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    April 2008
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SFCC Blacktop by Jean Arnold
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Life in the Slow Lane . . . from page 1

Although it is arguable that le flâneur has morphed into le driveur over the intervening century and has expanded into territory beyond the city, the general concept of observing life from the "slow lane" is still alive in today's art world. For example, Art Access Gallery just featured an exhibit, now at Gallery OneTen, whose source of inspiration was Highway 89. Namon Bills, artist and coordinator of the Art Access exhibit, says of traveling from Idaho to Arizona, "The experience was unique – not one of traveling from point A to point B, but of traveling the road for its own sake. . . . [W]e experienced the state in its glory and beauty, its ugliness and grit, and its shining suggestions of progress and timeworn relics of the past."

At the Rio Gallery, BYU professor and photographer John Telford is currently showing 50 of his photographs that document "the daily lives and shared experiences of Utahns who live along historic Highway 89." Interestingly, the late literary theorist Susan Sontag is responsible for connecting the photographer flâneur with the invention of hand-held cameras in the early 20th century. She says in her 1977 essay, "On Photography": "The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno . . . Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world 'picturesque.'"

Salt Lake artist Jean Arnold is also an example of a modern day flâneur. For over ten years, she has sketched while riding on buses, trains, or in cars. Arnold says she likes to capture different urban elements in flux -- vehicles, signs, road markings, trees, buildings, etc. -- and "remove" them from their original context and into her sketchbook where they coexist in new relationships. In essence, she says, she "creates a dense layering of geography, compressing miles of space and time into one image."

For several years, Arnold just drew when she was a passenger in a vehicle on her way to a specific destination. Then, in 2004, when she was in Reno accompanying her husband at a conference, she found herself with some extra time. She hopped on a bus and sketched attentively as the bus meandered the city. Arnold enjoyed being able to focus on the urban environment without the imperative of needing to be somewhere, and eventually ended up riding half the bus system over the next few days. She has since ridden buses and trains in Salt Lake City, Denver, Little Rock, and Santa Fe to "explore urban stretches, watch people, and draw like crazy."

After a few years of creating travel sketches, Arnold started to focus on the myriad thoughts riffling through her mind about what she was seeing. She began incorporating them into her sketches as well -- as if fragments of commentary wanted to join the linear conversation. For example, drawings from a Denver excursion contain these words:

Board ‘F’ train at 11:28, waiting
Will go inbound from Lincoln Station.
End of line.

Sitting, waiting, construction on left, freeway on right
parking deck on left

Complicated

Mall.
We are really near Littleton / Columbine area.
8 years ago TODAY: The Columbine shootings.
Destined to be repeated over + over again . . . even more.
Flags at half-mast this week

As Arnold has wandered the urban American landscape of the 21st century, she has become acutely aware of how modern city dwellers depend on cheap petroleum to maintain their ways of life. She says, "I noticed our ease of travel and ability to enjoy goods from all over the planet -- people and stuff going all over the place all the time. In surveying Reno, I was struck that most of the city was built within the last 30 years, and felt trepidation in seeing this new sprawl."

Arnold's unease with urban sprawl led her to months of reading environmental books. She also took a writing class in 2004 and became interested in environmental writing. Arnold felt strongly that there was an "off the radar" issue that urgently needed to be addressed. The specific topic came to her a year later when a friend mentioned she'd just attended an energy seminar and was told that all current energy prospects were gloomy. This comment prompted Arnold to delve further into the mechanics of oil production, its myriad uses, and its vulnerabilities as a global energy source. She has since focused her energies on "peak oil" and its ramifications.

In the October 2006 edition of Catalyst magazine, Arnold writes: "[Peak oil is] when about half the world's oil supply is used up, production reaches a peak and then declines an estimated 2-3% a year, even as demand continues to grow. Relentlessly, year after year the world has to make do with less oil, even as there are more and more of us. Developing nations and the poor suffer the most."

While many energy experts believe peak oil is happening now -- or soon -- some totally dismiss the theory (among them, OPEC – the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries). Arnold notes, however, that "even the most optimistic energy consultant's predictions still leave us facing the dilemma in just a few decades." Also, Arnold and others believe that regardless of the timing of the actual peak, which can only be determined after the fact, Americans need to understand that their whole lives depend on oil and any disruption of that source will complicate everything – what we wear, where we live, what we eat, what we drive, and what we buy.

Observations from one of Arnold's sketchbook entries illustrate her growing concern with oil consumption and dependence. In 11:07/"F" to Lincoln/outbound she writes:

No one can persuade me it
won't be a disaster.
It becomes the axis I revolve
around. All else seems less real,
dimmer. No one else (or very few)
even have an inkling. Feel
alone,
almost.
The scale becomes apparent as I
ride all around the enormous
sprawl. I see the scale of what
we are up against.
Meanwhile everything seems
just fine.

End of F line: Right by freeway.
Construction nearby.
Big open space with office buildings
Got off train, sitting in sunshine
waiting to reboard. Roar of freeway
traffic below. Smell fumes, burning fossil fuel.

In order to educate the public about peak oil and its consequences, Arnold and a friend, Michael Mielke, co-founded Post Carbon Salt Lake (PCSL) in November 2006. The group's mission statement is to "raise awareness in our community about peak oil and the need to prepare for 'energy descent' by transitioning to reduced-energy lifestyles and by strengthening local communities - promoting local food, local economy, and local energy." PCSL holds meetings or film screenings and Arnold provides Powerpoint presentations to elected officials and policymakers. She and Mielke have also recently published a document calling for a Wasatch Front Transportation Security Task Force to investigate and implement alternatives to an oil-based transportation system.

