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.
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 justoposing 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.