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    September 2007
Page 7    
New Black by Bruce Robertson
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Exhibition Review: Orem
In the Eye of the Beholder: The Woodbury Invitational
by Ehren Clark

The art of the Western world has thrived because it has existed in a generally recognized and appreciated visual vocabulary. Generally speaking, a Carravagio will illicit similar effects on most viewers. A Raphael will allow reverence, a Rembrandt awe and wonder. Poussin is calm. David conveys intense desire to act, Gericault, a sublime flood of powerful emotion. With modernism, and its desire to shock the middle-class, things changed. The object itself took center stage, to the exclusion of the subject viewing it, so that unless you are well versed, you will miss the point. This does not keep the dilettante from enjoying aspects of modern painting: feeling the harmony in a Mondrian, the fun of Picasso, the mysticism of a Rothko, the boldness of Rauschenberg. But a viewer might miss the point entirely with Pollock and say “what?” About Malevich's "Black monochrome," most visitors to a gallery in a museum will have a blank stare at something they simply don't understand. There is still and always will be comments from the populace to Impressionists such as Pissarro… "Look, if you stand too close all you see are splotches, but if you stand far away, wow, you can see the whole picture!" A true comment, but a more apt reading would probably run along the lines of “Do you see how the cottage appears golden on the brown as the light infiltrating from the upper left beyond hits it just so… what a remarkable use of light creating such a hue…and such Realism.” Maybe there is a reason why people laugh, (although it hurts our ears) and mock contemporary art and gravitate to the Thomas Kinkades of the art world.

At the Woodbury Invitational in Orem, I experienced a phenomenon that I feel is a growing aspect of art today: a return to the subjective experience. The opening, richly adorned with food and piano music, was well attended. As a critic, observant and alone, I watched the people as much as I did the art and how they reacted to it.

The Woodbury Invitational, and much of the art of today, bears a certain characteristic. Using a painting from each artist, I will attempt to describe what I saw in the Woodbury that night -- a phenomenon really, not merely just a look at a work of art.

Room One, Painting One: "New Black"
In the opening room, a cycle of abstractions by Bruce Robertson grabbed me as abstraction rarely does. His “New Black,” something that is truly twenty-first century pure abstraction, is highly developed in construction and composition, inventive in its handling of segments, and peppered with touches of iconography without defying the painting's purity. The color filled the individual gallery, encouraging one to meditate and ponder, stop for a while and revel in it. But that's it, that's my point. I do realize that pure abstraction is meant to be seen and then felt. But as my point introduced earlier suggests, the range of experience in a De Kooning or an Ad Reinhardt or a Hoffman, Motherwell or a Still: these paintings were created for objectivity, a directive. And to the untrained eye the subjective experience is limited. But in “New Black” there is no objectivity, just pure art -- good art. One hardly wants to leave this gallery . . . the pieces are almost palpable.

Room Two, Painting Two: "Look Again"
The second room and the conversation I had there with the artist, Gary Barton, is the source of inspiration for this article. Barton's cycle of work is a truly post-modern appropriation of objects, painting methods, icons, styles, technique, references and images. I overheard the artist say to someone that these paintings could be read as entities (many of the paintings have a translucent shirt in the center amidst all else). When I asked him about this he said yes, but that it was not really the point. He mentioned these paintings could be read as beings in and of themselves, but also they could be seen as narratives. They contain all the elements whereby anyone could create an identity, a narrative, a story, an experience, invoke memories and draw emotion. That is the point. It seemed as if this was actually happening due to the crowdedness of this individual gallery and the close proximity of the faces of the viewer to the painting and eyes that truly seemed to be searching.

Room Three, Painting Three: "Clear Cut/Two World"
I saw these paintings by Catherine Downing as dense abstractions yet figural -- they had literal subjects. The works were painted almost garishly, cursorily and often in an uncannily Turneresque manner. The range and variation of form and subject was remarkable. The artist stated that her intention was to create depictions of devastation in the Amazon, but that was only a concept to allow her to focus on a breadth of subjects: forests burning, stormy seas, tempests, apocalyptic landscapes. Yet is this a depressing, dreary collection? Easily not. I was almost amused and in an ironic frame of mind as I looked at the paintings. The artist mentioned we all have notions of “starting over,” a back to nature sort of idea. More is alluded to in this cycle than just disaster -- for instance, the reference to the future. The people in this room seemed to converse more. It appeared as if there was a dialogue, or discussion consuming the room.

