Ben Steele | Now Showing


After you graduated from the University of Utah—with a BFA in painting and drawing—you continued your education as an apprentice to Utah based artist David Dornan. Could you talk a little about that experience and how an apprenticeship or extended internship differs from today's more common learning methods.

My internship with Dave was much more of a direct art education than is generally offered in the traditional university setting. Dave taught me to be a working artist – he supported my technical painting understanding but also emphasized the daily, behind-the-scenes stuff that makes an art career sustainable. Canvas building, framing. Efficiency and really understanding my subject and why I want to paint it. He guided me toward marrying all the knowledge of painting skill with how to run art as a business. It’s been invaluable and I know it shortened my learning curve immensely.

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You live in Helper, Utah, which has developed a thriving arts community. Can you describe the town and what it’s doing to support and encourage the arts. How does living there inform your work?

Helper has always been this awesome, hard-working blue collar town with a vibrant history that extended so much farther back than when the arts community started to settle here. It’s kind of a rebellious place with a coal and mining heritage rather than a pioneer heritage so it’s kind of operated on the fringe of Utah. And I think that is ultimately why the artists sought it out; artists seem to gravitate to being outside the box.

We joke that only the strong can survive in Helper and I really think that’s true. Both the historical community and the imported art community give great support to the artists yet it comes with expectation. Expectation that you’re going to work hard and focus on daily improvement. And that’s why I think a thriving art community exists in Helper; people are fierce and dedicated about living here and supporting each other but there’s a cost of admission to truly being a Helper native. I’m still working on that!

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Your paintings are filled with humorous references to art history and pop culture. Can you describe your process when it comes to coming up with ideas and working them through to a finished piece?

Usually the idea leads the process. I come up with a concept and then I work on how to visually bring it to life, taking into account the art history or pop culture style it might reference. My signature is even different from piece to piece because ultimately, I want to shape my skill set to fit the idea rather than the idea bending to my skill set.

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Tell us about your subject matter, I’m particularly interested in the use of trompe l'oeil when you include coloring books, crayons, paints and “scribbled” marks.

The crayons and coloring books started out early in my career as a means to reflect on art history in a unique way. And of course, I was taught in a realist school. So, I had to learn to make a crayon look like a crayon and a swipe of paint look like a crayon made it. I think art with illusion or trompe l'oeil really has the ability to draw us in, the same way a good storyteller or magician gets us lost in the process. And there’s also just a basic satisfaction I get from making a crayon look round or a page look like it’s folding up at the corners. Art is just so fundamental to the life and learning process – I’ve realized that even more so, watching my own kids. So, to make art about art is extra engaging to me.

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If you were hosting a dinner party for five people you admire but haven't met—living or dead—who would they be and why?

Vermeer – Best painter of all time.

Banksy – Out of any current artist, I’d most like to pick his brain.

Christopher Harris – Fantasy football expert (my favorite non-art pastime) and novelist. Great thinker.

Nate Silver – Excellent political mind with a well-thought-out and even stance on things (with a sport bent, because I think sports are a great metaphor for everything.)

Quentin Tarantino – Pulp Fiction was the right movie at the right time for me. Love his innovation and reimagination of genre. I’m passionate about good film.

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Tell us a little about your upcoming show and the inspiration behind it.

The January show is coinciding with the Sundance Film Festival time frame in Utah so we did a play on movies meets an art opening with “Now Showing.”

The pieces will reference everything from “Star Wars” barns and milk cartons, Vermeer painting Marilyn Monroe, a giant typewriter typing up Clint Eastwood, Elvis spray paint, a “Wonder Woman” Pez head, an Art World meets “The Matrix” parody, and “A Rebel Without a Cause” liquor store. I’m really looking forward to a fun and dynamic exhibit.

