January Stroll: Wren Ross, Stephanie Toland, Brian Patterson | Buzz Blog
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January Stroll: Wren Ross, Stephanie Toland, Brian Patterson



Six whole weeks have gone by since the last time we hit up Gallery Stroll. If you remember, last month we were hoping it wouldn't snow until the Stroll was over, now we're begging for it as you can't even see the next gallery down the street. That is, if you you had no problem chewing on the air like it were toxic gum. ...Let's move on.

--- To kick off the 2010 set, I made my was down East Broadway to our old friends at Kayo Gallery for a three piece show. Featuring the drawings of Wren Ross, paintings from Stephanie Toland, and the sculptured collection from Brian Patterson. I got a chance to chat with a few of them about their careers and works on display as well as thoughts on local art. All with dozens of pictures you can check out here.

Wren Ross

Gavin: Hey Wren! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.

Wren: This question is hard for me. Mostly, I think, because I don't really like the idea of being attached to my work. I don't want people thinking about what I look like or where I came from or what made me into who I am. I would rather they look at the work and react, unprompted.

Gavin: What first got you into art, and what were some of your early inspirations?

Wren: I'm not sure there was a beginning to my work. Making is automatic; a supplement to seeing and hearing and tasting and moving. The visual world has always impressed itself most strongly on me, and so it seems natural to react to it with images of my own. Inspiration is a loaded, tricky word. For me, inspiration is the word that describes liking something so much I need to pick it up. Or hear the sound it makes. Or stand very still and feel it move around. Some things are: milkweed pods giving up their seeds to the wind, or the sound shale makes as it shifts underfoot, or watching cloud shadows as they crumple along over mountains, hoping to see coyotes. Castanets, bones, rag paper, fox dens, triple decker peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Essentially, things that trigger delight me in me make me want to unpack drawings.

Gavin: Did you seek out any education for your art or were you more self-taught?

Wren: I think learning informs making, and that anyone who seeks to master a medium needs to first be humbled and instructed. That isn't to say every artist should go to art school, but every artist should look at work that isn't theirs and meditate on their own limitations. I went to school in Rhode Island, and that was a good skeleton for learning, but most of what I think shapes the work I make now is learning to look and give up on the dead growth of old processes. I think self-teaching is what keeps a practice dynamic, so in my work both fields of study (the formal and the more informal) are vital.

Gavin: What inspired the freeform drawings and paintings you've come to be known for?

Wren: This is a hard question to answer with words. What inspires me doesn't necessarily reflect literally in my drawings. Much of the process for my work is culling mundane, routine experiences, unpacking them to their barest components and then expanding back out from there. It is mostly a mapping process. The maps are collections of dream imagery, automatic writing, verbose commentary on taxonomy, sophomoric investigations into linguistics, vague interpretations, convoluted personal philosophies, small brave exploits, exhausted sounding boards and embarrassing mantras. Luckily, the drawings don't present any of these specifics, they merely provide compasses for navigating the larger whole.

Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a particular piece?

Wren: Sometimes I feel like the drawings make themselves. My contribution is being a vessel, and feeling (sometimes disproportionately) strongly about common things until there is nowhere else to catalog or store things and so the drawings become spaces for the overflow.

Gavin: Considering how some of your works are spread out over multiple pieces of paper, is there more of a challenge to keep continuity or is it all a matter of making the vision fit the form?

Wren: I guess it's really neither of those things. The surface is fairly secondary to the subject in the planning stage. Sometimes the intention is for the image to be broken up by creating intentional channels of space between the paper, and sometimes the drawing needs more space than one piece of paper can provide and so a kind of quilting occurs. I'm not often preoccupied with where the drawing goes, more I am interested in how it gets there.

Gavin: How long does it take to go from planning to finished? And do there ever come out the way you plan or is there a lot of last minute changes that go on?

Wren: With few exceptions, all of the drawings are planned using constellations of single words. There are almost never plans for the images; for me planning is a very static gesture. Most of the process is reacting to marks with other marks until a whole is achieved. This usually happens all at once and then the drawing stops itself. Lots of changes happen last minute, but also from the very beginning, depending on the appetite the drawing has for the concept and vice versa.

