Abs, Tracked | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Abs, Tracked

Salt Lake Art Center shows seven artists creating'and re-creating'the history of abstract art.



How many times have you gone to a local art opening and asked yourself, “What the hell kind of art is this?”


In the latest show at the Salt Lake Art Center, the answer to that question depends on which piece you look at first. You might notice a geometric, illusion-creating op-art pattern that takes you back to the 1970s. Or something that looks vaguely like some computer-rendered landscape. Or some colorful confabulation you’re not even sure is art. What you’re actually witnessing is abstract art'in past, present and future tense.


You might not think of abstract art as having a history. After all, if a painting doesn’t depict an actual scene'a discrete moment in time frozen on canvas'then doesn’t it also avoid eventually consignment to “art history” like pictures of so many British people on horseback in white wigs, as opposed to the hip, happening art of whatever is in vogue at the moment? The collection Fab Ab: New Acrylic Abstraction shows that abstraction, more than any other artistic style, is able to recycle ideas from its past and make them fresh again while venturing into wholly new territory and building its own future.


Salt Lake Art Center Curator of Education Jay Heuman has a background in art history that informs his direction of this show. Originally from Toronto, Canada, he has been at the art center for two years. The first show he curated'last year’s Material Culture'was a similarly concise yet comprehensive essay with a cosmopolitan flavor. Fab Ab’s artists are from everywhere else, an international seven who, Heuman says, “all have demonstrated mastery of their techniques.nn

Graham Peacock, born in England but a longtime resident of Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada, emerged from the post-World War II Jackson Pollock school of pouring and dripping paint on the canvas. He adds a playfulness, with unusual shapes and objects like marbles and coins added to the surface. Joseph Drapell, Peacock’s Czechoslovakian-born friend who has lived in North America for 40 years, was influenced by expressionism as well as color-field paintings, with swathes of sea-foam green on his tryptich “Trillium” swept out like shells. Spanish-born now New Yorker Prudencio Irazábal thins his acrylic paints to create clouds of color both bold and ambiguous.


A New Yorker originally from Brownsville, Texas, Susie Rosmarin combines the rigorous regularity of op art with unique color combinations and patterns that interweave in novel ways. Houston-based William Betts extracts lines of color from photographs using a computer and reassembles them to create paintings. The size and scale of each of their works reflects their Texas origins as well as a deconstruction of the process of vision itself.


The other two artists in the show represent a more distinctly Western U.S. sensibility. Colin Smith of Omaha, Neb., applies paint to aluminum panels with airguns, stencils and other tools with an almost automotive, cool-jazz aesthetic; titles like “Suburban Dynablob Conspiracy” add to the misdirection for viewers attempting to decode their apparent symbolism. Los Angeleno Jesse Simon makes an even more direct reference to California with artworks assembled from broken surfboards, “stringers” or wooden reinforcements visible as drawing elements (as in “Ocean Calling,” which refers to the cover of The Clash’s London Calling album).


Works are paired on the gallery wall to create deliberate comparisons. Smith’s “Episode 69” and Rosmarin’s “#312” use similar colors and grid structure, but his is like some outer-space map and hers is an interior eye test. Irazabal and Peacock also utilize similar hues but different intensities, Irazabal’s diffuse and Peacock’s more extroverted. A row of small Simon’s works'all in secondary shades of orange, green and purple'are like oversize Chiclets on the wall.


The acrylic medium is important to abstract artists. “Because it’s a man-made material, petroleum-based, people understand it can be manipulated,” Heuman explains. “It holds color really well, and substances can be added.” Again, it points out the technological aspect of abstraction, as artists like Betts have been criticized for utilizing clinical working methods such as writing a line of computer code for each line of paint. But Heuman notes that even a paintbrush is a form of technology, and it’s really all about the surface. These surfaces not only invite you in but, Heuman notes, “engulf” you to the point where it’s a little overwhelming and enlightening.


These artists have added to the vocabulary of abstraction while building on its rich past. “Each of these artists has carved out his or her niche technically and explored it to the fullest,” Heuman says. He sees the work providing mental fodder for artists and spectators alike: “The strength of group [shows] is, hopefully anyone can find something here to inspire them.nn

Fab Ab: New Acrylic Abstraction
nSalt Lake Art Center
n20 S. West Temple
nThrough May 30