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Diane Stewart | Drawing A Blank


Gallery owner Diane Stewart was recently featured in Salt Lake Magazine speaking to the current cultural environment of downtown Salt Lake City. Read the article below…

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Tom Judd & Kiki Gaffney | POINT OF VIEW


Point of View is an exhibition of work by artist couple Tom Judd and Kiki Gaffney. It examines their unique perspectives on the Utah landscape. Judd originally from Utah, now residing in Philadelphia, returns to the places he once knew. Through his work he explores visual memories, creating nostalgic paintings that evoke the experience of a past reality. Collaged and layered, they call to mind a carefully made scrapbook, both tender and personal. Gaffney grew up in Pennsylvania and experiences Utah as a visitor. Her work shows a new and unfamiliar landscape in sharp focus, much like a visual journal that captures the adventure of a new place, approaching the work with inquiry and a careful attention to detail. The exhibition pairs their perspectives and presents a strong collection of work that highlights two distinct voices, both uniquely inspired by the Utah landscape.

The following is a MWFA interview with Tom Judd (TJ) and Kiki Gaffney (KG) about Point of View.

The Valley by Kiki Gaffney

The Valley by Kiki Gaffney

Fallen Aspens #3 by Kiki Gaffney

Fallen Aspens #3 by Kiki Gaffney

You are from Pennsylvania but you visit Utah regularly with Tom, your husband, as he grew up here. What was your first impression of the state?

KG - Before meeting Tom I had never experienced the mountainous western states, so the first thing I noticed when flying to Utah for the first time back in 2003 was the incredible view of the mountain range from the plane. I remember loving the view of Salt Lake around twilight, as the sun was setting behind those mountains and the city lights twinkled in that grid formation, sort of like LA. With each passing year we would venture further up the mountains and farther away from Salt Lake to experience different parts of the state. Tom's brother in law, Kurt Bishop built a home in Castle Valley, about 20 miles outside of Moab, and we would spend time down there. I never realized how much I enjoyed being in nature and the pure exhilaration of hiking, climbing and seeing until I discovered Utah. The landscape itself didn't figure into my work until much later, although nature and organic formations have always been integral to my imagery.

Dead Horse Point by Tom Judd

Dead Horse Point by Tom Judd

Trailer by Tom Judd

Trailer by Tom Judd

The works in ‘Point of View’ are inspired by your relationship to Utah, the place where you grew up. How does this place inform your work?

TJ - In 1980 as a young man of 28 years old, I took a journey and I called it “The Story of Egypt and Utah,” a title which truly creates more questions than answers but seems to capture something about the story I wanted to investigate. It entailed driving from Philadelphia to Southern Utah. I camped on the desert floor, walked miles in the sun, got stuck in quicksand, took a lot of pictures and kept a journal. It had something to do with chasing down the ghosts of my ancestral family history. I am the great grandson of the famous Mormon President Heber J. Grant, although I did not grow up in a Mormon home and have never been a believer, I have always been fascinated with the story. The myth of the saints arriving in their dark wool suits and covered wagons in this lake bed desert and declaring “This is the Place!” – encapsulates the notion of “Manifest Destiny.”  Part of the attraction for me is the landscape itself which, while living many miles from it in Philadelphia, has always had a hold on me. Although I don’t consider myself a landscape painter, it resides in the back of my mind and has been the subject of many of my paintings. Now the landscape has taken on a whole new meaning for me — aside from the real or imagined history — and that is because of looking at it with my artist wife Kiki and daughter Astrid. We have visited it every year in late summer for almost 10 years. We visit it as a family. Each year we arrive in Salt Lake, flying over the top of the Wasatch Mountains, landing near the scared and surreal great Salt lake. It is always breathtaking and mysterious. We then pack up our rental car and head south to Castle Valley, near Moab. The drive itself is startling. The grey, blue and green landscape, the endless sky, the abandoned gas stations. As artists, Kiki and I are always talking about it. The landscape. We take photographs and hike and walk and drive. It is a vast and haunted place. We return to Philadelphia with our minds full of imagery and ideas that get interpreted through the filter of our artistic visions. We work in the same studio so we can see what we are both doing on a day to day basis. What's really so interesting is how our visions are so different. Kiki delves into it with an eye for the detail, the gestures defined in tiny lines. Methodical, even meditative in their process. I am almost the opposite in my approach; sweeping, quick, on the verge of falling apart at times. Together we present these different inquiries. What they have in common is a profound sense of scale, and the primitive nature of their existence, and perhaps our existence. Now we also have Astrid, who is 11 years old and keeps us in the moment with her observations and a sense of wonder that children bring to everything.

