Beatrice Mandelman and Louis Ribak

written by Nancy Stoaks

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Since opening its doors in 2014, Modern West Fine Art (MWFA) has supported established and emerging contemporary artists who, in compelling and varied ways, reframe our understanding of the West. Through thoughtful exhibitions, the gallery illuminates both new and historical bodies of work that are relevant and meaningful for today’s audiences. It is with this in mind that MWFA presents this momentous exhibition of work by Taos Modernists Beatrice Mandelman and Louis Ribak. Blending Modernism with a unique desert-infused sensibility of color, light, and space, Mandelman and Ribak serve as a bridge between Utah’s honored tradition of landscape painting and the work of today’s contemporary artists.

 photo courtesy University New Mexico Foundation

photo courtesy University New Mexico Foundation

MWFA’s exhibition takes as its focus the commanding work of Beatrice Mandelman. Presenting her abstract collages and paintings from the 1960s and 1970s, it explores her distinct voice as an artist in Taos. Her compositions exude vibrancy, playfulness, restraint, and subtlety. Ribak’s work, placed in conversation with Mandelman’s, reveals the broader strength of Modernism’s particular idiom in Taos and illuminates a fascinating story of artistic synergy and aesthetic vision in an unexpected corner of the West.

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Beatrice Mandelman’s Red and Blue, a tight patchwork of interconnected shapes and colors, is intentionally dissonant. Typical of her paintings of the 1960s and 1970s, it signaled her adoption—and adaptation—of the early twentieth-century Modernist traditions to which she had been introduced decades prior. Here, Cubism, Constructivism, and Expressionism coalesced and took new form. The colors of Fernand Léger blended with the cut-outs of Henri Matisse. Yet Mandelman’s work was distinctly its own—the product of these diverse influences, combined with the indelible impact of Taos, New Mexico, where she had lived since 1944.

Seeking essence above realism, Mandelman exploited the expressive possibilities of elemental form and color in her work. Her compositions are vibrant and full of energy, often with a densely-packed network of overlapping geometric and organic shapes. While this style of abstraction can sometimes feel haphazard, Mandelman’s work displays thoughtful consideration of the interplay between adjoining forms and colors and between individual parts and the whole. There is playfulness in her approach, but also purpose and restraint. Returning to Red and Blue as an example of her meaningful gestures full of deliberate dissonance, geometric shapes abut the organic, clean edges abut inexact hand-drawn lines, and subtle hints of color activate the edges and interstices of this complex amalgam of forms.

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When compared to the work of Louis Ribak, Mandelman’s husband and fellow Taos Modernist, the enduring—and fascinating—creative conversation between the two artists comes into view. The relationship between Dark Noon and Blue Circle, or Sun Series B6 and Jugglers, illustrates their shared approach towards elemental form and color. There are, of course, also noteworthy differences—Mandelman’s use of collage created a textural element that is absent in Ribak’s work, and Ribak’s pared down approach to composition stands in contrast to Mandelman’s more densely-packed style. Still, their Modernist experiments were a shared pursuit, with ideas around form and color reverberating in a back and forth exchange.

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Mandelman and Ribak’s distinct palette included a wide use of primary colors frequently joined by pinks, peaches, and browns, all in tones that were particularly attuned to the natural world. (This dialogue with the landscape was furthered on occasion through the titles that each artist assigned to their works.) Even more striking, however, is their use of the color white. Creating an almost jarring sense of light and space, it served to draw attention to the indeterminate ground of some works, shifting between positive and negative space. White plays a dominant role in works like Number 7, but it also acts more subtly in Mandelman’s Yellow No. 2 and Ribak’s Blue and Peach Abstract. As in other works by Ribak, Blue and Peach Abstract demonstrates the particular attention—through form and color—that the artist brought to the edges of his compositions.

