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Gavin's Underground

May Gallery Stroll, Part 2: Mechanized Records

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2008-05-20 -

Part two of the Stroll continues today. And yes, this one was on time!

Going on sixteen years of business, based everywhere from a rundown warehouse to the heart of Sugarhouse,
Mechanized Records has been an ever constant staple of the more modern local scene since the early 90's.  Everything from turntables and snowboards to music and collectibles.  This past Friday the store featured Jonny Barrett of Closer To The Sun Photography, and fellow photographer Sara "mAx" Mongalier put on a dual show inside the store.  I got to talk with Jonny and take some pictures of their work.

Jonny Barrett & "mAx"


Gavin: Hey Johnny. First off, tell us a little about yourself.

Jonny: I'm a simple person I love the arts and the people around me that make my life what it is. I want to pass on my message as well as the message of other artists out to the masses. I'm sometimes blamed for being to driven but don't know it any other way. Guess you could call it a blessing and a curse. The sports in my life had a big influence on this mindset. Grew up playing hockey and continued through college. Hockey is a 100mph chess match that teaches the importance of the individual as well as the team. And then there was skate and snowboarding that taught the payoff of relentless determination. Sometimes you have to do something wrong hundreds of times before you get it right. But it’s that feeling when you finally get it right that makes you appreciate all the work and struggle it took to get there. That’s when you get to sit back and put everything into perspective.

Gavin: You've traveled all over the western U.S. Why pick Utah as your home?

Jonny: Ended up in Utah after my near 6 yr, 5 majors, 3 school scenic route through college. Moved out to PC from Vail after graduating from CSU in Fort Collins. Hightailed it to Vail with a group of buddies to bum out the rest of the season until the student loans started to kick in. PC seemed perfect, had SLC 25 minutes away. Still got to ride 5-6 days a week and still be productive on getting my business started. I moved all over the place growing up with my pop's job and wouldn't have changed it for the world. Getting to experience so many places truly gave me an appreciation for all that life has to offer. And now I can travel all over the U.S. and know I have a friend's couch to crash on.

Gavin: You've got a B.A. in Economics and you've studied financing, one would think you'd have a different career in mind. What made you choose to go into photography?

Jonny: Goes back to the scenic route through college. I started in Bozeman, MT. I had actually spent my first 2 years of college studying architecture. When I finally realized that I wasn't going to be Frank Lloyd Wright, I decided to switch back to the studio arts. Just wasn't interested in designing boxed neighborhoods or lame commercial design projects. Spent that year back in studio arts and realized with a passion I could follow it professionally w/o a degree but needed the background info to make it successful for myself and for others. After that spent a year in Denver studying finance. I always had this unsettled feeling that I still wasn't seeing the big picture and also missed the art. Finally ended up at CSU in Fort Collins. Realized if I didn't get back close to home and focus on finishing school that maybe I would just become a professional student instead. Started back in fine arts but again got restless. Then i finally found economics. The one subject in school that doesn't just teach how things work in society but also the whys and how to go about figuring out and answering the whys for yourself. Loved it, perfect match.

Gavin: For those unaware of it, what is Closer to the Sun Photography?

Jonny: I created Closer to the Sun Photography as a means to capturing the remarkableness in the world that is often overlooked. It has been a slow creation of a new genre of conceptual photography. It all started with one song 3 years ago that changed my life forever. From the first time I heard it I was frozen. It summed up everything that was going on in my mind and made it all make sense. Spent that winter in Vail listening to the song on near repeat for 4 months straight, riding and figuring out how I was going to put everything together. The sun is an iconic image for myself as a reminder to keep moving forward. It gives light to the path in front of you but at the same time stare directly at it you'll go blind. You have to reflect on your past but at the same time you can't dwell on it. Just take the knowledge you learned and apply towards what you are doing today.

Gavin: How did you start Closer To The Sun?

Jonny: I started Closer to the Sun Photography with an idea, a laptop, and a camera worth about $600 bucks. It had to be built so that I could run a majority of it through a laptop and an internet connection. My true dream in life is to have a family and experience everything the world has to offer with them. The last thing I was going to do was have a job that confined me to an office 50 hours a week. So instead I decided I would create my own and make my own rules and schedule. Still working on that part. When I moved to PC I took a job in sales at an art gallery. Figured it would be a good way to start learning the business. Within a year I was our marketer/graphic designer and accountant. Still working there part time. The gallery is owned by the largest bronze publishing company in the world and yet the gallery was a small start up business. I've been able to watch and learn the way that both work and how to create my own business while taking philosophies of each. Closer to the Sun Photography has now branched out into Closer to the Sun Fine Art & Design. I know reached the point where I do all of my own printing but also printing for other emerging artists here in Salt Lake. Also had opportunities arise to do graphic design work for some quite established musicians which has led to another avenue of business. Then there is the introduction of other artists that it looks as though we'll be talking about later.

Gavin: What was it like when it first started up, and what were some of the difficulties you had when you started it?

Jonny: The work never stops but as I good friend of mine has said is that it is part of paying your dues as a young business owner. My biggest struggle was knowing this was what I was supposed to do and there was no other option so I had to make it happen. I had a message I wanted to pass on and I wouldn't stop until it happened and it is still happening. When you start something for yourself all of the pressure is on you whether or not it all comes together. At the end of the day if things are coming together the way they should the only one you can blame is yourself.

Gavin: Some of your work was featured up at Sundance this year. What was that experience like?

