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   March 2010
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de la Torre . . . from page 1

Most human inventions have been turned to use in art so quickly that in retrospect they appear to have been invented for, or even by, artists. If anyone painted, inscribed, or modeled before the well-known examples of cave art, their efforts have not survived. Glass, despite its evident utility in containers and architecture, was so precious in the ancient world that non-decorative examples of its use are virtually non-existent before the Renaissance. For the Egyptians, the Romans, and medieval Europeans, glass was the ultimate luxury material, the equal of gemstones and companion to gold. Sad, then, that following its apotheosis in the stained glass that glorified and made possible Gothic cathedrals, the nature of glass as an expressive material fell afoul of a newly emerging aesthetic convention.

Glass is a natural comedian. Its viscosity—the taffy-like way it behaves when molten—makes it an exuberantly self-expressive medium of brilliant colors and visible-but-inaccessible depths, its best trick transparency: now you see me, now you don’t. With its natural affinity for graphic line, discreet, even pointillist color, and balloon-like, inflated shapes, glass is never more effective than when presented like a cartoon. Look at the human figures in the windows of Chartres, unsurpassed for 800 years.

But in the Renaissance, taste shifted in favor of crafty displays of control that denatured the medium and attenuated it to an empty vessel. No medium better displays the now-universal divide between the values of the cognoscenti and the pleasures of the hoi polloi. An extreme example of the former is Dale Chihuly’s Olympic Tower in the lobby of Abravanel Hall. I can admire its splendor and price tag, but cannot decipher what it’s about. No such problem with "Bolivar’s Burden," Einar and Jamex de la Torre’s wall-hung relief, which seamlessly matches antique symbols of Latin American cultures with today’s degraded versions.|1| In a few square feet of bravura glass crafting, they replace the ingenious Mayan picture-based language with the corporate logo version we wear on our bodies and possessions and from which we take so much meaning and value today. This they identify as a kind of cerebral colonization: our minds wrapped with chains forged by enforced trade under the guise of free enterprise. They also compare auto upholstery to skin, finding a bias against dark, indigenous genes and in favor of bottled blond hair, and draw from an image of a chained leg that is also a map of the Americas a lesson about revolutions and revolutionaries. As stated elsewhere by the British rock band The Who: “Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.”

Similar simultaneous readings and layered meanings co-exist in every piece. Ribald humor and popular entertainments alternate with whimsical reminders of the violence pervading every level of society today. In mainstream US media such informed critiques must be leavened—we say “balanced”—by broadening them until any distinction between actual perpetrators and victims disappears. Not for the de la Torre brothers,|2| though: the use of glass aside, their multi-dimensional visual operas belong to a vital, popular, trans-national but substantially Spanish-language artistic tradition that has always resisted the dictates of powerful tastes. As a visit to Long Beach California’s Museum of Latin American Art will show, just as Spanish is the only language that is growing in the face of the extirpating power of English, so Latin American art gives a voice to people who have learned how much they have to lose in the face of domination by greedy, power-seeking interests who are indifferent to the populations that stand in their way.

This is why Inter-Continental Divide belongs in Park City and Utah. Our formerly immigrant population has more recently shown a confused propensity for doing battle among ourselves while selling our resources to alien parties who seek to strip-mine the land and replace what they take with radioactive debris. While we identify, in our viewing and reading habits, with multi-millionaires telling us to buy gold—their gold, as it turns out—at inflated prices, we may actually have more in common with the comically distressed figure in "Crossing the Desert," shown crucified on a saguaro cactus, or "Bethlehem Boy,"|0| made during a stint working in Pennsylvania, which likens the worker-victims of the rust belt to mythic, costumed super heroes. In the scheme of things, these subjects, like the millions of United States citizens put out of work by the investment and real estate crisis, have been sacrificed to maintain the privileged lifestyles of investors deemed too important to suffer the consequences of their mistakes.

It would be critical malpractice to leave the impression here that Inter-Continental Divide consists primarily of angry finger-pointing and bathetic self-pity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Generating awareness of those whose greed and insensitivity create large-scale inequality and suffering requires presenting worthwhile alternatives, and it is vigorous life and the rich, sensuous pleasures it affords that make up the vast, colorful warp on which the de la Torre’s tapestry of human folly and foibles is woven. Life should not be treated too casually, these skulls and disembodied hearts remind, but like the human skeletons made into candied treats of the Day of the Dead, they also argue that death should not be taken too seriously. Or another reading, present at the same time, is that connecting with the sensuous, physical side of being is as important as spending time in the dry, elusive world of thought. Gazing around the gallery, one encounters a fiesta of sensuous effigies: fruits, flowers, brilliantly colored ornaments everywhere. This exuberance and lust for pleasure overwhelm any notion that it’s too late for us. In the world of Einar and Jamex de la Torre all things coexist at once, and being aware of the prodigious multitude is part of what constitutes living responsibly.

