Jann Haworth . . . continued from page 1
Fortunately, Haworth had witnessed artistic success up close even earlier. Her father, Ted Haworth, was an Oscar-winning art director whose many film credits included the cult classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In addition to a lifelong way of seeing the world cinematically, he gave her an example of lifelong dedication to craftsmanship that transcends the accidents of celebrity. It was another of his films, Jeremiah Johnson, that first introduced Hollywood's progressive elite to Utah, setting in motion one strand of a braid of events that, years later, would result in his daughter locating her studio in Sundance, where she has now lived and worked for thirty years.
One thing that makes Sundance special to her is the way the light she works by is reflected off snow. This level of concern for the materials she works with is typical of artists, but Haworth argues that as a woman she is more aware of, more interested in, and ultimately more sensitive to materials than most male artists. It's a characteristic that emerged when she took advantage of her early success to seek an alternative to the masculine domination of art education and practice. Just as women use wordsthe components that lent character to languagedifferently than do men, so women, if they wish to own the great genres of artlandscape, portrait, nude, and still-lifemust also approach them in their own way. It's something she only learned when she tried to combine her artistic success with the traditional roles of mother and housekeeper. After the emotional and intellectual violence of the ensuing collision, she found a way to adapt women's traditional solutions to making art. Paradoxically, it was falling from grace that allowed her to find her true voice.
"Women's connection to children and families is visceral," she explains. "It makes us levelers, makers of connections rather than ladders we could climb up. We synthesize small pieces well. We excel in collage: cooking, sewing, quilt making." Looking around at her one-person show at the Gallery at the Main, one sees her point made physically: a quilt called "Scheherazade," based on the famous collection of Arabic tales, when finished will include 1,001 graduated squares that carry the storyteller to safety. "Utah Women," an ensemble of conceptual portraits, uses a single format and collaged contributions from the subjects to capture both their individuality and what they share in common. Throughout, materials are as carefully chosen for individual characteristics as for their combined effect.
Haworth's training was in graphic design and her instincts are those of an illustrator. That, combined with her infectious humor and disregard for sacred cows and stuffed shirts alike, keeps her work popular and her messages palatable. She also took the trouble to work up a lively patter that dances adroitly across the surface of her history and her present, not avoiding the inevitable questions about her fifteen minutes of fame, but delivering answers that surprise and disarm her interlocutor into letting her talk about her current work. How great was it to collaborate with the incomparable Beatles? Well, the studio was tiny and they weren't much help. Is Paul dead or alive? He hints even he's not sure. Reaching into a box of teaching materials, she pulls out the battered, broken parts of a surprisingly flimsy gramophone she was awarded in 1967. Orson Welles won half an Oscar for Citizen Kane; she won half a Grammy for signaling that rock and roll was ready to play with the grownups.
A few minutes of this and you'd follow her anywhere. Of course spoon-feeding the press a pre-digested story is a safe way to control what gets written about hersomething every artist would like to do. Her boundaries are subtle, but still there as she tells how her husband "at that time" -- she is scrupulous never to refer to Peter Blake without locating him firmly in her past -- moved to the wild north of Britain to found the Brotherhood of Ruralists. Brotherhood is another historical joke, but one that must have smarted even then. After their marriage ended, an event she adroitly appears to talk about without saying anything specific, she entered a cloudy decade that cleared to find her living and working in Sundance, but exhibiting and selling in Europe.
Haworth's chapter on Sundance is also complex, including her father's history and her collaboration with her husbandat this timethe writer Richard Severy. Primarily, though, she credits Robert Hughes, the Australian-born art critic for Time magazine, with asserting that an artist's vision must be renewed in the wilderness. While she knows that Hughes means it as a metaphor for escape from social pressure, in Utah she found wilderness in the fullest sense, including the transcendent landscape Hughes credited, in American Visions, his influential 1997 survey of American art, with creating the sense of manifest destiny and spiritual purpose that enabled Americans to make, late in the twentieth century, the world's most influential art.