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Enlivened with visual drama and tension, Mandelman’s and Ribak’s works of the 1960s and 1970s are undeniably alluring. Mandelman particularly celebrated this dissonant, off-center quality: “Off center means to me that a person has to give my work thought, it has to be looked at, it has to be given energy.” Both Mandelman and Ribak, in their highly sophisticated play with form and color, created works that reward energy, offering subtle yet compelling details that emerge with time.

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Beatrice Mandelman, known to many as Bea, lived a life dedicated to art. Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1912, the young artist began her studies at Newark’s School of Fine and Industrial Arts, yet it was her connections to Louis Lozowick and Willem de Kooning that were likely even more influential in her early development. In 1924, when Mandelman was only twelve, it was Lozowick’s vast knowledge of Constructivism (gained from a four-year sojourn abroad) that ignited Mandelman’s sustained interest in the European avant-garde. De Kooning was equally significant. After meeting the recent émigré in the late 1920s, Mandelman became a regular in the artist’s studio, listening with rapt attention to his lively discussions with Arshile Gorky and others within the burgeoning New York art scene.

While the influence of their Modernist aesthetics would be felt decades later, Mandelman’s early works embraced the social realism brought on by the Great Depression. In 1935, she became one of the thousands of artists employed by the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Arts Project, serving in its mural and graphic arts divisions. Mandelman’s impressive serigraphs from this period gained considerable attention and were presented at both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.

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In 1942, Mandelman married fellow artist Louis Ribak, a highly-regarded social realist painter. Two years later, despite the great success that each was having in New York, they decided to leave the growing metropolis. Ribak’s health counted among the reasons, as did the FBI. Indeed, Mandelman and Ribak had substantial ties to leftist publications and associations, leading to unwanted scrutiny by the federal government. In 1944, during a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, the two artists ventured further to Taos and it was in this small town that they embraced a new life.

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Taos, while rugged and remote, had distinguished itself as a destination for artists since the late nineteenth century. The Taos Society of Artists was founded in 1915, and included academic figurative artists drawn to the Puebloan culture. The awe-inspiring nature of the landscape (and the pull of wealthy arts patron Mabel Dodge Luhan) had also drawn visitors like Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keeffe. Mandelman and Ribak, meanwhile, emerged as the nexus of a new generation of artists—one who created an unexpected center of Modernism in the deserts of New Mexico.

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Mandelman’s and Ribak’s evolution from social realism to abstraction was not immediate, but was underway by the late 1940s. This transition was spurred by Mandelman’s studies under Fernand Léger in Paris in 1948, as well as an influx of new ideas brought by the students attending Mandelman and Ribak’s Taos Valley Art School, which had opened in 1947. Their students, coming from the east and west coasts, shared the seminal developments of Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Josef Albers, and others. By the 1950s, Taos had become home to numerous Modernists, Agnes Martin among them, and the group as a whole became known as the Taos Moderns. Mandelman and Ribak were integral in starting artist cooperatives and galleries that would support this growing community.

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By the mid-1960s, many of the Taos Moderns had departed, but Mandelman and Ribak stayed. Their close ties to the landscape in Taos continued to subtly influence their particular inflection of Modernism, which strengthened and evolved over the following decades until Ribak’s death in 1979 and Mandelman’s in 1998. Their enduring legacy is one of dedication—to a place, to a visual language, and to one another.

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Select Bibliography

Hobbs, Robert. Beatrice Mandelman: Taos Modernist. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.

Celebrating Women Left out of the History Books by Pat Mitchell

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We all know that history is written by the victors. Nobody is sure which white man first said that, but it really doesn’t matter as the patriarchy has made sure its heroes have been prominently memorialized in the pages of newspapers and history books, and the walls of museums.

In the early 1990s, along with my VU Production partners, I was trying to convince TV network executives to produce a series on women’s contributions to the 20th century. We were turned down by all three — and there were only three networks at that time. Then someone suggested that I take the proposal to an unlikely television executive — Ted Turner. He had launched CNN, transformed the cable business and was married to Jane Fonda, but was not the first man I thought of for the project. But he asked exactly the right question: “Is this history in the history books?"