Gavin: What's the usual reaction to your works when people see them displayed?

Wren: Honestly, I do my best not to listen. Partially because I am somewhat shy when my work is on walls, and partially because the intention with the work is simply to stir people. I feel strongly about giving viewers a space to respond to work without expectation or intention. I feel like there is an imposing dynamic in art that makes people worry about 'getting it' or seeing it 'right', and this seems counter-intuitive. If I notice people responding to my work, period, I feel like I've succeeded.

Gavin: Back in 2008 you participated in the Urban Gallery event. What was that experience like for you, and what was the display you added to the project?

Wren: The Urban Gallery was the first collaborative for which I was commissioned publicly. I painted a mural to be displayed inside one of NH's facilities that provides resources for senior citizens. It is a large mural of a house with many arms building or repairing other, smaller houses. It was unusual to start from a rough drawing, wait for approval, and then transcribe it. But I was grateful to be accepted into the event and to be able to contribute to the community with my drawings.

Gavin: Tell us about the works you have on display for this Stroll.

Wren: The newer pieces in the show mark a profound shift in my work from sourcing material internally to turning outward. Right now I am feeling strongly about seeing, and learning to disengage the cognitive kind of seeing to make way for a more emotional, abstract kind. This work is an experiment in translating this idea, it is still very newly hatched.

Gavin: What's your take on being displayed at Kayo, and doing a show with Stephanie Toland and Brian Patterson?

Wren: Firstly, I want to express that I feel honored to share space this month with Brian Patterson, whose work I greatly admire and respect, as well as Stephanie Toland. As Stephanie isn't local, and I've never met her, I don't know much about what she makes or why. But she paints beautifully and I'm very excited to see the work in person.

Gavin: Moving to local art for a bit, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Wren: Having lived on the east coast for a while, and briefly gone to school in the Bay Area, I am enthusiastic about Salt Lake's emerging art scene, small as it is. We've no shortage of energy, enthusiasm and talent, and it seems that in the last few years, galleries and local collectives have become more invested in the arts especially as they nourish small communities. I'm impressed by growth of the gallery strolls since I last lived here in 2002, and am a huge fan of our many smaller collaboratives: - Signed & Numbered's print exchanges, the 337 Project and its side projects, the independent art shows held at informal venues, the instruction and group shows provided by Salt Grass printmakers, the workshops and work generated from the University's Letterpress Program, the many diverse artists shown through local galleries, Craft Sabbath's, the outrageously and beautifully designed monthly calendars and show posters generated for local music venues and bands, etc. We are lucky to be surrounded by people who love making.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Wren: I think building a healthy art community is a road worth walking on and we get there when we get there. But I also think artists draw support from their community members, and that an art scene is largely a collaborative between those who make and those who watch. Showing and involving community members might also involve more resources for those who want to learn to make or to become more educated about what they're seeing.

Gavin: What's your opinion on Gallery Stroll and how its evolved over the years?

Wren: I'm grateful for an event that showcases emerging artists and established artists and that so many people make the strolls part of their nights out. I like to see that other venues besides traditional galleries are participating, and how our local businesses are nourished sustainably by their community. To me it seems that Salt Lake's tolerance for diversity within work has evolved and that other mediums beside visual art are on the bill, which gives the whole package more tooth and credibility than it had at its beginning.

Gavin: What can we expect from you over the course of the year?

Wren: I will probably keep making bread, picking up paperclips, compiling lists, drawing, painting, singing loudly inside, hanging out with my dog Daryl and the people I love this year. Also, it is my intention to start a local craft collective with an emphasis on community teaching as a resource for anyone who wants to make but doesn't know how or with what. (Anyone who has any input, suggestions or contributions: I would so much like to here from you.) This will start soon, with a bookbinding shin dig I hope to put together in the next month or so. I'm excited about that, excited about the days getting longer, excited for the ground to thaw out, excited for any exaggerated snow storms that might grace us with their presence. I think that about covers that.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Wren: Just many thanks to Davina and Shilo at Kayo for having me.