As for her remaining attachment to Europe, she entertains a suggestion that leaving home may be more important than the direction one travels. But ultimately she disagrees. "In Europe, when you go to an art gallery, you pass down a street of old buildings that are all alike. Inside the gallery may be modern, but the outside is old. When you look out, you see tradition and conformism. But here I am, at my first show in Utah, and look around us." She gestures out the airy, glass walled space of the City Library towards buildings marked by the range of their styles. More to her point, even the relatively short drive from here to her home entails journeying through an epoch of time and environmental consciousness.
"It's a great privilege leaving hierarchic Great Britain, where cynicism rules out possibility. When I'm here, I sometimes think I'd be happier there, but as soon as I'm back I start feeling claustrophobic. Coming to America, with its ragged individualism, constructive approach, and palpable optimism gives a slight cut to the eye. I admire the level of language here, the caliber of public speaking. I can see things fresh, like on holiday."
Haworth's art begins in specifics, like the difference between a man's story and one belonging to a woman. It's not that one is truer than the other: just that one has been told and retold, while the other is just beginning to be heard. Making issues count requires specific details: on an apron stretched over a frame meant for painter's canvas, she has printed a comic strip recounting the plight of a young woman striving to become an artist.|1| In one scene the protagonist wins a scholarship to art school, but her father, meaning well, forces her to take business classes instead. It's a true story about Haworth's own mother, but it could be any parent, any child.
As befits her coming-of-age in a more idealistic time, Haworth expects an audience to think. For her, art is a democratic activity: a dialog in which the artist speaks to everyone. It upsets her that a film depicting the animated Mickey Mouse dying in the trenches of World War I was found too disturbing, but millions of real human beings continue to go through similar ordeals in real life. Watching adults treat children like aliens, as if what's done to them won't affect what they become, she says, "It's important to see the child as a part of the adult." Seeing, which precedes thinking and too often precludes it, is something she clearly thinks art can and should influence. On the library's walls, it's Minnie, not Mickey, who's in trouble, and she is "only" pregnant.|2| But the story she illustrates concerns the poignant contingency of women's lives. For years she's a child, followed by a moment of freedom and seemingly limitless possibilities. There's a youthful emergence“caterpillar to butterfly”and then along comes a baby, and she's stuck back in that primal drama, only playing the other role.
Some things are too important to make somber. In her art as in her life, Haworth seemingly never passes up a chance to leaven our mortally serious predicament with healthy disrespect. Her current series of works, which look like paintings but are also corsets, freely mix fashion, theater, music, film and animation. Each is provocatively both a figure done in an identifiable style and a piece of exotic lingerie. They also combine materials like vinyl, fabric, and found objects, taking Pop one step beyond itself and combining it with one of its offspring, Assemblage, to inject some life into a medium many thought was finished. Continuing her revisionthe reward for staying productive when others have given out is you get the last wordone of the more colorful corsets is a tribute to Nudie Cohen,|3| hardly a hero to doctrinaire Feminists, and two celebrate the sexual ambiguity of Hedwighe or she of the angry inchone from in front and one from behind. |4-5|
Jann Haworth admits that she makes art about art. She enjoys putting fine art next to crafts and something as trashy as plastic, but paradoxically ends up giving Pop some class. To the tired claim that art is dead, or that form trumps content, she replies with a rhetorical flourish: "Just because you haven't any ideas doesn't mean there aren't any. We [women artists] haven't spoken yet!" For her, the point of art is to be forced out of our selves by listening to someone else. Describing her own surprise at discovering, after leaving the cosseted life of a middle class girl, that women aren't equal, she diagrams a parallel equation. If art is going to mean as much to us as the bad things in life, it needs to be just as surprising.
Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
The New & Used West
Mark Knudsen and Malen Pierson at Phillips
by Ann Poore
Phillips Gallery takes exceptional care of its artists. From putting the perfect background color on the walls to creating the ideal partnership in a two-person show -- they know the right juxtaposition can result in a sale that benefits everyone.
Gallery director Meri Ploetz DeCaria does the juxtaposition part particularly well. Last year, canvases of Carolyn Coalson's impressionist color on the walls combined with Dorothy Bearnson's opalescent pottery made for a show I won't soon forget. Did I say that was more than a year ago?