"Not much of it," I replied — and that, regrettably, is still true.

That’s all it took to convince Ted to green light the six-hour series, A Century of Women — women’s history from 1900-1992. We produced the series which was broadcast on TBS in 1994 and in many countries around the world. It became the first television series to be selected for the Schlesinger Library of Women's History video archive where it is easily accessed for research purposes by Harvard and Radcliffe students. But a lot has happened since 1994, and we are already nearly 20 years into the 21st century!

Throughout my media career, finding ways to engage the power of media to raise awareness of women's stories, accomplishments and challenges has been a central theme of my work, believing, as I do, that "we can’t be what we can’t see" and we can’t remember what was never recorded. 

This truth was revealed earlier this month when The New York Times published its “Overlooked” project. The idea was hatched after Amisha Padnani was hired as a digital editor at the obit desk and quickly realized in the course of her work that the obituary pages had long been dominated by men, especially white ones, since the paper’s inception in 1851.

Even in the 21st century, that dominance hasn’t abated. In the past two years, the ratio of obituaries about men and women was still 5 to 1. So, Padnani and Jessica Bennet, the Times first gender editor, spearheaded a project to write obituaries for women who had "left indelible marks but were nonetheless overlooked."

Among the 15 remarkable women in the inaugural collection are Ida B. Wells, Charlotte Bronte, Henrietta Lacks, Sylvia Plath and Marsha P. Johnson. Many were shocked that the deaths of the authors of enduring works like Jane Eyre and The Bell Jar passed unremarked by the editors of the Times.

The oversight is multiplied when you consider that there is no museum dedicated to the history of women in this country in our nation's capital. We have museums chronicling the history of everything from stamps to space to spies, but not one focused on the contributions of women to the making of America. 

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Last year, I was appointed by Leader Nancy Pelosi to a bi-partisan congressional commission to study the feasibility of building a national museum of women’s history and, after 18 months of exploration and research, we presented our findings and recommendations to Congress that an American Women’s History Museum is indeed feasible and necessary. 

Progress, yes, and last week, the Smithsonian announced a new women's initiative that charts a path forward to showcasing women in all the Smithsonian museums with special exhibits and women’s curators, and the goal, hopefully, of building a physical museum in Washington, DC, adding women's stories to the historically important museums documenting the history of Native Americans and African Americans. The women's initiative will officially launch in 2020 with exhibits celebrating the passage of the 19th Amendment.

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During this year’s Women’s History Month, I also wanted to share a personal story of another historical oversight with current relevance: artist Jann Haworth, who was erased from history herself, and now is devoting her art to ensuring other women in history are not forgotten. Jann was one of the co-creators of the iconic Beatles’ album cover, "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band," which turned 50 last year, and her collaborator and husband at the time, pop artist Peter Blake, is the one more remembered and celebrated for the cover.

“Looking back, I’m horrified that of 71 famous faces, the Beatles chose no women,” Haworth told the London Express last year. “Peter and I added only 12 women and three of those were Shirley Temple. The rest were pin-ups, mannequins or blondes such as Mae West and Diana Dors. If we made the cover today we would never have allowed such inequality."

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Haworth, 75, now lives in Sundance, Utah, where we first met and I first saw her “Work in Progress” mural — a collaboration with her daughter, artist Liberty Blake, and photographer Lynn Blodgett — that presents in a series of panels, an artistic interpretation of more than 250 women who helped shape the world through contributions in the arts, sciences and social justice activism.

Haworth tells me that she was inspired to create the mural after doing a comic strip in 2009. "It was called 'Mannequin Defectors' and in the last panel the mannequins were marching past a piece of street art that was a mural of notable women. I needed about 25 to 30 heads. I wanted women from all areas, not just the arts, not just American, not just white, etc. etc. and — I had a moment! I realized I didn't know MY history. That's when I thought, 'This should be an interactive art project to engage other women and men in discovering women's stories.'"

