Go to 15 Bytes Home
go to page 8
Subscribe to 15 Bytes For Free
    March 2008
Page 7    
Mount Superior by Conrad Nebeker
0 | 1 | 2 | 3

Exhibition Preview: Provo
Moods of the Land
Landscape Painting by Conrad Nebeker
by Ehren Clark

Many landscape paintings achieve greatness not for what they depict but for what they do not. Artists like Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, Caspar David Friedrich and JMW Turner secured their places in art history for their ability to capture the sublime element in nature; that which lies beyond the physical. While creating landscapes beautiful in their physicality, they placed emphasis upon those ethereal aspects of nature that incite thoughts of wonder and awe, that evoke what lies beyond what can be seen to what can be comprehended only by the mind's eye.

While rivers, streams and mountains offer a comprehensive view of beauty in the natural world, the beauty which may be gleaned by the imagination is often more powerful. Like a gothic cathedral, a painting can be a vehicle that, through its compositional structure and painterly execution, invites the beholder to a higher notion, a more spiritual attainment and contemplation.

In his new cycle of works, Brigham Young University artist Conrad Nebeker beautifully renders his landscapes -- Utah landmarks familiar to many -- and traverses what might be mere geography for a greater contemplation of the sublime presence of nature in its totality. Nebeker's ancestors were early pioneer settlers and he feels particularly connected with the land - a motivating factor to his choice of subjects, which sets him apart from his fellow students working in more contemporary modes. Yet Nebeker's paintings are no less original or relevant. As much as any abstract painting, Nebeker's paintings open doors to interpretation. He does have "happy little trees," but his strength lies in the transcendental aspect of his works, painting landmarks while provoking the imagination. Nebeker looks beyond the horizon and literally reaches for the sky.

Most of Nebeker's works are tall verticals, large in scale, with less focus on the land, which often occupies the bottom third of the painting, than the sky, which dominates the composition. Nebeker does this, he says, to invoke a sense of presence and absence. In his "Clearing Storm," there is as much to be gleaned by the intensity of the sky above as the land below.|1| It is a tumultuous sky, ubiquitous in strength and it is as fundamental an element of the natural landscape as the gorge below. It reveals the power of the natural world and is the driving force which, over millennia, has given the land its very form.

Nebeker's painterly allusions to the substance of the sky and the physical relationship with the land below invoke much of the subject of his work. One of the artist's most provocative pieces, "Spring Storm," a prairie near Utah's Bear Lake, is the forecast before the storm and exemplifies the command of the driving force of the empyrean.|2| The field is backlit by the sun, while in the distance an ominous presence approaches. This is one of Nebeker's most minimal works, yet perhaps his most dramatic. In the landscape of Utah, the location for all of Nebeker's paintings, the sky is omnipresent; affecting and creating the natural environment. In Nebeker's landscapes revealing grand monuments, the sky is utilized as an integral aspect to the natural wonders on display. The dramatic encroachment of the storm upon the sunny prairie in "Spring Storm" signifies that the luminous field will soon be clouded in darkness and storm.

To achieve success in these landscapes, Nebeker needed to master the technique of light and the impact it has on the physical. Like the Impressionists had learned in the nineteenth century, light is fundamental in the perception of color, which they found changes moment by moment in relation to the quality of surrounding light. In his triptych "Mount Superior," Nebeker paints a glorious dawn on the slopes of the mountain, but the viewer does not see the sun rising over the east but the light playing off the mountain in the west.|0| In the horizon above, an early morning moon may be seen setting as the sun rises behind it. Nebeker lends an uncanny play of the two orbs of light and the effect on mountain and sky. This is truly a Utah morning.

Nebeker's works use few artificial references. One exception is an empty road at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon in his "Evening Light."|3| The road seems to encroach upon the natural like a serpentine interlocutor, a contrast from his other works that are all entirely natural. The road adds an aspect that is sharply contrasted to all other elements in his paintings and may be seen as obtrusive, however deserted the road may be. The lack of the artificial in his work adds a sublime element, entirely transcendental to the physical, which in the case of "Evening Light" is obstructed. The artificial element in this piece begs the question of the natural and the destruction of it by the man-made.

Nebeker at 25 is a young artist, yet his approach to landscape painting is seasoned. It is inventive, original and insightful, and captures elements that qualify great landscape from the kitsch. His use of balancing the land with that which is above adds an element of ethereality which many landscape artists at a much greater age cannot capture. His focus on the sky adds the quality of the sublime to transcend physicality that can only be achieved by seeking the natural in a state of searching beyond the earthbound. Instead of using exacting detail toward a reduction to the minimal, Nebeker's landscapes leave the mind to wander through his paintings; beyond his paintings. They incite the imagination, open the mind and reach heights greater than the highest mountain peaks painted by more exacting artists. Nebeker's landscapes, like many of the best, achieve a state of the natural untouched by human hands, a state of wonder and evocation of the universal.

