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       September 2010
Published monthly by Artists of Utah, a non-profit organization    
Leslie Thomas

Artist Profile: Salt Lake City
Second Chances
The life and art of Leslie Thomas
| photos by Kim Silcox

Finding Leslie Thomas in her studio is akin to looking for Waldo in a rabbit warren. She and her artist husband, Mark Knudsen, are nestled in a back corner of the maze of studios, galleries, classrooms and frame shops cobbled together from three old buildings that comprise King’s Cottage in Sugar House. The couple has been there about a year now, and they both paint full time in the homey space they’ve created.

When Thomas and Knudsen first moved in, the studio had a dark, dirty subfloor left after the previous tenant removed some not-so-clean carpet, and one small window. Today it has three north facing windows, a couple of couches, lamps, plants, a small refrigerator and lots of books and personal memorabilia, including a big ceramic pig made by a friend. The floor has also been cheerfully revived à la Jackson Pollock. “We put four coats of Varathane on the floor,” Thomas says, “and then started throwing paint around, one color each day. When we were finished, we had to paint the walls, too, because they were pretty messy.”

Thomas’ journey to full time painter is every bit as convoluted as the twists and turns of King’s Cottage, though art has been a life long passion. “I always could and did draw,” Thomas says, “and I was fortunate to study under some wonderful teachers like Don Doxey, James McBeth and Tony Smith, but as I got older I made several missteps in life.” She started college in California as an art history major, but ended up acquiring a husband and two kids along the way, which derailed her education plans.

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Public Issues
When Contradictions Accumulate
Public Art Becomes Public

This Is The Place Monument by Mahonri Young is about as popular as public art gets in Utah. It’s big. It’s multi-cultural (kind of, counting Catholic priests from Spain and Native Americans). It’s Brigham Young. And visitors can tell what it is just by looking at it. It’s a straightforward figurative commemoration of important events in Utah’s pre-state history, primarily the entry of Mormon pioneers at the mouth of Emigration Canyon and into the Great Basin Kingdom on July 24, 1847.

Forgotten are the politics, money, controversy, and conflict that surrounded the monument’s development during the 1940s. “If past public projects now seem pacific and universally accepted, it is only because their initial conflicts have been eclipsed or repressed,” writes Maureen Sherlock in Sculpture magazine.

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Exhibition Review: Park City
Mirror, Mirror
Artists reflect on today's figure

The predicament of art that takes the human figure as subject matter today recalls Dickens on pre-revolutionary Europe: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” On the one hand, with reading on the decline and the graphic image taking its place as the popular narrative form, illustration dominates the channels of cultural diffusion, multiplying familiar outlets and creating new uses for figurative art at every level of accomplishment. On the other hand, in an era when art is split several ways, including the divide between the elite, permanent avant-garde and the popular, low brow alternative that shrugs off critical scorn, the realistic presentation of our favorite subject—ourselves—may earn the money and have the mass audience, but it cannot command the respect still adhering to Giotto, Rembrandt, and even Picasso: all masters of capturing the inner dimensions of humanity through the arrangement and presentation of pose and expression.

Curators Susan Meyer and Thomas Cushman have been contemplating this dilemma while discussing artists who continue to express imagination and individual experience through the human form. “When we look in the mirror we know that we are seeing only a small, physical fragment of our being. An artist’s challenge is to reveal more of ourselves to us,” they wrote in their introduction to Meyer Gallery’s new exhibit Mirror, Mirror. But it’s not so simple as stripping away misdirection or tacking on contemporary symbols: “Figure painters face the daunting task of painting a subject for viewers that we all know only too well. We know what a human being is supposed to look like. It can be unsettling to see ourselves portrayed as anything other than what we see in the mirror.” And so they invited ten artists known for taking liberties with a range of approaches, including portraits, allegory, fantasy, narrative, and the nude, to submit recent work that might illuminate this dilemma. Mirror, Mirror opens on Saturday, four days after 15 Bytes publishes this September issue, so we arranged to see as many of the works in person as were available for preview.

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Emily McPhie at Meyer Gallery

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