The last Gallery Stroll of the summer was packed to say
the least, with hundreds on the streets visiting even the out-of-reach
destinations. And keeping with that we head to one just a block up from the
Phillips Gallery has been keeping shop on 2nd South for years, being both a service to art through framing and classes, as well as maintaining a vibrant showcase throughout the year. This month the curator herself, Meri DeCaria, put her artwork on the forefront as part of a dual show. While the other half went to former Utah resident and world-traveled artist Nel Ivancich. I got the opportunity to chat with both and took plenty of snapshots from this past Friday's event.
Gavin: Hey Nel, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Nel: Art has been a critical channel of expression for me during most of my 68 years.
Gavin: What first got you into art, and what were some of your early outings and experiences like?
Nel: I have memories of early years spent at an elementary school in Midvale, Utah and still recall the dedication of the principal, Mr. Harold Ashman, and his equally earnest teachers in fostering an enthusiasm for art and poetic exploration. At Jordan high school I was also fortunate to study with Don Olsen, one of Utah's legendary non-representational artists. He possessed a gentle teaching manner yet he emboldened his students to trust their own interpretations of the subject matter. An older sister who studied with Don Olsen along with an aunt who painted local street scenes, were also important role models during my earlier years. In 1960 I moved to southern California where I worked for an interior design firm and attended Chouinard's Art Institute in Los Angeles a few evenings each week. During the mid-60's my husband, John, and I would join the eccentric crowds at the La Cienega Boulevard gallery strolls in Los Angeles. Abstract Expressionism was winding down and California based artists like Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Irwin and James Turrell were being shown within the local art arena and beyond.
Gavin: You went to the U and got your MFA. What was the program like during that time and how was the experience for you in earning your MFA?
Nel: When my husband, son, daughter and I moved from California to Salt Lake City I attended the University of Utah to complete my degrees. The university Art Department professors during the 1980's were themselves an exemplary mix of diverse talent from Utah and elsewhere. One day in my university studio Delores Chase stopped by and saw a painting I had just completed. Her studio visit and a subsequent solo exhibit at her Delores Chase gallery introduced me and my work to the local art scene. I am forever appreciative of Delores' encouragement and professionalism.
Gavin: What eventually led to you being an Professor at the U for the College of Fine Arts, and how was that time there for you teaching?
Nel: After graduating I remained in the Art Department for seven years as an adjunct instructor and realized how teaching was an opportunity for continued learning and keeping pace with US and international art trends. Although I have since retired and live in an idyllic mountain setting in southern California, I frequently miss those personal exchanges with students and art community colleagues in Salt Lake City or those, like Cathy Pardike and Carolyn Coalson who, like myself, have moved to other states. I miss lunches with KC Deneris (my sister), Kathleen Deneris and Edie Roberson and visits with Susan Slade when we had art studios over the Golden Braid bookstore, then on 3rd South. I also miss my brief stops to have coffee with Lee Deffebach at her home and studio on K St., or an occasional breakfast with Sam Wilson and Lee at Lambs Grill.
Gavin: You've had your work shown across the US and parts of the world, including the United Nations building in NYC. Does the success you've had impact you heavily, or do you take a lot of it in stride as part of the experience?
Nel: Here in California, I continue to paint and periodically exhibit my work in southern California galleries and international venues. In 2003 I was invited to participate in the Florence Biennale in Italy. As a result of that opportunity I joined Connecting-Art, a group of fourteen international abstract artists. Our intention was to engage our art as a vehicle for cross-cultural exhibits, connection and understanding regardless of political discord between some nations at that time. Our artists came from Brazil, Croatia, France, Greece, Jordan, Northern Ireland, Reunion Island, Senegal (W. Africa.) and the US. In 2005 we were invited to exhibit our work at the United Nations building in New York City and have since had shows in Croatia, Greece and Reunion Island. This year a few of our European artists participated in the Jordan Art Symposium which was organized by our own Jordanian artist.
Gavin: Touching a bit on your artwork, are the designs you do create on canvas thought out in advance or more spontaneous?