Room Four, Painting Four: "Moon"
What painting entitled “Moon” could fail to have a highly relative appeal and relevance to a wide audience? Ethereal, logical, yet emotive; symbolic yet transcendent. Transcendence is the key to unlocking this picture, by John O'Connell, and I will generalize in a way that applies to other rooms as well: an interpretation is in the mind’s eye. Here, certainly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Room Five, Painting Five: "Layers I, II, III"
For me, this room was the climax of the exhibit, although it was the least occupied. The artist used images -- sometime whole, sometimes spliced and put together vertically -- in black and white using different textures and printing techniques. Yet remarkably, each section of paper conveys an individual. For example, a head would consist of five vertical strips each taken of a different sitter. The relevance of the room, to me, was that each sliver of paper and the individual conveyed a certain emotion. "Layers I, II, III" is made up of three vague, obscured frontal images of a woman in the fetal position, facing the camera, head down and bent in. Not only is there emotion in this room for all to relate to, but the image that absorbed me, seemingly portraying anxiety, calmed me.

The Woodbury Invitational, on display through the end of the month, demonstrates contemporary art with a free flow of ideas and significance, art that all can enjoy, and find meaning in. This phenomenon at the Woodbury Invitational, is hopefully becoming increasingly pervasive, and more and more, the arts will be something that all, not just the cognoscenti, can enjoy in the experience.
Exhibition Review: Moab
A Musical Touch: Adele Alsop at Moab Art Works
by Elizabeth Matthews

Google search Adele Alsop and you will find reviews in the New York Times and national art magazines. Alsop's artistic heritage includes a long line of painters that extends to her great grandfather and includes her grandmother, mother and several cousins. She has an impressive education and what she calls a spiritual connection with living things. Raised and schooled in New England and connected with all of the right people, it is surprising to find her residing in Utah's own Castle Valley, east of Moab. Last month, Brian Parkin invited me to join him for a preview of her works, now showing at Moab Art Works through the end of September. As we drove upstream alongside the Colorado River and turned toward her mountain home studio, which includes a 360 degree view of plein-air opportunities, it became clear why she lives here.

Alsop's front room studio is filled with the smell of ripe art and images resulting from the artist's excursions out into the endless wilds to paint. She feels no need to drag along a French easel or elaborate paint box. Alsop travels light: with only a backpack and the sparest of materials when she adventures onto "the mountain" (local slang for the whole LaSalle mountain range that includes 13 peaks). Often wrestling a large (40 x 42) blank canvas in and among the trees on these forays, Alsop works to find a place to sit or stand where she's not going to burn up, freeze to death or blow away. She says "I'll have a vague idea of something I want to paint and then I may completely change my mind. The evening and morning light is so incredible, especially in the spring and fall because the sun is starting to get lower in the sky. Painting is an exciting, challenging and mysterious process. It's not about what's there, it's about your perception of what's there. It's a feeling."

In Alsop's studio the first painting that caught my eye was "Aspen Forest Speak Friend and Enter." |0| Alsop says there was a young black bear wandering among the aspen and she seriously considered putting it in the painting. She often paints with bears moving through the forest around her. With surprise, I asked her if she is ever afraid, and she quickly assured me that the bears in this area are wild, not campground bears, and they are more frightened of her (and her large dog) than she is of them. But still they are bears and she respects them. Alsop sees and hears all kinds of things while she is painting. "Mountain lions are scary," she says, "because you feel them there before you ever see them." Evidence of her years of experience, Alsop makes every brush stoke count as she visually describes this complex scene in the deep woods.

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"Ablaze" is a smaller painting in contrasting purple and yellow that I wanted to take home with me. |1| I enjoyed the abstract nature of the piece because it left me wondering if I was looking at a forest fire or a cluster of brilliant yellow fall trees waving on the hillside.

Alsop described in detail the magic that happened for her as she painted "Flowing North." |2| The painting was propped against some rocks and one side of the bank was bathed in bright intense light while the light on the other side of the bank was atmospheric. This is the magic that Adele captures on canvas. She admits that trying to paint the moving water nearly drove her mad. The colors in this work successfully lay next to each and play off one another to create a dynamic flow of energy coming right toward the viewer.

Alsop is also an accomplished musician. She plays the accordion, piano and a variety of other instruments. Her musical touch is evident in her lyrical painting style. The brush strokes are immediate and seem to resonate off her surroundings as they record the colors musically. This success with color attests to the influence of Joseph Albers on her work, which is also strongly influenced by Neil Welliver and others who ran the graduate school art department at the University of Pennsylvania where Alsop studied.

Through September 29 at Moab Art Works, you'll be able to experience the magic of Adele Alsop's colors and the dance of her brush in this exhibit of new oil paintings. A selection of prints will also be available.

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