There’s an air of expectancy behind the doors of this building, seemingly just one in a series of warehouses on the west side of 700 South. Yet even early in the afternoon—relatively quiet due to Bohemian artists’ hours—Poor Yorick studios is humming. A letterpress churns out its regularized rhythms, and a leisurely conversation fills the pauses between pencils eking out tentative sketches. But Brad Slaugh is most excited about the new paint on the walls—autumn leaf yellow and sky blue, echoing the changing season as well as a fall studio open house.
The usual gripe of local artists is the lack of places to show their work—but what about places to germinate it? Studio space is in even shorter supply, and just try working in the huddled quarters most artists can afford. In late 2000, Slaugh returned from grad school in Boston to find there were no studio spaces in town. Artspace had a waiting list of several hundred, the Guthrie Building was all full and Rockwood Studios didn’t exist yet. So he took matters into his own hands, starting Poor Yorick the following February. From only six artists at first, it has grown to a capacity of 26.
It’s a more industrial kind of space than the Rockwood, Slaugh maintains. “We’re rougher around the edges,” he says. “It’s a different dynamic here; there are a lot of young artists. Here, since the walls don’t extend up all the way to the ceiling, we have to respect each other’s privacy, and noise. We get to know each other better, and there’s more energy because of that. You don’t feel like you’re in your little box, painting pictures no one else will see.”
Could these works have been produced anywhere else in this town? Trent Call’s portraits influenced by graffiti art aren’t too far removed from Slaugh’s caricatures, features distorted so much they resemble cartoons more than paintings. Dave Laub mixes computer-manipulated images and photography into an edgy hybrid. Mark England’s sometimes wall-size canvases are bristling with sketches touched by architecture and geography, adding paint and collage elements to create an almost overwhelming visual landscape. Josh Haroldsen’s experimental films hold viewers spellbound. Some of the most adventurous Salt Lake artists work within these walls.
Artists here feel a real community in the space. According to fresco artist Tessa Lindsay, “The limitations of the place force you to be more explorative. The community of artists is a good motivator. It’s social, but also feels like a workplace.”
“It allows me a lot of freedom,” Trent Call concurs. “I used to paint in my bedroom but have a lot more space here. And the parties are a riot.”
The “parties” Call refers to are actually Poor Yorick’s open houses, which tend to be less sedate than most gallery-stroll events. Last March, punk bands The Wolfs and Le Force played, and it got a little rowdy. “The last time was off the hook,” Slaugh agrees. “Is the Salt Lake art scene sleepy? Sure, but not during our opening.”
This time around, Bob Moss and Mismash will provide a little more subdued entertainment to complement the unique qualities of a Poor Yorick opening. Says Slaugh, “Unlike most gallery-stroll sites, here you can see where the art was created, ask the artists some questions and even see some works in progress.”
Slaugh has loftier ambitions as well, planning the Pragmatic Academy of Art to open there in October, with himself and several other former University of Utah instructors teaching fundamentals that he believes the U has strayed from. The location may actually be a plus, as the block seems to be undergoing an artistic revival, with Kilby Court, Sanctuary, Trasa Gallery, a new gallery called Velvet Underground, sculptor Cordell Taylor’s new studio and the Classic Car Museum all within shouting distance.
Slaugh, typically, is running around like crazy trying to get ready, but he isn’t without help from this community. He smiles, looking around at the walls that still need a coat or two: “It’s time to have another painting party!”