Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Photo journey into the studios of Utah artists

My sister called me a few months ago and told me she was ready to fill her newly remodeled home with art. "Would you go with me to see some art and hook me up with the artists?" She certainly didn't need to twist my arm, especially since I am continually finding intellectually stimulating and visually mouthwatering art here in my current home state of Utah. My sis lives in New York and has great taste, meticulous in fact. So the following images and words are from the many studio visits I made with her while following her nose with a little guidance from me. These visits ended up being a fabulous cross-section of contemporary Utah artists. 

One undercurrent I found running throughout the work habits and visual styles of these artists is the commitment to obsessive process, whether it be meticulous mark-making or meditative pattern repetition and beyond. It seems many of the artists we visited engaged in some form of what Roland Thompson and I discussed as a Zen-like need for being in a state of non-desire. Funny since I feel artists, myself included, are slaves to our desires. But we also have a gift for craft, design, art: all things that seem to represent our desire to capture beauty in some form and hopefully stimulate that same desire in the viewer.

Could it be that beyond these visceral desires for joy and fulfillment we also wish to make without the pressure for perfection breathing down our necks? Does meticulous workmanship hone our spirits to this almost mindless yet blissful state?

I find that as I fill and re-fill my leg molds with plaster or plastic, adding yet another tally mark to the paper I keep on my wall, I am engaging in a meditative and healing process. I often feel guilty about it since I am still under the influence of classical thinking which tells us the power is in the singular masterpiece, a Mona Lisa so to speak.

So I'm wondering if many of us artists are negating that by embracing process over product. The quality of the work I'm seeing tells me we aren't losing anything by doing so. Amen to obsession I say!

Emily, on the left sporting gardening arms, with my sister Karen

One of Emily Plewe's paintings at Nox Contemporary. I believe she said she was studying Rembrandt while painting these canvases. I love how colorful her darks are.

Karen inspecting a green-headed figure by John Sproul

Joey  Behrens explaining to Karen her process of making collages out of city prints
This work is an assemblage of prints collaged together. I wish I had taken a good close-up of her meticulous etching marks!

"My favorite pencil!" said Joey

Joey giving my son a lesson in color mixing

Karen in Rob Mellor's studio

Rob in front of  his big triptych --- amazing!
Rob Mellor's use of masking to create patterns is mesmerizing.

Sunny Taylor in her BYU studio with new babe in arms.

Sunny's three-dimensional paintings

Sunny with two of her newest paintings in the background. She meticulously cuts out tissue-thin paper and layers them under the paint, creating a seductive and subtle relief texture on her paintings.

Anne Becker, an artist who also implements collage in her wonderful images of idyllic mountain scenes.

More Anne Becker art

David Ruhlman in his Salt Lake home/studio. Note the Ram image in the background. He explains the ram as a symbol of a god-like figure, a recurring icon in many of his works.

One of the works in David Ruhlman's invisible cities series
An untitled work of David Ruhlman's, which inspired a series of paintings on paper

Dear Loggins Merrill, one of my earliest patrons, who bought this sculpture from me in graduate school

Another work of mine that Loggins bought from me years ago. Loggins has an amazing house filled with his own furniture and shelving designs.

Loggins Merrill with one of his steel wall-hung pieces in the background

Loggins designed this kitchen table and I covet it!

Roland Thompson's ping-pong table/drafting table. He prefers to work on a horizontal surface.

Roland with one of his paintings on aluminum. This is where we were talking about the Zen pursuit of non-desire.

A couple of Roland's pastel drawings which appear to be an exploration of "impossible geometry" as  noted by Karen

Another Roland Thompson work. I love the way it is framed.

Monday, August 22, 2011

New Armor Dress hot off the press!

I've just completed a new armor dress for a client in Salt Lake City. It fits so beautifully in her modern home. This one has a metallic copper glaze on the outside and a boric acid-based glaze on the inside. It is fired at cone 010, which is a rather low temperature. This is because I have steel fencing wire in the support structure and I don't want it to melt on me in the kiln!

Jen Harmon Allen dress of armor number 19 Downtown Dress

Here is a statement I wrote years ago about these dresses: 

"My work often references the female body, though not so much its minutest details as its presence. This presence comes from a delicate balance between permanence and passing. The empty dress recalls the shape of the body in the way that I believe objects can “remember” their human influence. But they age and can be forgotten.

Fragmented forms repeated many times in my work serve as armies both tenuous and defiantly enduring. This tension is profound to me, and a metaphor for the reality I see: what we perceive about our life and our world is often in conflict. While we want many things to be over with, we also wish for some things never to go away.

I find we are in a state of eternal yearning - to go forward, to hold on, to simply be and have that be enough.


My clay and steel Armor Dresses are made from fencing wire cut from a paper dress pattern and then “sewn” together with wire and shaped with darts and seaming much like a fabric garment. I then cover the steel with a special low-shrinkage clay which I then fire in my electric kiln. I take care not to exceed the melting temperature of steel as the piece’s strength comes primarily from the steel structure.

This technique is highly unique and to my knowledge rarely if ever used – clay and steel are considered incompatible. I love that."

I often tell people that these dresses are a feminine version of the suit of armor. I am highly influenced by the Terra Cotta warrior sculptures unearthed near Xian, China. I have exhibited my dresses in battle formation in reference to these beautiful works. I also wanted my dresses to look unearthed in a way, aged and changed by the elements.

Jen Harmon Allen Changing of the Guard Dress of Armor installation, 2001