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How did the Western landscape affect your work?

KG - I have always been interested in natural and organic forms, and how they inform constructed imagery (like wallpaper patterns for example) For many years I was influenced by Karl Blossfeldt's botanical photographs, and the beautiful circular and linear gestures these images exhibited. After some time I felt I had exhausted this line of inquiry. On a trip to southern Utah a couple years back I began to notice and appreciate that same circular and linear imagery in rock formations that had so drawn me to the Blossfeldt photographs, and I began to work from my own photographs to interpret these new images, and how they relate to constructed patterns we see and use in our daily lives.

You have talked about being inspired by the ‘beauty of things that tend to go unnoticed.’ How do you portray this in your work?

KG - Continuing my response from the previous question, one thing I was very clear about was the utter majesty of the southern Utah landscape, breathtaking in scope, depth and color, and the beauty obvious to anyone who viewed these incredible natural formations. My studio is located in north Philadelphia, a very poor, crumbling and forgotten section of the city. One day I walked to the corner store for a bottle of water, and I realized how fortunate I was to be able to straddle between these 2 disparate landscapes - the natural wonders of Utah and the grit of north Philadelphia. I began to notice things in my studio neighborhood - crumbling pink brick walls, dilapidated churches, chain link fences, a rusted, hulking El (elevated rail line) and began to see these images through a reverent lens - they represented a time long past, a history that has importance, but is fading. This new way of seeing led me to notice the same effects in nature, particularly trees that had fallen naturally and began to decay. These are all things that are generally not considered pretty or note-worthy, but for me they hold a certain serene beauty, and something to elevate to a higher level. I use these images in my work and often surround them with beautiful patterning, glitter and gold leaf to subtly reference religious iconography.

Kamas by Tom Judd

Kamas by Tom Judd

The Great Salt Lake by Tom Judd

The Great Salt Lake by Tom Judd

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There is a nostalgic quality to your work, and you have talked about how the ‘notion of evidence of the past,’ as an inspiration, can you talk about that?

TJ - I think the past defines us. I think our childhood memories become stories that we make up about ourselves and the world. They live with us all the time. That is where it all starts, the good, the  bad and the ugly. It’s all there. I think my work is sad, but in a beautiful way. I like sad things. Not sad like depressing, but sad like moved. To be moved by your life and who you are for yourself and others. That’s living. Making artwork gives me that opportunity of expressing what it is to be human, to connect and relate my experience to others. To take the unspoken, the heartbreak perhaps and create it as an opening of communication with others. That is what art is for. It is a noble cause.

Green Cottonwood by Kiki Gaffney

Green Cottonwood by Kiki Gaffney

Pink Cottonwood by Kiki Gaffney

Pink Cottonwood by Kiki Gaffney

Yellow Cottonwood by Kiki Gaffney

Yellow Cottonwood by Kiki Gaffney

Your work often includes very detailed graphite drawings and gold leaf, in addition to paint. Can you speak to the use of these varied and less conventional materials?

KG - I have always loved to draw and, until a friend of mine gifted me with a mechanical pencil some years back, never knew the level of detail one could accomplish - I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing, as I have gotten pretty obsessive! I do love the combination of realistic rendering with more abstract brushstrokes, and the "push-pull" energy that that creates. The gold leaf is a fairly new discovery and it is really a nod to the reverence of religious iconography. I grew up in a fairly devout Catholic household and have always loved the splendor and ornateness of the saints and souls surrounded in gold that adorned our local church. In my work I try to bring that same kind of 'reverence' (or at least attention) to imagery that may not seem worthy of notice, and I find that gold leaf helps in that endeavor.