Stephanie Toland


Gavin: Hey Stephanie! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.

Stephanie: I am a small town girl who grew up on a cattle farm in Urbana, Missouri. I come from a family of six which consist of a twin sister, who does a lot of modeling for my paintings. Some words to define me in a simple way are: red lipstick, vintage, black bob hair, freckles, Irish (therefore can be blunt), creative, loves the use of the word “fantastic”, who loves her family and friends. I am currently living in Sandy with my husband Eric and just living the life of a full time art student at the University of Utah. I am almost done with my BFA and then to go on with my Masters in Painting and Drawing by next year. Other then painting I love being creative in everything and anything life has to offer, I love to get inspired by a craft or an art medium and then create things. I find myself seeing something I like and instead of buying it, I end up making it. In that, I also make a lot of children’s/baby items which started from making cute things for my nieces and nephews, which has become a huge hobby of mine; whether it be sewing, crocheting, or needle felting. I also have a huge thrift store shopping fetish; I am very much into the vintage “old lady” clothing, what can I say; I read the obituaries and then head to the DI.

Gavin: What first got you into art, and what were some of your early inspirations?

Stephanie: I have always loved drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. In high school I liked creating art but it was nothing I ever really thought of as something other than just a fun hobby. I may have had My Art teacher to blame. I had the same art teacher K-12 (yes, my K-12 schooling was all in the same building); I was never really inspired in my art journey through high school nor did I have anything to be inspired about. When I graduated my mind was not very mature, so as far as my future and what I wanted to do with it was not clear; I had no clue what I wanted to do in life. I didn’t realize that I really had a nick for art till I enrolled in some art classes at Dixie State College in Southern Utah from instructor/Artist Del Parson. I started to realize that I really loved art and it was something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Gavin: Before the U, did you seek out any education for your art or were you more self-taught?

Stephanie: Yes, seeking education was what made me realize that art was something I wanted to be committed in doing for my future. While attending Dixie State College was where I really learned my overall fundamental skills. Then I decided to expand my education endeavors and attend the University of Utah; where I was pushed to step out of my traditional art. I have taken courses with artist/instructor John O’Connell, in whom I feel has really opened the door for me to include deeper meaning in my art. This takes me to a brand new adventure in the content of my work; in bringing my work to life with story and meaning.

Gavin: What inspired you to do profile portraits, and specifically in the painting style you do them in?

Stephanie: While attending Dixie and studying under artist Del Parson, whom is a very skilled figurative artist, I guess his techniques and style stuck with me. My constant urge when painting a figure to improve the proportions and capture a true essence within; that if a viewer can look at it and then relate and if not relate admire. I almost always include figures in my art, and to be honest it’s simply because I love to paint them, no reason for it, other then I find beauty in them, and comfort in knowing that whatever I paint, my viewers can find a narrative within that piece.

Gavin: How do you go about choosing a subject for the pieces you do, and what's the process like for you when creating a particular piece?

Stephanie: For my “Beauty” series in particular I chose to do women, obviously. The women in my paintings are just friends I had model for me; so really when putting an idea together I just paint what I feel represents that person best: such as colors, textures, and setting. The process for me in this beauty series was to create women in their moments of performing a beauty ritual or “what they do to feel pretty.” I chose a model in which best represented the particular ritual and then chose a pattern for the background, then dressed them to a style that suits them. I prefer to draw and paint from life but in most cases my models can’t afford to sit for sixteen hours, so I try to at-least draw as much as I can and get the composition figured out for the piece then paint the rest from a photo. When setting up my models I find lighting very important so most of my time is figuring out where I want my light source.

Gavin: How long does it take to go from planning their look to the finished product? And do you play around with the look or try to keep everything near the original?

Stephanie: When I have a model set up from the time I get them dressed and set where I want them and set the lighting; it’s about an hour process. I defiantly play around with different looks, expressions, angles, and lighting on the model; then choose which one I like the best.

Gavin: What are the reactions you usually get from those people once they've been completed?