Nel: My own paintings for the show were painted over five months time - either in my garage/studio or on an expanse of dirt driveway outside the garage door where I am free to fling paint in abandon. They were created separately, each one a spontaneous tango with the moment, the medium, the shifting light, the spring wind, the summer heat, the curious bird chatter, or a new jar of paint. In fact, most of the paintings were inspired by the wild, ancient and changing surround where I live. Since I develop each work in layers and over time, the summer heat helped to speed-up the drying intervals between transparent glazes. And, yes, there are always some paintings which I can not pull together into a satisfactory result so I tear them up and toss them out rather than belabor their rescue.
Gavin: Tell us about the showing at Phillips and what you'll be showcasing. And how did the decision come to do a dual showing with Meri?
Nel: I still consider Salt Lake City and Phillips Gallery to be my home port where art is concerned. And I feel honored to be exhibiting with Meri DeCaria, who is an accomplished Utah painter of exuberant abstractions and also an exceptional gallery director. In my visits to galleries in California it is rare to find an equal to the enduring vision and professionalism of Bonnie and Denis Phillips and their warm, efficient and dedicated staff, more like one big family at Phillips.
Gavin: I know you're in Cali now, but do you have any thoughts on the Utah art scene?
Nel: From my experience, Salt Lake City was and remains a uniquely vital art community and I believe the vigorous art program at the University of Utah and Museum of Fine Arts, plus the art centers, public art collections, art commissions, art galleries and appreciative art patrons help to sustain that vitality.
Gavin: Seeing how your a world artist these days, what's your take on the current artwork getting major praise?
Nel: Over the past several years and with the aid of my computer I have become more and more fascinated by the changing tool box at the artist's disposal. When I visit internet galleries or global networking forums like Facebook I am inspired by the daring leaps I see in artistic expression. The Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson comes to mind. His creations and collaborations move beyond the canvas as he manipulates perception, object, light, space, landscape and color into compelling installations, performances and illusions. Also the artist and architect, Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., has recently created an exhibit she calls, "Systematic Landscapes." She has constructed moveable sections of landscape some of them inspired by NASA's geological and survey maps where the audience participates in the work. Another artist, Joseph Nechvatal, creates alluring digital paintings and then turns customized computer viruses loose on them, so the work is continually animated as it disintegrates before the viewers' eyes. These are only a few examples of what I find exciting about new directions in art. Yet, as the tool box progressively incorporates new technologies I'm convinced that the hand-made painting, drawing or sculpture will inevitably be even more treasured.
Gavin: Hey Meri, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Meri: People say I should write a book about my complicated life but in a nut shell: I'm a transplant from Minneapolis, via NJ, Philadelphia, London and Jackson Hole. I'm a painter and the Director of Phillips Gallery. I lived in a little house I bought and restored in the Marmalade several years ago. In 2001 I 'made the ultimate sacrifice for love' and moved to Ogden to be with my husband who works for Weber County. Life is good. We love to travel, golf, hike, bike and ski. The dust never settles lately as we are always keeping up with friends, family and the fun things to do in life.
Gavin: What first got you into art, and what were some of your early inspirations?
Meri: As a fourth generation artist in my family, I guess it's in my genes. My Dad will tell you I've always had an eye for color and creativity but what really got me going was the painting courses I took in college. Jody Plant gave me my first show at the Avenues library where I sold.
Gavin: What made you decide to go to the Pratt School of Design?
Meri: Who wouldn't want to go to Pratt?! It actually was a course I took during my senior year in high school; "An introduction to the fashion industry". My family was living in Northern NJ at the time and so taking the train into Grand Central station once a week, experiencing independence and having a taste of what it meant to be involved in that business was exciting.
Gavin: You later received your BFA from the American College in London. What was that experience like and how was their program for you?
Meri: London was life changing... I was there for two years and never tired of exploring the maze of streets. I saw tons of incredible art shows at the various museums; the most exciting being the first Saatchi and Saatchi exhibit. Also from there I was able to make trips to Paris, Copenhagen, Switzerland, Ibiza, Greece, Madrid and Barcelona. The program at The American College was decent, it gave me a good base to begin from. Mostly it opened my world to art and travel.
Gavin: You also went to the Art Institute Of Philadelphia and earned your A.A. Degree. What was the difference between this program and London, and how did that experience work out?