 Liberty Blake explains her process at TEDWomen 2017

Liberty Blake explains her process at TEDWomen 2017

 Jann Haworth talks with a participant in the TEDWomen Workshop

Jann Haworth talks with a participant in the TEDWomen Workshop

The mural is collaborative art in that people are invited to attend workshops where they choose a woman in history and with stencils and art materials, they create portraits which Liberty later incorporates into the larger mural. After seeing the process at the Salt Lake Art Museum, I invited Jann and Liberty to TEDWomen in San Francisco in 2016, and there, TEDWomen attendees selected women from TED’s history and created a new panel for the mural. Again in New Orleans in 2017, TEDWomen attendees eagerly contributed to the mural with more portraits. Over the past two-plus years, the mural has grown to nine panels measuring 56 feet showcasing over 250 portraits made by 200+ community members. Two new panels that will be collaged and added in April.

The mural is always growing. As Haworth says, “Complete? Never! That’s one of the two reasons it’s called ‘Work in Progress.’ The other is that it’s about progress.” As Haworth and Blake take the work to different cities, they hold workshops in which local community members are encouraged to nominate women for inclusion or choose from a list and create their own stencils as part of the project.

When I asked Haworth which were her favorite representations, she reeled off a list. “Bessie Smith, because of the woman who cut her image. Mata Hari, I read everything I could find about her and was deeply saddened by her tragedy. Ruth Bader GinsburgMother JonesVictoria WoodhullAngelica DassEve Ensler... Actually, this list doesn't stop.”

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Haworth says the workshops have been wonderful engines for discovery, with “young women discovering things and older women realizing how much they didn’t know. The format of the workshops is like a sewing circle. We've learned a lot about how when you are engaged in art making and the creative process — the stories come out.”

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Since premiering in 2016 at Utah MOCA, the mural has traveled to nearly 20 venues, including Washington, DC (for the first Women’s March and on Capitol Hill for the as part of the Commission's report to Congress proposing an American Women's History Museum), and it's been seen in galleries in Vienna and Paris and, this month, New York City.  Appropriately, Jann’s mural with its selected women from the past, will be exhibited at XXHouse, a project of two young women who, like Jann (and other artists, writers, composers, scientists, engineers and activists), are committed to celebrating women’s history as well as making it.

"A person with no stories has no history nor future," was one of my grandmother’s favorite sayings, and I believe it. That’s why I’m committed to getting women’s stories front and center at every opportunity, to promoting and advocating for women’s stories on television, in film, on the TEDWomen stage, and ultimately for a national women’s museum. We can’t all write a movie or play or create art but we can share our own stories and tell the stories of other women so that no woman’s story gets unreported or her death go unrecorded or her accomplishments assigned to someone else.

I challenge us all to discover a woman’s story we did not know and to celebrate her story by sharing it with others.

— Pat

 

Photos: "Work in Progress" mural; AWHM Congressional Commission members, from left, Mary Boies, Marilyn Musgrave, Kathy Wills Wright, Maria Socorro Pesqueira, Emily Rafferty, Bridget Bush, Jane Abraham and Pat Mitchell (Photo by Vincent Ricardel); ( l-r) Artist Jann Haworth, Diane Stewart, Pat Mitchell and Susan Cofer at Diane's gallery in Salt Lake City to view an exhibit by Jann about the Women's March; a panel from "Work in Progress"; another panel from "Work in Progress"; a TEDWomen workshop participant starts work on her contribution.

Jann Haworth | POP! Art in a Changing Britain

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Drawn from the Pallant House Gallery's significant collection of British Pop Art, this exhibition explores how artists in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s responded to rapid social change, as Pop Art emerged as a means of addressing the rise of mass media, the cult of celebrity, questions of identity and prevalent political concerns, issues that still resonate today.

A vivid exploration of how artists in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s responded to rapid social change, as Pop Art emerged as a means of addressing the rise of mass media, the cult of celebrity, questions of identity and prevalent political concerns, issues that still resonate today.