Colorado Bend by Tom Judd

Colorado Bend by Tom Judd

Southern Utah by Tom Judd

Southern Utah by Tom Judd

The La Sal’s by Tom Judd

The La Sal’s by Tom Judd

How do memories play a role? Is there an association with the materials you use, the use of collage for example?

TJ - I think the collage elements began with this notion of found evidence of a life. It could be anyone’s. The drawer full of junk, pencils, old notes, batteries, checkbooks, old photographs, a  saved letter, calendars, postcards. It tells a story. I’m not interested in telling a particular story. I want people to make up their own story from looking at my work. I want people to see themselves, if they do, in what I have done, bring their own longings and wonderings and life to the experience. In a way, maybe I am speaking to our collective memories. I think our memories are mostly fiction. Something happened, but what you are remembering is how you felt about it, and what you said about it. It lives in that world. The heart is full of those kind of memories, and they become who we are.

Polka Dot Mountain Range by Kiki Gaffney

Polka Dot Mountain Range by Kiki Gaffney

You have talked about creating a ‘space for contemplation and pause’ for your viewers, can you talk about this?

KG - I used to have a full time job as a fundraiser for cultural institutions, and I would make my art in the evenings when I got home. My strokes were pretty loose, exploratory and quick. Eventually I realized I needed more time for art making, so I gave up the full time job and created a living with several part-time jobs, one of which was teaching yoga (I had already been practicing for some time and got certified to teach, but never really expected to.....). Fast forward 16 years later and I am still teaching yoga:) Studying and teaching yoga has taught me a tremendous amount about patience, pausing, looking, listening, paying attention and seeing in a new way. I have a very restless mind but have found that making small repetitive marks brings about a sense of calm. I also have a love for beautiful imagery. I used to think that was bad, mostly due to a searing ‘crit’ I received in grad school, in which the artist/teacher took a quick look at my work and dismissed me for "liking pretty things." It took me a long while to realize that wasn't a bad thing at all, and now I embrace it - I recently started to incorporate glitter in my work!! The other thing I realized (with the help of yoga) is how, for the most part, people don't take the time to pause, look and listen. We are plugged in at all times, looking down at a device, moving quickly and impatiently to "the next thing," without being very aware of the thing we are currently in. The detail in my work is really meant not to overwhelm, but to draw people in to see, ponder, contemplate and pause, and to create the space for all of those things. That to me is what art is all about.

Lake Bed by Tom Judd

Lake Bed by Tom Judd


One of the pieces in the show, is an installation that includes the model of a building in front of a painting that’s pinned to the wall. Can you talk about this piece?

TJ - I have always been fascinated with the found abandoned structures which one discovers in isolated towns and corners of the west. I’m also interested in the notion of evidence of the past, both in the forms of architecture and objects, including automobiles, household supplies, and tools. Things that speak to man’s presence, the stuff that we leave behind that tells our story in contradictory ways. I am interested in extending the reach of my work beyond the picture frame. Starting with my Hermit Project in 2005, where I created a room that one could walk inside of and experience. I have been working with the idea of paintings interacting with objects that seem to jump out of the painting. This particular work, "Lake Bed” came about almost by accident. I built the cardboard house ten years ago and it had been sitting around in my studio collecting dust. I had moved it in front of the painting one day and it instantly took on a life of its own. The relationship between the house and landscape (of early Salt Lake Valley) was perfect. It captured something about the architecture of the early homes and structures in the painting and occurred as an historical artifact.

Work in Progress | Milan, Italy

This October the “Work in Progress Mural” traveled to Milan, Italy to be exhibited in the restaurant of chef and collector Brendan Becht, founder of Zazà Ramen, noodles bar. Brendan exhibits a new contemporary artist every six months, usually commissioning them to create the work directly on the walls of the restaurant.