Stephanie: Well, almost always they love the end results and are thrilled. But then again they are my friends and would never really tell me truth to how they really feel about the piece. The only one that is ever honest with me is my twin sister who models in a lot of my work. But I would have to say one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to feedback from someone is, "That looks just like the photo" or "I want to see the photo you painted from to compare", my goal is not to paint just like the photo my goal is to paint the story and paint the figure as a representation of a figure in a moment, not as that particular person in the photo reference.

Gavin: I recently saw the “Twelve Days Of Christmas” series you did. Was there any grand plan behind ever verse or just what came to mind for you?

Stephanie: That was a lot of fun to do for a change because they were 4x6 pieces, very small compared to what I am used to painting. I did these small paintings as a giveaway on my art blog for my followers. For each piece I had an idea in my head to what I wanted the painting to look like with a lot of sketching and finding image references, I just created each piece that I felt best represented that verse of the "Twelve Days of Christmas".

Gavin: Tell us about the works you have on display for this Stroll.

Stephanie: In the “Motherhood” series, I focused on the simple common feelings of what a woman experiences as a mother. Although this is a broad topic and every woman is different in their experiences as a mother, I wanted to focus on the simple stereotypes that come with being a mother. I wanted to use the decade of the 1950s as a reference for my content. The look of my work, along with the use of color, and the figures' fashion style really capture the feel of that decade. I wanted to portray this “typical” housewife stereotype of reality and to show what is expected of women as mothers and how they really feel, whether it be a good or bad experience. The objects throughout each piece represent something that each woman may be thinking, feeling, or otherwise experiencing in that moment of motherhood. My goal for each piece is to have the viewer not see it as a piece in which they have to figure out the narrative, but to see the piece and the figure within the piece as something beautiful and pure; much akin to the feeling that most people might feel when seeing a mother with child. In my “Beauty” series, my focus was on the idea of the self-beautification rituals that women practice, simply put: what women do to feel pretty. My observation was of women in their moments of these beauty rituals and the representation of this feeling of needing to conduct these processes in order to feel pretty or establish a confidence within. While contemplating of this idea of women and beauty, I thought of the old 1930s'-1950s' beauty ads, which were very 'in your face' and overly exaggerated with consumer persuasion of what you need (as a woman) and what will make you pretty. In the 1930s'-1950s' reference, I took the idea of using wallpaper, which was very popular at that time, and in my process played with the idea of painting on patterned fabric, then embellishing the paintings in small moments with lace, tulle, fabric, and sequins. The idea is of the vintage/retro woman being set in a room with pattern wallpaper. The wallpaper represents this continuous pattern that stretches over time and may wear and age but in the same sense will never end. Much like with women and the idea of the urging need to do what is 'socially constructed' as beautiful.

Gavin: What's your take on being displayed at Kayo, and doing a show with Brian Patterson and Wren Ross?

Stephanie: The Kayo Gallery show is my very first showing ever. So as an art student at the University of Utah I was quite honored to be asked to show. Most especially amongst great skilled, experienced, and inspiring artists such as Wren Ross and Brian Patterson. It was so much fun showing with two other artists who are considered very much different from myself when it comes to style and technique, but yet can understand and relate on the same ideas.

Gavin: Going more local, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Stephanie: I have to say while attending the Dixie, I was taught very traditional art so coming to the University of Utah I found myself at a crossroad in my art and what I wanted/needed to do with it. At Dixie I was taught "how to paint", at The University of Utah I am taught "what to paint". So I thought why not take what I know which was traditional art techniques and create non-traditional content in my paintings. Instead of painting just a pretty face or still life, actually make that pretty face tell a story where my viewers can relate. I love the urban feel and creativity that comes out of the local art here in Salt Lake City, it screams creativity; when seeing a fantastic piece it makes me kick myself for not thinking of it first. It's overall inspiring and gets the wheels in my brain going for new fun ideas that will allow me to perhaps step out of my traditional ways, I have some fun ideas in store for my future art.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Stephanie: All I can really say about that is, "Beautiful art is in the eye of the beholder." So within the work and styles that are shown in the galleries and around the communities wither it be considered "crap" or of "good quality" work whatever one’s taste in art may be, it's hard to say what the viewers like, because everyone likes a little bit of everything. I really feel Gallery Stroll is a wonderful effective way to get not only art lovers out to see the art, but getting students out there too; along with their art and their new ideas. I also really feel that maybe perhaps if not only the city itself but the state overall needs to give the art academics more attention for our children; to stop cutting out the arts, and to start influencing more of the creative processes to develop in the schools and the communities. With that, I feel the Arts will become more prominent in our city.