A generation of artists including MWFA represented artist Jann Haworth radically challenged thinking about art and mass media, democratizing art by questioning the traditional division between high and low art. They took their cue from advertising, comics, science fiction and contemporary music, embracing non-traditional materials and techniques.

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The exhibition celebrates Pallant House Gallery’s significant collection of British Pop Art, including major paintings, sculpture and its extensive holding of Pop prints. It includes seminal works such as Peter Blake’s ‘The Beatles, 1962’ (1963-68), Richard Hamilton’s ‘Swingeing London’ (1968), Jann Haworth’s ‘Cowboy’ (1964) and an early example of Pop printmaking, Eduardo Paolozzi’s ‘As Is When’ (1965).

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The exhibition celebrates Pallant House Gallery’s significant collection of British Pop Art, including major paintings, sculpture and its extensive holding of Pop prints. It includes seminal works such as Peter Blake’s ‘The Beatles, 1962’ (1963-68), Richard Hamilton’s ‘Swingeing London’ (1968), Jann Haworth’s ‘Cowboy’ (1964) and an early example of Pop printmaking, Eduardo Paolozzi’s ‘As Is When’ (1965).

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Pallant House Gallery holds one of the largest public collections of British Pop Art internationally. This richly illustrated publication celebrates the extensive collection of painting, sculpture and print acquired by Professor Sir Colin St John Wilson in the decades that followed the Second World War. Written by Claudia Milburn (Senior Curator) and Louise Weller (Curator) the book features an overview of how the Pop collection at Pallant House Gallery developed, an introduction to British Pop Art, alongside an essay that explores the key themes of the movement.

The exhibition will be on display from February 24 - May 7 2018 at the Pallant House Gallery

15 Bytes: Artist Profile | Tom Judd by Ann Poore

We would like to thank 15 Bytes and Ann Poore for the wonderful spotlight featuring represented artist Tom Judd. To learn more about his process and his exhibition, "Don't Fence Me In," continue reading...

 Tom Judd, photo by Nicholas Kelsh

Tom Judd, photo by Nicholas Kelsh

“Go West, young man” was the catchphrase for generations of young Americans, urged to throw themselves into the rush of America’s Manifest Destiny. A century later, Tom Judd decided to go East, but the myth of the West was never left far behind, and this month the Salt Lake City “expatriate” brings to Modern West Fine Art a new collection of work focusing on when (and how) the West was settled.

 Sitting Bull Standing: collage with oil on panel, 14 x 11 inches

Sitting Bull Standing: collage with oil on panel, 14 x 11 inches

 Frontier Life: collage with oil on panel, 10.75 x 13.5 inches

Frontier Life: collage with oil on panel, 10.75 x 13.5 inches

Don’t Fence Me In is filled with a number of small, collage-based works, and some larger ones, too. While Judd works in both acrylic and oil (doing the backgrounds of his large paintings with acrylic, the foregrounds in oil), on his collage works (he has always incorporated a lot of collage) he uses only acrylic “because I want to work fast. Those small pieces are dependent on my striking while the iron is hot – not going in and refining them. They are the lynchpin of the show. They are slightly subversive: out to deconstruct the [Hollywood] myth, to turn it on its head – the noble thing about our national character while we were wiping out the Indians. This manifest destiny shit; the whole macho Marlboro man stuff. I want them fresh.”

Judd allows, however, that he loves the myth itself “as long as it stays a myth and is not sold to us as the truth.

Judd’s roots in Utah are deep. He did not grow up in a Mormon household, but his great-grandfather was LDS Church President Heber J. Grant (who served for nearly 30 years), something that has always “fascinated me and is very much part of my artwork and, indeed, my life,” says the artist.

Judd, 64, knew he was an artist at age 7 when his family moved him from the hillside of Mount Olympus to a suburb of Chicago for a year. “It was traumatic and I remember that my escape was obsessively drawing battleships. And I decided that my only option in surviving life was to be an artist.” He says he always took the artwork seriously.

