Every face tells a story, in its contours and lines something of the history and personality of the individual. Two artists in a new exhibit at Art Access use the art of the portrait to present two very different narratives. Coming from different geopolitical and personal perspectives, Suzanne Kanatsiz and Vojko Rizvanovic each take a side of the gallery’s two-chambered space to look at two sides of the issue.
Suzanne Kanatsiz, with an American mother and Turkish father, has spent a lot of time in Europe and the Middle East. Until recently, Kanatsiz worked as a professor teaching sculpture in the fine arts department at Weber State University, and is represented by XVA Gallery in Dubai and Salt Lake City’s A Gallery. This show marks her return to the figure, after 25 years, working in various media, and the impetus for the return was, to great degree, political.
“There is a fascination with large-scale heads going back to Lenin,” she notes. Living in Dubai with her husband, Kanatsiz saw a lot of oversize portraits of sheiks, and it caused her to contemplate the meaning of massive mugs as the face of power. But she’s subverted the use of the face. These seven mixed-media works draw from her other work, in that they use a lot of textures; in fact, the aesthetic that ties these images together is the way the relationship between figure and background is blurred.
What happens when you take people who aren’t figures of power and depict them on that scale? “The word ‘counterspectacle’ intimates the spectator is reading into what is static, but going away with being evaluated or stared at by the picture,” Kanatsiz explains. “The heads are oversized and intimidating and looking back at the spectator.” The head represents the personality writ large, the outward expression as representation of the self, the fašade presented as the authentic.
In these works, however, she intends to render “the face suspended in this texture and color of the surface, giving the surface a certain amount of power.” They are mostly anonymous men—except for Vietnam War veteran PFC Wayne Inman—and are free of stereotypical expressions, except for a rapper who has what Kanatsiz calls “attitude.” Traditional portraiture has a different intention, Kanatsiz says, and she is seeking a deeper, psychological truth. She has incorporated Eastern ideas about the ego, as well as unconventional materials, like salt, vinegar and even Cabernet.
Born in former Yugoslavia, Vojko Rizvanovic was rendered legally blind by injuries suffered in the Bosnian war. Living in America for 14 years, he was imprisoned in 2007 for kidnapping his children during a custody dispute. Ruth Lubbers, former director of Art Access, visited him in jail, and he told her that when he was released, he wanted to have a show of sketches he’d made in prison.
Making art in jail helped him cope with prison life until his release, at which time Lubbers was instrumental in helping him get accepted into the MFA program in art at the University of Utah. Love & Punishment at Art Access is his MFA thesis exhibition. It’s a moving testament to a time in Rizvanovic’s life that changed him, and includes many depictions of fellow inmates, inscribed with their stories. One unorthodox method of display combines his prison sketches, affixed to the floor of the gallery under a sheet of plastic, titled “Don’t Tread On Me.” In these stories, he was able to see the human side of seemingly everyone he encountered, even convicted murderers; acts of compassion and kindness among inmates helped him deal with the harsh realities of incarceration, including, he says, the inequities of the justice system. Coming from a former communist country, he was shocked in the “land of the free” how easily that freedom could be lost.
The show also includes oil paintings, which he says are a comment on the time he spent in halfway house and probation. “In all the paintings, I wear clothing connected with my incarceration,” he notes. He wears garb associated with prison while making art, and says he does that because he wants to be reminded of and inspired by those people.
The most personal work in his show is a cross, composed of nine different sections of paintings. “The cross has nine windows, nine lives; [it] signifies something that doesn’t die—my love for my children,” he explains. It also includes depictions of himself with a spike through his head, which is what he felt prison was like. But the story the picture tells is ultimately transformative. “That’s what my story is,” Rizvanovic says of the cross. “It’s a symbol of resurrection and new life.”
COUNTERSPECTACLE: SUZANNE KANATSIZ
LOVE & PUNISHMENT: VOJKO RIZVANOVIC
Art Access Gallery
230 S. 500 West, No. 125
Through Aug. 10