Gavin: Speaking of, what's your opinion on Gallery Stroll and how its evolved over the years?

Stephanie: I think Gallery Stroll is fantastic! As an art student, it is helpful in the creative processes to be able to have the opportunity to mingle amongst other fellow artists and talk of ideas and to see other artist work and their ideas. It allows the creativity to grow within and it educates the mind with resources that can inspire one to create something beautiful!

Gavin: What can we expect from you throughout the year?

Stephanie: I am not sure yet, but I definitely have ideas in the continuation of pattern and fabrics and more less of a traditional way of painting the figure in my work; stepping out of my comfort zone and "messing" it up a little bit. Going crazy!

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Stephanie: Thank you, J!

Brian Patterson

Gavin: Hey Brian! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.

Brian: I was born and raised in Salt Lake. I'm just finishing up my undergraduate work at the University of Utah in Sculpture.

Gavin: What first got you into art, and what were some of your early inspirations?

Brian: I wanted to be an artists for as long as Ican remember. As a child I wanted to be a painter and a filmmaker. In my adolescence and early adulthood, I resisted art making - I didn't have much confidence in myself as an artist. After a while there was no escaping it, I had to surrender.

Gavin: You went to the U to study art, what was that experience like for you?

Brian: I started in the painting department and then found my in the sculpture area because that curriculum would allow me to work in video. The experience was tumultuous - a total pain in the ass. But, also, it was transformative and I think that's the point. I can truthfully say that with video, I am self taught. By the time I got to the video curriculum I was well on my way with my own stuff and doing it pretty well.

Gavin: What inspired you to do the sculptures that you've created?

Brian: The sculptures were really born from boredom. I had moved into a new studio that turned out to not be the best space to work in. In fact, I couldn't work in it at all. Loads of saw dust would fall from the ceiling and toxic lacquer vapors would seep in through the walls and I had no accessible electricity. So I would find myself sitting in my space with all my stuff in boxes wondering... what the fuck? But I did have a bucket of paint and a few random toys. So for amusement I dipped a few of them in the paint. Then again and again. Then I positioned them so they'd interact and it was really striking at first how disassociated they were from each other but still completely from the same origin. Then I started cutting them apart and gluing them back together and dipping those. It had me asking myself, “What sort of mythology would a person or a family have to believe in to have these figurines in their home set up as they were?” I spent the next 17 months trying to answer that question. I wrote - - in my mind -- a very detailed mythology that the installation is based on. But thus far, I've kept that to myself and a few friends.

Gavin: Design aside, every single one of them look like they're porcelain dolls. What's the process like in getting them to look the way they do?

Brian: High gloss latex enamel sprayed onto a smooth surface rendered by many coats of water-based house paint created by dipping them into the paint. I have an 18 gallon container of paint that constantly needs refilling. There's some sanding and patching involved.

Gavin: What kind of designing or planning do you do before you start work on a piece?

Brian: All of the pieces were selected for their forms. If the original object depended on its color or texture to identify itself, it wouldn't work because I'd dip it in paint and all that would be lost and I'd be left with an indecipherable form. My studio is between two DIs, so I'd hit them up a couple times a week, picking out anything that had a distinct form and would not directly reference pop culture, like Darth Vader or something like that. Barbie is okay because she is the sexualized female form. And sexual reproduction is up there with the most powerful forces in the universe. Any animal, any religious knick-knack, and human figure was fair game - they were all equal to me. As for designing before dipping, it would depend. Sometimes I'd just hastily dip it. Other times, I'd hold on to it for weeks or months until its use revealed itself. I'd look for the harmony or dissonance created by placing contradicting characters next to each other. Like an angel with breasts kissing a tyrannosaurus. I had a few basic moments that I wanted to have in the installation and I'd build around that. But mostly, I'd just make a bunch of pieces and put them all together at the end. And that task turned out to be a daunting one, I should have known better.