Inter-Continental Divide, an exhibit of glass art by Einar and Jamex de la Torre, is at Park City's Kimball Art Center through April 18.

Artistic Temperaments (v5)
The Feminine Artistique
Women artists in Utah's art world

Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was published on February 25, 1963. Though controversial at the time, in 2010, I hope we all agree with Friedan’s sentiment that, “It is ridiculous to tell girls to be quiet when they enter a new field, or an old one, so the men will not notice they are there.”

For millennia, women were excluded from formal art schooling – from ancient times until (in most places) the late 19th century. A few notable exceptions in history, from Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625) to Berthe Morisot (1841-1895), were inducted into the art-making profession because it was the family trade or because family finances allowed for greater independence. [Even then, their years of activity and degrees of recognition paled in comparison to their male counterparts... and marriage and children limited or ended their artistic production.]

But March 2010 marks the 30th anniversary of National Women’s History Month. For this reason, I thought it interesting to poll smart and savvy women who are skilled and serious about their studio practice, promotion, and community involvement. No doubt, it’s a delicate proposition for a man to pose certain questions of women; but I had no doubt the responses from these two – Joey Behrens and Traci O’Very Covey – would reflect confidence, introspection and sincerity.

Here’s what they had to say:

Joey BehrensJoey Behrens

When I survey the local landscape, I am surrounded by other women artists. We are producing work and have the same opportunities to show it as our male counterparts. When I look to the larger art world—the contemporary collections of museums and institutions, the pages of art world magazines, art fair rosters and news of record breaking auction amounts—this crowd thins. Women are no longer overtly excluded from the club, but we haven’t mastered the secret handshake that gains us equal and full access to it either.

I do not think of myself as a ‘woman artist’. My work comes from my experience in the world, so inevitably my gender impacts it – not just what, but how I make and present it. I’ve never been too concerned with other people’s expectations, whether those expectations stem from my gender, vocation, or size.

While I’ve never experienced overt discrimination as a woman artist, I am aware that people may make assumptions about me and my work based on my gender. The amusing thing is that because of my name, many assume I’m a man. This assumption has neither helped nor hindered my career; it has given me a certain amount of anonymity at openings, so I get to hear what people are saying about the work—and the artist.

Traci O'Very CoveyTraci O’Very Covey

It feels good to be an artist anytime. As far as being a “woman artist” I hope that in the western civilization at least, we are beyond any inequitable consideration of gender. At this start of a new decade, and in this young 21st Century, it seems the visual arts are limitless with possibilities. There is such an array of diverse types of art being created that the visual arts expression continues to be vast. I find myself hoping the economic situation improves and can continue to support art in all its many forms.

I prefer to be thought of as an artist in general without gender classification. However, since my work frequently tends to be an expression of the female form in a literal or symbolic way, I guess being a woman inspires my artistic idiom. Therefore, being categorized as a “woman artist” in my case could be beneficial in terms of distinguishing the art I am currently creating.

I don’t judge an artist or work of art based on gender and I hope that others would also just be open to their response to the art without consideration of whether a male or female created it. The only instance in which gender makes a difference is when the artwork overtly displays a feminine or masculine expression.

Not that I am aware of. I think I was born at an interesting point in time as I was able to see the women’s rights movement of the 1970’s change peoples lives when I was a young teen. I was raised by a working mother who taught me that we are all equal, and that we have the choice and personal power to do, or be, whatever we decide. I always had the feeling that I should be treated as an empowered and capable person and I think people have pretty much treated me that way. I studied art and graphic design at the University of Utah, started my graphic design business right after graduation and have been a self-employed person ever since. I have had my art in exhibits, my illustrations published, and my graphic design work recognized. So as far as I can tell, my being a woman artist hasn’t been a hindrance.

:: comment on this article

We'll be marking the 30th anniversary of National Women's History Month with a continued online discussion about women in the arts. Utah artist Kathryn Stedham begins the lively monthlong conversation with a post on our blog. Read it here. Then check the blog frequently this month as we include posts with statistical information, reviews of books and film, opinion polls and comments.

Also, don't miss the Salt Lake City Film Center's March 12th screening at the Salt Lake Art Center of Our Cit Dreams. The film visits the creative spaces of five women artists, each of whom possesses her own energy, drive and passion. These women, who span different decades and represent diverse cultures, have one thing in common beyond making art: the city to which they have journeyed and now call home - New York. The artists profiled are Nancy Spero, Marina Abramovic, Kiki Smith, Ghada Amer, and Swoon.

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