So what if the flâneur is making observations that no one wants to hear -- those "inconvenient truths" about how we live? Arnold says it's hard to get politicians to think about what they'll have to do to change our oil-dependent lifestyles on a mass scale, and most individuals don't know about the concept of peak oil or aren't paying attention. She's not alone, however, as it seems that sometimes depicting unpleasant reality is the flaneur's job. For example, 19th-century urban residents weren't very happy to hear Georg Simmel insist they were too overstimulated to pay attention and had adopted blasé attitudes about their lives. Modern day street photographers have also been known to expose the seamier side of urban life, and in fact believe it is their duty to make people pay attention to what's hiding behind glossy facades.

One might also ask about the fate of the flâneur/driveur in light of dwindling oil supplies and increasing gas prices. Even for those who are willing to slow down and take the time to observe, will meandering drives become cost prohibitive? If so, then perhaps the flâneur will return to his (or her) original incarnation -- on foot.

Jean Arnold currently has an exhibit of her paintings and large works on paper at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana entitled Perpetual Motion through June 8.



Wayne Thiebaud . . . from page 1

Although Thiebaud is in his later years, his mind is sharp, especially as he speaks about what he loves most. Although his body is aged, his sensibility is youthful, unjaded and filled with refreshing and original personal insights into the art of painting. His memory easily recalls names that younger men would forget, anecdotes, and complex yet firmly rooted ideas which have accumulated through his many years in the main stream of the art world.

Originally, Thiebaud was an illustrator until a conscious decision was made to adapt his skills into fine art. His work was shown at the Allen Stone Fine Art Gallery in New York and soon after, in 1962, had his first one-man show there. Subsequent to this show, he was quickly propelled into the heights of the New York art world. Thiebaud mentions DeKooning and Newman amongst many others as friends and acquaintances. His memories are filled with encounters of the greats, relationships with the giants of the late New York High Modernist movements. He is a legend, one of the last of the greats who has made possible what is generally taken for granted in today's art world.

Thiebaud's passion and sincere love for the medium of paint and the essence of painting was and is what makes him the legend that he will always be. He identifies with "The idea of painting and art as separate entities." "A painting above all else," says Thiebaud, "is a concrete entity, an abstract search for something still coming into our consciousness. Our ignorance is still bottomless. Great painting becomes art, but not much of it. I feel privileged to be a part of that search for something more, something special."

Like most truly great artists, Thiebaud is an avid historian. He speaks of Rembrandt or Hals in a lucid, almost reverent manner, describing profound aspects of their work. Said Thiebaud "All I am is a collection of all of the input that I had. Being influenced is the way to become an individual." Also, "Painting is a great invention. Over a period of three thousand years we have made worlds of what our sensibility is about. Painting is a summation of human consciousness, what we are in all of our differences. Almost any kind of emotion you can name painters have made a whole world where you can express much of that."

Though he never went to art school, Thiebaud is a master in his field. He paints and draws with the utmost facility, far greater than most trained artists, and has developed a philosophy which surpasses artists who use art as a tool but spend less time contemplating it. "Looking at a painting; this is a one to one thing," Thiebaud said. "I get out of it a wonder, a little world- what is this person trying to do." Thiebaud indicated a reality and a joy of looking at a painting. When the average viewer will spend five seconds looking at a piece in a museum, Wayne Thiebaud will spend an hour and a half. Painting is a "great invention of the human spirit. It has been a great privilege to be a part of that," said Thiebaud.

It is an interesting and humorous anecdote that as a young painter and illustrator, choosing fine art as an objective, Thiebaud began with basic shapes: circles, squares, triangles etc. He had worked in the restaurant industry and began applying subject matter to these shapes: pies, cakes, gumball machines. But metaphorically speaking, the essence of his art goes one step further in his consciousness. They represent far more than optical vision but are metaphysical visions. Said the artist, "This or that icon is an entity, a body," it is the substance of that which he is compelled to; the essence of paint.

Though he is frequently boxed into the camp, Thiebaud is reluctant to call himself a Pop artist. He is annoyed by specific labels. "Generally," he said, "a lot more work needs to be done on what Pop Art is and as a part of the commercial venture." But he recognizes his placement in the art historical context and is appreciative of his roots. "I am fortunate that I grew up in America, that thing that I am, responsible for what I have done. When you are painting, you do not ignoble this tradition, but make paintings as good and as critical."

Thiebaud's philosophy and metaphysical approach to painting is obscured by his simplified iconography of America. Yet these uncanny representations may be seen as doors into the mind of the artist to unlock hidden mysteries of his metaphysical and philosophic approach to paint. Being reluctant to pigeon-hole himself in the canon, he stays true to his own personal perspectives and approaches to art. He is not propelled by his status in history but by his lifelong investigation of painting. The images, his beautifully and poignant icons which lend an identity to who we are as Americans go much deeper into Thiebaud's philosophy. It is apparent that more work needs to be addressed on Wayne Thiebaud himself beyond the images that have made him so famous and that are so familiar to so many. The new retrospective at the Springville Museum of Art will not only help to not unravel the meanings behind his iconography but to unravel the enigma that is Wayne Thiebaud.

Wayne Thiebaud: 70 Years of Painting will be on display at the Springville Museum of Art through July 27.

Bakery Case, 1966, oil on canvas, 60 x 72, c Wayne Thiebaud
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