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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Eyes In the Sky

Serenity, violence and the void collide in the work of Jake Gilson.



When asked how long it took to complete a work that occupies two entire walls at the Art Barn, Jake Gilson pauses, as contemplative as the two massive compositions that comprise his entire contribution to a three-artist show. “The process of putting my works together takes a lot of time. The Zen answer might be my entire life so far.”

Zen comes up frequently when discussing Gilson’s artwork. A lot of his artistic method is based on the poetry of the Sufi mystic Hafiz. “He has almost a mystifying and supernatural quality of simplifying everyday things. Everything exists on multiple levels.”

“I don’t have any hopes of anyone getting anything from my works, no expectations,” he explains.

His two pieces—roughly the same size, at opposite ends of the second room on the gallery’s main floor—bounce their energy off each other. “I intended to give these pieces as much space as possible,” Gilson says. “They have a certain presence; you can stand close or farther away and get a different sense of equilibrium.”

Gallery director Kim Duffin says the pairing of Gilson’s work with the industrial images of two other artists is “one of the more successful groupings we’ve accomplished.” While Paul Reynolds’ auburn-toned oils make electrical appliances seem like relics of an almost antiquated humanity, Chris Dunker’s photographs of worksites at Geneva Steel have all the epic violence and serenity of a battlefield after the onslaught is over and the casualties are laid to rest. In contrast, Gilson’s surfaces seem vaguely industrial, but reminiscent of a future in which technology is invisible yet somehow ubiquitous.

The left panel of the piece “Appearance Rock” is more violent, with its raw brush strokes, than “Second Reading”; there’s a conflict taking place in this piece that doesn’t occur in the other. “One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen is the footage of the planes hitting the twin towers [on Sept. 11, 2001], if you can divorce yourself from the horrific loss. And in 1988, I went to Yellowstone after the fires there. There was black as far as you could see; it was absolutely beautiful.”

Of “Appearance Rock” he says, “It’s an absolutely violent, arresting moment, juxtaposed with a serene one. That can be an epiphany, in a way. I wanted it to envelop you more. Even if other artists weren’t in this show, I might just have the two pieces.”

He included the epithet “thrill seeker”—acquired during college in 1970s California while surfing and experimenting with mind-altering substances—in his bio because “everyone takes this stuff so seriously.” He attended Humboldt State and Arizona State, and, after returning to teach in Southern California in 1988, he got married in 2002 and moved to Ogden, where he teaches at Weber State. While at one point he took two years off in Austin to pursue his own form of “education” on mescaline, his work has also merited funding from the Jackson Pollock Foundation and the NEA.

These pieces have a certain ambience; their size gives them weight, and they set the tone for the whole three-artist show. “I’m not trying to make a statement about technology,” he elucidates of “Second Reading,” composed of two black-velvet panels on either side of a steel section dotted with red pinpricks of lacquer, resembling a futuristic stereo. “I don’t want people to come in with a predisposition, to find an easy answer. The beauty of art is that it can come to people on all different levels.”

The red dots pocking the landscape of his pieces and interrupting the visual void aren’t reminiscent of familiar celestial bodies to him, though. “When I look up at night,” he muses, “I don’t see stars, but openings in this big void. I see these black holes full of information. Recently scientists learned that some of it leaks through. Everything up there is condensed into a singularity. If you could get through that, it’d be glorious. Maybe that’s what dying is.” JAKE GILSON

Finch Lane Gallery, 54 Finch Lane 596-5000 Through Sept. 10