This latest pairing of Mark Knudsen's paintings of the new West |0| and Malen Pierson's remarkable animal assemblages represents an intriguing new twist. DeCaria explained that every time the gallery makes the schedule for the year "we decide who is ready for a show, who needs a boost to get their career going." Because Knudsen previously had shown only in the downstairs Dibble Gallery, he needed a partner to show upstairs. A big opening on Gallery Stroll night is expensive -- the color postcards, the wines, the cheeses, the necessary hustle on the part of all the staff. DeCaria knew Knudsen had one of Pierson's smaller horse assemblages in his own collection so couldn't foresee an objection.
"Because Mark's work is so linear and so different from anyone else we represent, we thought that given the dryness of Malen's work it would be a good fit." (Knudsen, in fact, sold quite well.)
Among the pieces Pierson included are an "Out to Pasture Horse," 6'high, 8'long, 3' wide made of old tools, abandoned metals, farm equipment and more.|1| His "Mangy"|2| shares the same dimensions. "Two Great Blue Heron" (which are striking sitting before Knudsen's "Three Islands at the Great Salt Lake" |3|) are 10' high and 3' in diameter. A sculpture I called "Nessie" of the Great Salt Lake, because I never saw the actual title (and it was more fun not to) was a sort of sea serpent stretched out along the gallery's west wall. I was too intrigued by the show to examine Pierson's charming critters carefully and plan to return just to view the hardware, all of which is recycled material.
Among his many collectors, Pierson lists Robert Redford and Martha Stewart (would that be in alphabetical order?). Knudsen looked to see if he was on the list. Sadly, not yet. But he's headed in the right direction.
Gallery co-owner Bonnie Phillips said, "Mark's work is quite dramatic because of the lights to darks, and the distance is very important to each piece because it creates that striking expanse of the western desert."
Knudsen explained his work this way: "A man came into my studio on a Gallery Stroll evening last year and commented, 'You really like to paint dirt, don't you?' The only answer that would have been worse than 'no' would have been 'yes'. Nothing is simple." With Knudsen, nothing is. That gives his work the intellectual depth that sets it apart.
"The stretches of badlands that people ignore as they drive by on their way to somewhere grand are often my subject," he said. "Discovering, then pointing out through the act of painting, the beauty that lies hidden just below the surface of the subtle film that covers our eyes, is what engages me." He has painted lonely stretches of highway with gas stations and trucks. Cows and freeway overpasses. All to emphasize the beauty he finds in the West of today. He pointed to the painting of "Island in the Sky," |4| purchased by a neighbor, and said there had been a fire that day so the sky was smoky instead of the pristine blue depicted on other canvases. "Does she know that?" Hmmm. Maybe he should tell her. "People like to know special things about their paintings," Knudsen said.
After graduating from the University of Utah in fine art, Knudsen went to work for The Salt Lake Tribune where he would spend the early 1970s to 2004. He was head of design for Features for most of that time, known for drawing birds with Audubon-like precision for a popular weekly column. He also wrote environmental, arts and humor pieces for the paper, did set design for Repertory Dance Theater and cartooning for the National Lampoon.
A short example of his nature writing, just a paragraph about time spent in the Confusion Mountains, gives a sense of the mind behind the brush: "That night, I sit outside my tent. The air is charged and warm. An electrical storm moves onto the valley from the south. No rain falls but relentless lightning fluoresces the cliffs and towers of stone in purple and living yellow. The shapes flash then fade like forgotten gods being summoned from hidden places in the desert."
Knudsen's new West painting career really took off when he received an invitation to show in the Charles M. Russell Auction in Great Falls, Mont. in 2006. His work sold well and he was invited back in 2007 and 2008.
Knudsen had two works accepted into "Out West, The Great American Landscape Tour of China." He received an e-mail from the Hong Kong bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal asking to buy the paintings, but customs wouldn't allow it. The pictures first had to be shipped back to this country and the newsman and his wife came to Utah to get them.
"They bought those and more," Knudsen said, laughing. "It turned out she was from Tremonton. Expats are my best customers. Everyone wants a little reminder of home."
The show closes on July 11. Given the holiday that's not a lot of time to get there, but get there you should.