Judd attended Olympus High where he started a folk group called the Louisville Burglars (he played the autoharp) and dated a girl for about six months who was a year behind him: the delightfully quirky local artist Susan Kirby who recently relocated to Mexico. They always have remained close friends.

His childhood buddies included Phillips Gallery artist Mark Knudsen. Both ended up at The Salt Lake Tribune when Judd was at the University of Utah in the early ‘70s, Knudsen in the art department. “I was just a copy boy,” Judd recalls. He is remembered to this day by longtime staffers for his role in starting a series of cartoons called “The East Side of Mexico,” where donkeys stood around contemplating life in a deviant manner, as donkeys are wont to do. The entire newsroom made contributions.

He left the U in 1973 to go to the Philadelphia College of Art. Upon graduation he knew two things: he didn’t want to teach and he “wanted to do his artwork and was going to make it work.”

He couldn’t find a gallery to take his stuff and, three years out of school, Judd made an incredibly audacious move: he called the curator of Contemporary Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Anne d’Harnoncourt, cold, with no introduction (he thinks the gatekeepers thought he said Don Judd instead of Tom Judd), and talked her into looking at his portfolio, such as it was. (Daughter of MoMA director Rene d’Harnoncourt, Anne would become – a female! — director and CEO of the Philadelphia MOA for 25 years.) Six months later, after a studio visit by some high muckety-mucks, Judd was not only included in a show but, at 25, had a piece purchased for the permanent collection of that prestigious museum.

However, that didn’t resolve day-to-day needs. So, first, he tended bar. Then, because he had always painted houses, he started his own house-painting company and did that for 15 years. “It really worked great in that I could design it and set it up and I’d get the crew going and then go to the studio.” He also sold a lot of art to his house-painting clients. By 1994, Judd was making half his earnings off his art sales and decided that if he put all the energy he was putting into the house-painting company into his own painting he could make it as a full-time artist. So he did.

 The Relic of Farewell: collage with oil on panel, 36 x 40 inches

The Relic of Farewell: collage with oil on panel, 36 x 40 inches

 On the Road Home: collage with oil on panel

On the Road Home: collage with oil on panel

Now he has a huge studio where he works as a 9-to-5 artist. Well, actually he has breakfast, takes 9-year-old daughter Astrid to school, hits the studio by 8:20, makes a fire in the wood-burning stove in winter, and picks up his daughter at 2 or so, when his painting day comes to an end. Still, he says, that’s a pretty good day of painting.

He has shown frequently in Utah, though for the past 40 years he has been in Philadelphia. His wife, Kiki Gaffney, also an excellent artist, shows mostly in Philadelphia, but, like Judd, has had several exhibits at Park City’s Julie Nester Gallery. Astrid is an artist, too, though she hasn’t shown anywhere yet. Judd’s son Will, 27, studied international business at Drexel University, about as far from the tree as one can fall. (This happens in the best of families, of course.)
Judd lives by words of Chuck Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs,” adding that the quote continues: “the rest of us just need to show up and go to work.” Which, for some reason, immediately reminds him of the oil on canvas he terms “the star of the show” at Modern West: “’Mount Shasta’ – 6-foot square and the largest work there.”

 Mt. Shasta: collage with oil on canvas, 72 x 72 inches

Mt. Shasta: collage with oil on canvas, 72 x 72 inches

He invariably works on a series, “never, ever” on just one piece. “It’s always an idea I go at by doing a lot of different things within an idea. I work on several different paintings, often in several different media, at once.”
The artist’s early work reflects an interest in the billboards and other imagery along American highways back when he went on family vacations as a child. “Man’s Head” (1985) has been included in two museum shows and is now in the permanent collection of the Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia. Another, from 1994, called “The Billboard Project” (subtitled “The Lost Vacation”), was in fact a 20’ X 60’ billboard installed on an interstate highway in Philadelphia.