Meri: I went to the Art Institute of Philadelphia to study Fashion Merchandising. I had a great time there and the experiences I had gave me the skills I needed to be a good sales person and shop manager. London's course work was more art oriented since I added Design to my major.
Gavin: What made you decide to move to SLC and become the Director of the Phillips Gallery?
Meri: I moved here via Jackson Hole, with a boyfriend who enrolled at the U of U. We came for the small city life, good restaurants, outdoor sports, the arts and because the weather is so much better here than Minnesota.
Gavin: In the time you've been director, what have you done with the gallery and what changes have you done over the years?
Meri: I became director not long after the other galleries Phillips owned (Dooley, Pierpont & Courtyard Galleries) closed, so all of our efforts were re-concentrated to one building. We opened the upstairs, expanding our exhibit space and later added the sculpture deck. My focus was on placing art and building clientele. We had become known for creative shows and innovative ideas but I was excited about bringing our numbers up and expanding our base. It sounds archaic but computers came into use during that time which helped us to organize. We could more easily track trends, focus on which artists needed a boost and who should go to the next level, etc. It's quite a balancing act with as many artists as we represent.
Gavin: You also serve on a number of artistic committees in Utah. What are all of the ones you serve on, and how did you come to be a part of so many?
Meri: Phillips has been around since 1965 so I suppose we are a natural choice for community input. I have served on the Utah Arts Council's Grants committee, the Utah Arts Festival's artist's selection committee, The UMFA special exhibits committee, The Eccles Community Art Center board, The Salt Lake Gallery Association, The Salt Lake County 2008 Cultural Facilities Master Plan Oversight and Stakeholders Advisory Committee and most recently Mayor Becker's complete count committee for the 2010 Census. I may be forgetting something but that's enough it's it?
Gavin: You have your own work featured throughout the city in murals and other galleries, even made as the main artwork for last years Arts Fest. How is it for you to see your work on display throughout the city?
Meri: It's great. I'm fortunate to have been selected for the projects in which I was involved. To see my artwork blown up huge throughout the Arts Festival last year was pretty cool.
Gavin: With your art, what's the process for you like when creating a piece, from start to finish?
Meri: I start by painting the base color on quickly and before it dries I use the other end of my my brush to draw in my pattern. Then I fill in the image, allowing the painting to tell me what needs to happen next. Each piece is a journey because I don't have a set plan.
Gavin: In seeing how complex some of the designs are, do you have an idea of what it'll be when you start or does it usually change while working on it?
Meri: I often refer to sketches, which lately happen to be doodles from spending time on the phone at the gallery (working of course - making client calls). What comes out subconsciously is often the freshest painting. That's how I start, then sometimes they change when other details get added at the end. In my last show I included a few pieces inspired by doodles and they were the pieces people were most excited about.
Gavin: Tell us about the showing at Phillips and what you'll be showcasing.
Meri: I'm running with doodle theme almost exclusively.
Gavin: How did the decision come to do a dual showing with Nel?
Meri: Nel was ready for a show and she didn't want to go it alone, so she asked me if I'd be interested in showing with her. I think our work compliments each other nicely.
Gavin: Going a little local, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Meri: I think the art scene is vibrant. We are lucky to have so much talent here. I just wish more people knew this. We need to work on our national exposure. Also prices are low compared to other markets.
Gavin: Anything you believe could be done to make it bigger or better?
Meri: Advertise. Educate and encourage everyone to support the visual arts. Think about it.. it would boost the economy and make SL an even cooler place to live.
Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll and how its evolved over the years?
Meri: Phillips Gallery started the stroll overtwenty years ago, in that time we've seen it grow to be one of the liveliest events in town. It's a great way to increase our exposure to people who may normally not be inclined to walk in to a gallery on their own.
Gavin: What can we expect from both you and Phillips the rest of this year?
Meri: I will be looking toward a few projects including the Eccles Community Art Center's Feb. Art Auction and a show there in October. I'll need to produce something new for the holiday show at Phillips and then there are the various other events that come up throughout the year.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Meri: Check out Vinto it's a cool new restaurant 2 doors south of Phillips. They are fast and good which will leave you time to stroll Phillips too.