Gavin: How long does it take to go from planning the designed look to the finished look? And how much changing do you do in between?

Brian: Depends on the size. In short cases, a few days. In long cases, months. The large baby at the far end of the table that has all the breasts that are feeding the baby horses - that was probably dipped 30-40 times and went under many modifications along the way. It took probably nine months or so to become what it is. That happened with many of the pieces. Some would have a quality that appealed to me, but had something that wasn't working. The process was very forgiving in the sense that I could tear a limb or a head off, or reposition it or add something and just keep dipping and I'd end up with something might be interesting. But a majority of them could be rendered in about a week or so.

Gavin: What are the reactions you usually get from those people when they see these pieces?

Brian: Usually pretty positive. Most people seem to enjoy looking at them. No one has really indicated any disliking to them. People's favorites are always ones I don't like and debate even using. I like that.

Gavin: Looking over the collection, it appears your works total near 200 individual additions. Is there a grander plan behind the collection, or was it simply that you were just on a roll?

Brian: I was on a roll. I got completely addicted to the process. Everything I see, I want to dip in paint. I also love thrift stores. In all, I think I made about 450 pieces, but around 200-250 made the composition for this show. I don't have plans for any thing grander than this. But I do have plans for another installation that is similar. I'll have most of these left over from this show, so I'm sure a few will get reused. That's another good thing about this mode of production, I can grab any given piece and place it in a different set up and it becomes completely new.

Gavin: Tell us about the works you have on display for this Stroll.

Brian: The show, in a way, is kind of just a good stopping point. Even though it's most likely where I'll stop. The process could have gone on forever. Having to get them all in a shape to be presented forced me to draw a line and say this is where it begins and ends. It was really hard to do. But that's the healthy part of a deadline, it forces you to realistic. I employed Pragmatic Design to design and build the table that they're placed on. I had a 20 by 3 1/2' rectangle painted on my studio floor so I could experiment with how the pieces would orient on the table and in the gallery.

Gavin: What's your take on being displayed at Kayo, and doing a show with Wren and Stephanie?

Brian: Kayo is awesome. I always enjoy being shown there. The line up worked pretty well, I thought. Wren's work and mine compliment each other pretty well. And Stephanie's worked referenced a something I kept in mind as I worked. Ideas of motherhood and the domestic setting. In essence, my installation is composed of domestic items depicting the birth of physical world by a goddess.

Gavin: Moving to Utah art, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Brian: Sometimes I get bored out of my mind with Utah art. And sometimes I'm blown away and ask myself “Where the hell have I been?” I think the art scene's problem is shared by the city at large. Utah is more or less controlled by an institution that believes it has all the answers. So the only question that is left by that is "Are you in or are you out?" Art, to me, is about asking questions. So, a conservative culture that isn't really interested in rethinking convention, makes for a slow developing art culture. But the young artists in the state make me optimistic and excited.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Brian: I feel the art institutions in Salt Lake need to step up their exhibition of contemporary art. Salt Lake needs to see that. Also, it would help if people bought more art and helped artist make a living making art.

Gavin: What's your opinion on Gallery Stroll and how its evolved over the years?

Brian: Gallery Stroll is a good thing, but I don't enjoy it. I go a few times a year and when I do, I try to make it out before the crowds. I want to see the art, not have small talk with thousands of people.

Gavin: What can we expect from you throughout the year?

Brian: I've been asked to do video for a performance company in Portland, Oregon. So I'll be moving up there in March. We hope to premier that project in September and tour with it through 2011. The company is called tEEth. I plan to make a lot of videos, get reacquainted with the pencil. I want to get back to writing and story telling. By the end of the year I want to get the mythology that drove this installation at Kayo into a form that can become a graphic novel. I don't know. I suspect I'll be forgotten within the year unless I return.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Brian: Yes, I'd like to urge the state legislature to do something about our poisonous air.