The “Work in Progress Mural” is the concept of Modern West Fine Art (MWFA) represented artist Jann Haworth, who also directs the collaborative project. The stencil portraits are made by participants in workshops run by Jann Haworth and Liberty Blake, most are created by self confessed ‘non-artists’. The final panels are collaged together by artist Liberty Blake, also represented by MWFA.

Brendan Becht is the son of Fritz and Agnes Becht who established one of the most prestigious modern collections in the Netherlands, and were listed in the ‘Top 200 collectors’ in ARTNEWS for five consecutive years. The Becht’s bought two of Haworth’s pieces, “Charm Bracelet” and “Betjeman Bear” in the early 60’s when she was based in London and represented by legendary art dealer, Robert Fraser.

Gallery owner, Diane Stewart and Jann Haworth travelled to Milan for the opening dinner, and media launch, where the mural was extremely well received. The following article (translated from its original Italian) was written by Caterina Angelucci for ArtsLife. Photographs were taken by Stefano Mascolo and are reproduced courtesy of Zazà Ramen.

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‘Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French politician and gourmet, the same age as Robespierre, said that inviting someone for lunch meant taking charge of this person's happiness during the hours he spent under their roof. It may be trivial, and perhaps a bit, and yet the aphorism seems to coincide with the idea that I made to meet Brendan Becht, founder of Zazà Ramen, noodles bar in Via Solferino 48 in Milan.

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Brendan is a collector chef, and every six months on the premises of his restaurant, he offers exhibitions by contemporary artists. From 17 October 2018 to 24 March 2019 the walls of Zazà Ramen will host Women's History Mural (Work in Progress project), a project by Jann Haworth and her daughter Liberty Blake. The two surnames, Haworth and Blake, were linked 50 years ago by an artistic association: In 1967 Jann and Peter Blake, Liberty’s father, created the Beatles iconic cover for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the biggest album of all time.

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At the base of the genesis of the Women's History Mural there is the same collage technique that has so characterized Sgt. Pepper but from the ideological point of view the new mural work clearly distances itself: Jann tells that the figures the Beatles chose for the cover consisted of more men than women, and those women were pin-ups or mannequins. Today, this is no longer acceptable, and for this reason Jann decided to create a mural with the faces of women who have distinguished themselves in history, science, politics and art, becoming icons of the era to which they belonged.


During the opening dinner at Zazà, the enthusiastic energy of the artist was accompanied by the background noise from the kitchen and aromas of oriental flavors. The six panels on display - in the complete work are more than double, with a total of 250 female faces - present colors that cross the various ranges of brown, gray and bordeaux with some interruptions of electric blue, perfectly accompanying the style of the room. It seems custom designed but actually is pure chance, jokes Brendan Becht while welcoming his guests. Under the eyes of Marie Curie, Tracy Chapman, Anne Frank and Jane Austen we sit at the table with Jann and Brendan, while hot portions of ramen arrive. The chef comes from a family of Dutch collectors who in 1965, in London, knew Haworth through the gallerist Robert Fraser, also a friend of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. In 2016 the two got back in contact and the invitation to exhibit in Italy came soon after.

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Women's History Mural is a project in progress: presented for the first time in 2016 at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, in Salt Lake, it grows from exhibition to exhibition. In fact, the two artists invite participants to suggest the women they would like to see represented, creating a collective and collaborative project. For now, only one Italian woman is present and it is Maria Montessori but Jann immediately announces that many more will be added. A traveling work with a strong ideological connotation, Women's History Mural can be seen at the Leonardo Museum's Woman/Women Exhibit in Salt Lake City.

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The first stencil, says Jann, was Bessie Smith, legendary African American jazz singer, who is next to Nefertiti, Michelle Obama, Mary Shelley and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Making art in the 21st century according to Jann Haworth is a real mission. The artist stages herself, strips herself of everything making herself vulnerable and her task is to accompany the audience inside the abysses of her art, but everyone is afraid of the sea and for this reason it is necessary to insist: "Art is a journey through the sea, everybody's frightened, but I'm right here”.’

Article written by Caterina Angelucci for ArtsLife

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