By 1996, Judd was beginning to incorporate what he terms “recycled imagery” into his paintings: collaged found photos made their first appearance, mounted inside a series of found frames or, using pictures from his senior class yearbook, comprising the background of a piece called “Graduation.” He explains that “there is often the sense of things being painted over other things in a very haphazard way, again imitating the way billboards get painted over with little thought or intention . . . I wanted to capture that same essence of a chance association of images which brings about a sort of visual poetry.” “Attribute” is one example.

About this time, on a river-rafting trip on the Salmon River in Idaho, Judd found a hermit shack where a man named Sylvan “Buckskin Bill” Hart had lived for 40 years. His sleeping quarters had old wallpaper samples glued to the inside walls and the setup reminded Judd of exploring similar places as a kid in Utah and imagining who had lived there and what their lives were like. Along with some paintings, Hart’s shack inspired Judd to create his own “Hermit House” which was first exhibited in 2005 at the Stremmel Gallery in Reno and later displayed for six months at the Nevada Museum of Contemporary Art. It eventually was purchased for a corporate collection. Another installation piece, “Tijuana Weekend,” included a shack similar to those Judd had seen people living in in that largely poverty-stricken Mexican border town.

“The work from this period was a series of collages and fragmentations of surfaces and imagery,” says Judd. “It speaks about memory and metaphor. I combined landscape, still life, patterns and figures in an effort to imitate the eclectic nature of our memories.” He used wallpaper, old recipes, found photos, and ephemera in such works as “Peach Pudding.”

 Southern Utah: oil on collage on panel, 9 x 12 inches

Southern Utah: oil on collage on panel, 9 x 12 inches

 Pacific: collage with oil on panel, 9.5 x 13.5 inches

Pacific: collage with oil on panel, 9.5 x 13.5 inches

Influences (or “fellow travelers”) are Walker Evans and Joseph Cornell. “[“Village,” for example,] suggests the finding of an artifact from another time . . . [imparting] a contradictory sense of loss and discovery on the viewer.”

His next series, beginning in about 2009, drew upon the pink cinder block “modern house” his father had built in 1958 with large windows and a rock garden and carport influenced by the ideas of early modern architecture. Judd’s love of early modern architecture led to “portraits” of such buildings: “They are homage to a time of great ideas, from a distance. Beautiful things . . . left out in the rain.”

Finally, prior to the works he did for his most recent shows, Judd created paintings in a limited palette that he terms his “Manifest Destiny” series, “hymns for a mysterious American landscape that we have steadfastly conquered and depleted.” He explains that most of the “melancholy” images, like “The Central Flaw,” come from 19th-century photographs from artists like Carleton Watkins and Timothy O’Sullivan and that his paintings “conjure up a longing for the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains that I played in as a child. An imagined wilderness that was the West that was. Perhaps a fantasy, cooked up by a man living in Philadelphia, many miles and years away from his childhood. I have always considered myself a sort of expatriate, living far from my home.”

 Skier #5: oil with collage on panel, 39 x 28 inches

Skier #5: oil with collage on panel, 39 x 28 inches

 Skier #7: oil with collage on panel, 39 x 28 inches

Skier #7: oil with collage on panel, 39 x 28 inches

(Some readers may recall a 2011 Judd installation at the Dixie State College museum entitled “The World is Flat,” a 12’ high X 25’ wide piece constructed of cardboard boxes with a painting of a map of the world.)

Before signing him to her gallery, Diane Stewart flew to New York to see Judd’s show there, titled Myth of the Frontier. “More of the same,” he says. But she obviously was impressed. As was Judd with her:  “I walked into her gallery and she was showing some artists from New York, and she has an apartment there.  And to me Salt Lake has been a disconnected kind of place. And I think it’s important that she is connected with and interested in other art markets,” he says.

