Journeys & Perceptions

For more than 25 years, the Utah Arts Council has awarded two fellowships annually to outstanding professional artists to acknowledge their artistic excellence and encourage their careers. For the first time, they are looking back at past fellowship artists to exhibit their work and show how this prestigious award has advanced their careers.

The exhibition opens for Gallery Stroll on Friday, Feb. 17.

It’s called “Redux: Five Fellowship Artists Revisited” and will feature five past fellowship recipients: Susan Cotter (1992), James Charles (1995 and 2012), Jane Catlin (2000), Gary Barton (2001), and Madison Smith (2005).

What’s interesting is how five completely different artists, working in different mediums at different stages in their career can bring a common theme to an exhibit without knowing what the other will be exhibiting. The artists are all showcasing mostly new work that they’ve wanted to display, some of it created specifically for this show.

Smith, Catlin, Charles and Cotter all seem to be exploring journeys and playing with perceptions in one way or another.

Madison Smith

In his artist statement, Smith states “In classical thought, the elements Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Aether were believed to be the building blocks of the universe, including the basic structural makeup of individuals—physically and spiritually. I am interested in the formation and existence of the individual as a tiny part of a vast history." He talks about collecting images and ideas that represent the type of journey Carl Jung described: “We.... (need) not risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find abomination we shall find God. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.”

Smith’s work is displayed as somewhat of an installation. He’s created an enclosure with drawings hanging on the perimeter with superheroes and other illustrations. Inside the enclosure sits a circle of school desks. Above the desks hang globes of varying shapes.

Jane Catlin

Catlin chose to display four large pieces that explore the acceleration and impact of change on biological organisms and processes. In a sense, she is investigating the journey biology has taken, or more specifically, the direction we have led it. “I am drawn to the visual manifestations of these changes, and so gather images from scientific text, direct observation of nature and also contemporary design.” She explains, “They are my way of calling attention to the harm being done to our planet. On the other hand, I find these images so beautiful and compelling that working often becomes pure visual play.”

James Charles

Like Catlin, James Charles is also interested in nature. He presents an idea of nature and an aspect of our perception of it. He places de-contextualized fragments of images into minimalist abstract grounds. He explains, “a white textured field, layers of paint, paper and acrylic medium give it a real physical history and a sense of the passage of time.”

Gary Barton

Barton’s interest lies in our perceptions and the factors that affect our views of meaning and how we understand the things around us. “I have always been intrigued by the potential for multiple and varied readings of visual information. In this group of works, recognizable elements are reduced to and combined with formal elements. The obvious reference and the meaning that accompanies it is dramatically altered, veiled, or eliminated.”

Susan Cotter

Speaking of “varied readings,” Sue Cotter uses books in nontraditional ways to pique curiosity and her current work reflects her journeys through parts of Europe and Mexico. “These pieces are about exploration in unknown regions, adapting to different cultures, struggles with language acquisition, exciting encounters with new species, new people, new customs and the great delight of expanding my realm of experience.” Some of the books in her pieces have text and some are purely visual. You’ll find that some open like traditional books while others will challenge preconceived notions of what a book is. All are meant to draw you in and invite exploration. She also invites you to touch her pieces, find the books that are sometimes hidden in her work, open them and look through them. You’ll find the detail to be remarkable.

The Visual Arts Fellowship Award has not only facilitated financial support for these artists to create more work, it has boosted their confidence and their drive to continue doing what they do. Take a journey yourself this Friday night and venture over to the Rio Gallery and see what you think of these five esteemed artists.

Laura Durham is assistant editor at 15 Bytes, Utah's Art Magazine, and is a contributor for Salt Lake magazine.