specifically as nature intersects with manmade structures. The works are close-ups and blow-ups of that intersection: hogweed, dandelions, puddles, wire, piles. They are also art historical studies: geometric abstraction meets the history of landscape painting. Think Thomas Moran meets Sol Lewitt. While Tremante explores the tradition of observation in landscape painting, she also embraces a more contemporary visual language of abstraction. Her paintings inspect places were nature is rural – touched and utilized. The human presence intersects with the natural environment. Weeds meet piles, fabric meets barbed wire fences, string meets grass. Landscape painting meets abstraction.

The largest painting in the show, "Weeds, Piles" clearly demonstrates Tremante's dedication to observation.|0| Dandelions the size of dinner plates thrust forward from the picture plane, each petal clearly defined. Behind these an organic pile with a geometric gray echo of this pile occupies the left side of the canvas. While the scale of this painting pushes the limits of CUAC's walls, it is magnetic. The dandelions (something I've always liked, maybe since I've never owned my own lawn) are majestic, giving a distorted sense of scale. The piles look like mountains, but wait – dandelions are small. Still, I feel like I am looking at the last remaining pre-historic dandelions, the winners at the state fairs. I am looking closely at a neglected weed in front of a lumpy brown rock and an elegant geometric stony mountain oversees it all.

Perhaps the most beautiful painting in the show, "Hogweed," demonstrates Tremante's interest in both abstraction and landscape most directly. An Agnes Martin-esque fence on a white background is dominated by a chandelier of hogweed that pushes through it.|1| How can such a beautiful blossom have such an ugly name? In Tremante's painting, is light and beautifully rendered, lifting upwards and away from the grid that holds it.

"Tangled Twine" is a composition of brilliant green, charming grasses bending forward that are intentionally wrapped with a bright red line, carefully creating the geometry of triangles and shapes reminiscent of Jacob's ladder string game. But here, the geometry returns to the organic in its reflection in the puddle painted below the grasses.

Perhaps my favorite piece in the show is a graphite drawing of burlap tangled in some barbed wire fencing.|2| There is so much tension and drama in the marks, the careful detail, the pinning of the fabric while it deteriorates and pulls.

Tremante's paintings reflect scenes that I witnessed over and over on my visit to Sanpete County – weeds in fields reaching through fences. An unusual blossom next to a trail marked by the deep muddy footprints of hunters. As I hiked the area, I started to see compositions reminiscent of her work. Tremante has a tremendous understanding and compassion for the incidental in rural life. I hope those that live the rural life see the beauty in the details that Tremante has painted for them.

Inside the Landscape continues at the Central Utah Art Center through November 14.

Weeds, Piles by Elizabeth Tremante
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Alternative Venue: Salt Lake City
Dexterity & Caffe Niche
by Laura Durham

Six months ago, business partners Tara Southard and Amanda Lumdahl opened the doors joining their salon, Dexterity, and their new project: Caffe Niche.|3|

Formerly Grunts and Postures, Caffe Niche is located on 779 East and 300 South. Just like the salon with which it shares a wall, the contemporary café presents contemporary artwork by local artists.

"We always featured jewelry, dresses, art and furniture over in the salon," says manager Tara Southard, "so we wanted to carry if over into the café." They've found that Caffe Niche gets more attention as a space for art because, unlike Dexterity, it doesn’t have a specific clientele.

Together, the salon and the café take up 4000 square feet with plenty of wall space. They are currently featuring photographer Stephen Wilson and painter Ellen McConnell. The artwork has been primarily networked through clients and family, but Southard and Lumdahl are working out a calendar and a schedule so they can take proposals.

"Dealing with the art is another job in itself," Southard admits. "We underestimated what we were getting ourselves involved in, but it's going great."

Caffe Niche is a proud sponsor of the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll. They’re open Tuesday – Thursday 8 am to 4 pm, 8 am to 3 pm on Sundays, and they are now open for dinner Friday and Saturday nights until 9 pm. In typical gallery fashion, they are closed on Mondays.

If you’re interested in showing at Caffe Niche and Dexterity, simply contact Tara (801.433.3380) or bring in a portfolio. They take 10-15% commission and hang every other month.

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