Moods of the Land opens March 17th with a closing reception March 28th 7:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. at the B. F. Larson Gallery in the Harris Fine Arts Center at Brigham Young University

Feature: Artistic Temperaments
Damien Hirst: Bling or Bomb?
by Jay Heuman

When curators or academicians talk one-on-one with artists, the result is sometimes an exercise in futility, as two different temperaments use two different vocabularies. But as a witness to several artists talking with one another . . . it's an organic swirl of artists' names from past and present, local and faraway, with a reference to contemporary theory and a sharing of secrets from the studio.

I have had opportunity to be such a witness and, with "ARTISTIC TEMPERAMENTS," hope to be an instigator by asking three artists to respond to the same question drawn from current events in the art world.

British artist Damien Hirst, best-known for animal carcasses in vats of formaldehyde, recently produced and then sold the highest priced "new" work of art in recorded history – a platinum skull encrusted with 8,601 diamonds. "For The Love of God" sold to a consortium of investors for over $100 million US dollars (see article). What do you think?

The following are answers from Adam Bateman, Jim Frazier, and Steph Parke:

For the Love of God by Damien HirstAdam Bateman
"For the Love of God" by Damien Hirst could have only been platinum encrusted with diamonds. Anything else – glass, cubic zirconium, pine nuts – would have lacked integrity and would have diminished the meaning of the work. This is certainly the most significant work by one of the most influential artists alive today.

The controversy over the sale price is unfortunate as it distracts from the importance and meaning of the work. Like the best art and literature in history, this piece is at once a beautiful object and has many levels of meaning: personal, art historical, literary, political, economic, religious, spiritual, and aesthetic. Poor Yorick makes a cameo as Hirst cites Hamlet (Shakespeare) and in one object asks questions about eternity and death and life and life's purpose. He comments on current political issues by forming Blood Diamonds into a symbol of death. Even as he does it, he is wracked with the guilt that he has made something so valuable that people might die over it (and may already have). He takes an ironic jab at the commercial bent of the contemporary art world by using a skull, a symbol constantly found on the bookshelves of the learned and in the classrooms of doctors and young art students and encrusting it with diamonds, adding material value to artistic value, simultaneously making a fortune for himself and making fools of those who are taken with the over-consumption of the art world that supports him. As he does so, he elevates the history of art and the entire Western Tradition.

Suddenly, all of Western Culture is not only for sale, but ironically symbolizes its own demise. He parallels our attempts to understand ourselves and our history – our attempts to preserve our own history – with our obsession with death and overcoming it through mummification, embalming, resurrection, through inheritance (think the Crown Jewels), and grave markers. He references, parodies, celebrates, and criticizes Western Religions' approaches to death and afterlife. He also unifies all of his past work in one piece that can be taken in quickly, in but a moment, and if we as viewers aren't blinded by the diamonds, the piece will remain for many lifetimes in our minds and art history books; though this isn't the immortality we humans try to achieve for our dead, nor the one Hirst parodies with this version of Yorik. Remember; diamonds are forever . . . and they're a girl's best friend.

Tezcatlipoca maskJim Frazer
It's easy to see the resemblance between Hirst's diamond and platinum skull and artifacts such as the Tezcatlipoca mask, a human skull lined with leather and inlaid with turquoise in the collection of the British Museum. (see article) Since Hirst says he was influenced by such objects, one wonders if this was the example he saw. The purported influence of the Mesoamerican turquoise inlaid skull, though, really seems more like one of several attempts to legitimize by association what would otherwise be seen as simply outrageous bling.

Hirst's cavalier attitude toward the implication of his work is exemplified by his comparison of himself to Robert Oppenheimer because of the possibility that the skull might contain so-called "blood diamonds." It could be argued that Oppenheimer did not realize until that apocalyptic moment in the desert the full extent of what he and his team had done. It could be said (as some of them did say) that they regretted their part in bringing the planet closer to mutually assured destruction. But if any of Hirst’s diamonds are “blood diamonds,” if any lives were lost as the result of his creation, one gets the sense that they are just water under the bridge on the way to the creation of an icon that exists somehow at the nexus of pop and high culture in a refined world of celebrity and high security which is oblivious to whatever conflict may be occurring in Africa.

Oppenheimer could argue (despite legitimate disagreements) that he was trying, at least statistically, to mitigate loss of life. Hirst can only say, “Death is such a heavy subject, it would be good to make something that laughed in the face of it.” In this light, his comparison of himself to Oppenheimer seems not just shallow, but an attempt at co-opting the angst of a generation of nuclear fears in the service of the creation of an object whose admitted purpose is to make light of the most serious subject possible.

Steph Parke
Uh, isn't this Indiana Jones' next adventure? The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?

I have a real problem with outrageously priced art. I understand that there are people in the world who have more money than they know what to do with, so they spend it on crazy-expensive bling, er, art, but just think how many under-privileged kids could benefit from the $100+ million that was spent/wasted on this skull. Or think of how the nation's public school system could benefit, or our health care program, or...

I compare this type of thing with the space program. That's a lot of money that could be better spent elsewhere.

So, what do YOU think? Take advantage of 15 BYTES blog to post your thoughts.

Become an Underwriter