“Myth” brings together three of our newly represented artists, Fidalis Buehler, Mitch Mantle, and Wren Ross, all working within the mediums of painting and mixed media. Buehler lives and works in Utah County, where he is also a professor of art at BYU. His mixed-media works are “full of folkloric and mythic elements: masked figures, anthropomorphized animals, autonomous heads propped up in vague landscapes.” Ross’s mixed media works-on-paper explore similar themes “Influenced by myth, allegory and the mark-making traditions of prehistoric peoples,” a Utah native, she lives in Park City and is the gallery’s newest represented artist. Mantle originally from Southern Utah, now lives and works in Arizona. His large bold and vibrant paintings consist of dreamlike scenes, with a strong figurative element and mythical narrative. He describes his work in the following terms “Figures, animals, and buildings interact in a metaphorical narrative that is autobiographical and, hopefully, universal.” It is our great pleasure to bring together all three artists, exploring the same profound and universal cultural narratives yet expressing them through their work in completely unique ways.
We reached out to the artists with a list of words that picked up on themes that ran through all their work. We asked them to reflect and respond to them, to add insight into their work and create a narrative to accompany it.
I use figures, people, animals, plants, and buildings to tell stories, both of reality and fiction. These stories usually consist of memories, everyday experiences, and workings of my imagination. The simple, sometimes overlooked, or taken for granted instances are what I try to uncover in my work. These instances can be the most powerful and most meaningful; the relationship between parent and child, what it means to provide, the outside perception of work, etc.
Storytelling is how the world links hearts with itself. It is the constantly pouring soul of that thing Larger than Us and it teaches us who we are, who we were, what we want and why we're here. Storytelling is something everyone can reach into; a bridge between differences, samenesses, flaws, triumphs, fears and errors. Storytelling is the mossy chinking pegged between logs of social law, theology, justice, morals and truth. We use it when normal language fails us, when we know what we mean but cannot quite grab on the way we'd like.
I think all living things are seduced by the idea of disguise. Of hiding and looking out. There is something liberating about being able to move and speak without being recognized, without being known. Of all animals, humans seem to need the disguise of other the very most. It is not, like moths and snakes and chameleons, that we desire to blend facelessly into the world. Rather, it is that we like to be cloaked in a husk of Otherness, in the dark, in a crowd. Perhaps disguise helps us feel most like other animals again, most wild, belonging the most to our landscape. And of course, disguises can be cast off, discarded or reworked. In some ways, I think we are least lonely when in disguise, our softest centers sheltered and easiest to access. We can sit holed up with our shortcomings and our flaws and our weak places all contained and resting, and dance fearlessly in the firelight with the other goblins.
Mythology is like storytelling, but more architectural, less decorative. It is a scaffolding that we can line things up on, shift them around for best vantage point, hide other, smaller things amongst. Mythology is important because it is not law that was tipped onto us, but a joint agreement about what magical answers exist for our humble questions. Myth reaches out and reassures us that the trees lose their leaves with purpose, not dispassionate surrender. Myth is also available to everyone, and something to which everyone belongs. Therefore, it is a kind of portable transmission – like a radio – that pats us on the back when we enter a room full of strangers. This has happened before, will happen again, you got this.
Symbols can explain so much with so little. I use symbols to infer certain abstract ideologies. These symbols are mostly ambiguous and allow investigative liberties into assigning meaning, motives, and personal connection. In some instances the use of more universal symbols can help the viewer and artist connect; I have found that by portraying these symbols through the lens of personal experience and meaning, in a way, I have created my own visual language. Sometimes I will create a symbol and continue to develop it through several revisions until it fits a certain feeling I’m seeking. By creating my own symbols I can let the viewer interpret for themselves the feelings and experiences that they may have without spelling it out completely; understanding and respecting that a symbol to one may mean something different to another.
Symbol is blunt and articulate on your behalf. It is brief and reassuring and it looks great in heaps and stacks. Symbol is the flashing coin-brilliance and the trembling ribbons we hang on storytelling to bring people in and keep them interested. Symbol is visually static but always changing. It has no preferred pronouns, cannot be owned or kept hidden. It is the currency of meaning – I think of it as having the sound a tossed horseshoe makes when it clangs and catches the post. You see it and it sees you.
When painting, I often think about tradition; why things are done a certain way and how it affects our interpersonal interactions and day to day happenings. When I allow these musings of tradition to sink in I realize I am observing the interactions of my family and others around me. I’m intrigued with the way we do things and why we do them. This causes me to ask myself the reasons we as human beings cleave so tightly to certain traditions; what needs are these traditions fulfilling? Most recently I’ve been exploring the conceptual tradition of “work” and what it means to provide. My thoughts wander to my grandfather who continues to work at the age of 76; reminiscent of the workhorse, Boxer, from George Orwell's Animal Farm.Traditions are patterns. My grandfather learned to work from his father and mother, and watching him first hand has inspired me to keep this tradition. We hold these patterns of behavior so close to our chest that any personal success or failure seems to shake the entire family tree. These simple forms of tradition are things we may not realize at first despite the deep roots they hold within every aspect of our being.
If you hang rowan twigs on red strings from your windows strong winds will spare your barn.
If you tie an iron peg to the tail of cow, her milk will escape the faeries who creep in before dawn to sour it. Faeries hate iron.
If you drag everyone you love, and a few people you don't care for at all, into a room during a gray and sleety Thursday evening and present them with a roast goose and cranberry garlands, everyone knows they must feel Thankful.
Tradition are those diagrams of dance steps, where slender insoles tap along the dotted line until something called the Charleston is accomplished. We look down and move our feet in part because we long to do the Charleston, in part because of a dusty picture frame on the wall going up the stairs of someone in bright shoes and turned down socks and grinning, and in part because the diagram itself is so beautiful and so strange it is hard to believe it could have anything at all to do with us.
While in the studio, I often have conversations with myself without realizing they are happening. During these moments I have the time to learn more about who I am and where my thoughts wander to. We as human beings are constantly searching for meaning; questioning all that can be questioned. I find myself questioning who I am as a human and an artist, and what I want to say. Art has been a positive avenue for me to understand myself and at the same time learn to be present. Not only am I learning what I like and dislike, I am also discovering what seems to be calling to me and what is begging to be portrayed through my work.
I suspect humans are always forgetting what they are. I think it takes an effort of will to see ourselves in the cracks in the sidewalks, and the rock piles made mysteriously at night in fields, and in broken bottles along the highway. But I'm certain we're there. Everywhere there is being, both the moving doing kind, and the still watching kind. I am an advocate of stillness and observation, particularly of the mundane things we walk by every day. If I look long and hard enough I can reach back into some failed memory of being a bottle or a stone or a crack, and then I'm invested in all of those things, I become a steward of my beingness everywhere.
The difficulty with these topics lay mainly with the linear approach that we sometimes adhere to when trying to interpret what we see. Assigning meaning to the wolf can limit the scope of what is actually happening. Does the wolf mean something? Good or bad? It's not about meaning being predetermined, but rather having meaning come about because of the making of the image. The images vacillate and meaning grows into it. Sometimes the characters shift roles or perform perceived responsibilities. When is a wolf good or bad? Suggesting that the wolf is good or bad limits its range of being. Meaning is thrust upon it by the viewer. What if the wolf is sad, or angry, confused, or spiteful? Anyone of those things can be made more acute by context...and a convolution in context can provide ground for new meaning. Again, it is not about telling a story it is about being actively involved and present in the experience of bringing things together.