“She is looking at all kinds of stuff that expands on the physical gallery,” he continues. “The art fairs, Facebook, Instagram. That’s really where it’s going on right now. If you’re not into that stuff you’re really not in the game. She is always looking for what’s next and I felt like I was part of what’s next.”
Just recently, Judd gave a lecture on what they don’t teach you in art school:
“It’s about creating a world that supports what you’re up to. What most artists don’t do is create that world. The house painting worked because I was never tempted to be a house painter. You don’t want [what you do to support yourself] to be horrible but you don’t want it to be too good either, because you will never be an artist. . . .

“You’ve got to collect ‘nos’ and not take it personally. You get no until you get yes, and that yes changes everything. When you are in this game you have to be pushing it all the time in terms of taking risks.

“The other part is that it’s not that people don’t like your work it’s that they don’t even know who you are. That’s why Facebook and Instagram are so great: you can get your work in front of people. That’s a huge thing, it’s changing the way an artist can approach a career.

“You literally can reach people all over the world, instead of just taking a portfolio to a gallery.”

Or even to the curator of a major museum.

Nathan Florence | Toward Home

In preparation to Nathan Florence's solo show "Toward Home," we spent some time with him asking what inspired this body of work and his approach to this new series...

"I have never had the opportunity to work with a gallery that has taken so much interest in the work I am making and how a show is coming together than I have with Modern West. It’s hard to explain the combination of freedom and pressure that I have felt in creating this body of work. I suppose with a sense of freedom there is a natural sense of pressure do something great with it. From the beginning Diane was very clear, at the outset, that she didn’t want me to feel like I had to stick with anything that I had done before, such as painting on fabric, or painting people. This group of paintings is the result of a couple of years of work that has been a remarkable artistic journey.

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"My first instinct was to react, artistically, to my political dismay and frustration at the ugliness spewed at each other from all directions in much of current public discourse. I look to Woody Guthrie’s guitar, where he wrote “This machine kills fascists.” believing that a folk music movement could help foment change. I believe that art can, and sometimes should, play this role. I also believe that art can evoke contemplation and healing and dialogue that is positive and made the intentional choice to have this work go in that direction.

The pieces that became the body of work for this show are all focused around Mt. Olympus and the human figure; often together in the painting, but not always. For a long time I have set up challenges for myself in my art to make it more interesting or fulfilling. I work with brushes that are hard to control, I create unpredictable, chaotic surfaces or fabric surfaces, and so on. I began this work by pushing out into different directions; leaving more of the original surfaces exposed or juxtoposing figures and landscapes in different ways. This is what I can do, for myself, and as an artist, to bring a sense of wholeness and beauty out of chaos. The abstract, rough canvases, balanced and tempered by the order on top of them. There is a gentleness to the creation and a sort of coaxing of an image out of wildness.

In preparing for most previous exhibitions I have not worked with a preconceived unifying theme, but simply followed my interest in a variety of subjects, which is how I set out on this work. At a certain point, I decided to pursue a much narrower focus. I would focus on the mountain that has been my recurring view from childhood, Mt. Olympus, which towers over the eastern side of the Salt Lake Valley.

My view of the mountain has shifted, physically, and philosophically.

I’m hard pressed to think of a time when I haven’t looked up at Mt. Olympus without a sense of awe. I love the way the light plays across the craggy slabs and always thought that Mt. Olympus, more than Timpanogos, looked more like a reclining figure. I have painted it many times in the past, but never set out to make it a focus. As I have now lived in various views of the mountain it occurs to me that part of my wonder with that process of discovering the beauty of the mountain mirrors the process of discovery with any great idea. It bears—demands even—a continually shifting view and examination.

In a conversation about this show, a fellow artist used the term, “anatomy of a landscape,” which rings true to me. They are often inseparable in my mind and have much in common. We refer to both bodies and mountains as temples, a spiritual notion. We name them for each other and compare them to each other. We take them for granted and forget, too often, that they are fragile."

Join us to view Nathan Florence's exhbition "Toward Home" through March 10th, 2018