Jonny: Unbelievable! Never could have thought in a million years I would be featured in a one-man show the opening weekend of the festival. It provided more exposure than I could have ever hoped for. It opened the door for my design work to go international, work with Grammy award winning musicians and get my photography in the hands of collectors from all over the United States in the span of 10 days. I still attribute the superior leveling and hanging skills of someone in particular to the success of that show.

Gavin: Tell us about the piece you're doing for this month's Gallery Stroll.

Jonny: The show at Mechanized featured the photography of myself and Sara Mongalier (aka mAx) as a collective effort of two artists working to redefine the notion of modern photography. I think I can speak for the both of us when I say that the point that we are each at with our art has been a slow evolving process that incorporates life experiences, coupled with our unique approaches to life and a willingness and assertion to do something different and not worry about the opinions of others towards it. Nobody ever changed anyone's minds by going with the flow.

Gavin: What made you decide to do a dual show with mAx?

Jonny: I first came across mAx's work late last December and was absolutely spell bound. I'd never seen anything like it... from the second you see it you know that more is going on than what is on the surface. Come to find out she has been a photographer since before she was born, travels the world capturing these photos and studied at the Parsons School of Design, in NYC, one of the mot prestigious art schools in the nation. Simply stated the girl is an artistic genius. I found it so interesting how our approaches to the medium were the same but went about it in completely opposite ways. She creates collages from sometimes upwards of 150 separate photos, layers them in Photoshop and creates three dimensional worlds that come to life. They completely exploit depth of field and take you away from the interpreted world we live in. You can stare at them for hours and pick up the imagery and statements that she has disguised throughout her compositions. On the other hand, I compress depth of field take inanimate objects put them on the same visual playing field and try to make them look as much like paintings as possible without the use of Photoshop. I use minimalism and complex titles to conceptualize while she uses complex images and minimalist titles to conceptualize. When the opportunity arose to show at Mechanized it wasn't even a question. mAx had to show alongside me. From an artist standpoint it was finding my ying to my yang. Next month we will be showing down in San Diego as part of their Ray at Night event that draws crowds of thousands.

Gavin: Do you feel it's better to do your own thing that isn't directly a part of the Stroll, or would you rather be a part of it?

Jonny: Everything has its time and place. This time I was super stoked to be a part of the gallery stroll. It’s my goal to present something different and challenge people's perspective towards art and life in general. Obviously, an event like the gallery stroll is the perfect place to do just that. Other times it’s great to have a separate event not associated with a stroll. When it’s all said in done it’s all about the art and getting out for people to see, each type of a event draws a slightly different crowd and that’s what makes it the most interesting.

Gavin: While we're on the topic of the local art scene, what's your opinion of it, both good and bad?

Jonny: I have been totally impressed with the growing art scene in this area. It definitely has a long ways to go but the wheels of change are in motion. It’s the efforts of people like Ron and Merryl (owners of Mechanized) who are a driving force in making this happen. The scene is here, along with the talent and now its business owners like Ron and Merryl who open their doors and invite the possibility of change. You'll never find a lack of artists wanting to show their work but there's always a lack of opportunities for artists to show their work.

Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make it bigger or better?

Jonny: Always, that’s why after one show is done you sit back go over what went well what could have been better and revise your game plan for the next show. That's pretty much how everything in life works. But that being said, I'm a true believer that especially when it comes to art, the size of a show and who walks through the door does not drive the success of a show. Art has a funny way of bringing the right people together at the perfect time and place. Each show always serves a different purpose in the lives of those involved and those that come in contact with the end result of the show itself. You have to have faith that the people walking through the door are there for a reason. Life is too short for events to be circumstantial.

Gavin: What can we expect from you the rest of the year?

Jonny: Have the show coming up in June down in San Diego with mAx, also in the process of putting together a show at Infusion Gallery in Los Angeles. Still awaiting to hear back on the final details but have my fingers crossed that it will all come together. Then I will be having the release of my first album artwork in July. For Quivver's release of Dirty Nails & Vapour Trails. John Graham "Quivver" has been a leading pioneer in electronic house music for much of the past decade and a half. He brings his music to people all over the world and it has been an honor to get to work alongside with him on this project. Its been a collective effort of many people from Beverly Hills all the way back to the U.K. The driving force is of course John and has girl Chrystal who is his biggest supporter and closest friend. John has recently started his created his own record label BozBoz Recordings. They've both been working nonstop to make this happen. Chrystal has been the one to keep everyone in line. As Chrystal would say, "She's Ace!” Locally have some smaller shows coming up in June at Tea Grotto as part of the stroll for mAx and myself in August. Looks as though mAx will also be having something for herself at the Woman's Art Center, thanks to Addie. Next January will also be putting on another Sundance show at Silver Queen Fine Art in Park City, UT. This year it will be a three-man show also featuring the work of Richard Salcido from San Diego and Frank Gonzales out of NYC. That’s all I have on the plate now but will hopefully be adding more very shortly.

Gavin: Anything you'd like to plug while we're here?

Jonny: To see more of mAx's older artwork check out her work at
Maxuna Designs. Check out John “Quivver” Graham and buy his album in July!  The best gallery in Park City, Silver Queen Fine Art.  Jack Eldridge at Park City Ink, most talented tattoo artist in the area. This guy even produces all of his own guns and inks. And finally, Closer To The Sun Fine Art & Design. I can print on any medium up to 44 x 60 and if you are looking for something with an unusual twist to represent your company then I am your design guy. Don't hesitate to contact me with any questions or job possibilities.

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