appeal for artists to share a space is an interesting one. Creative
roommates to a degree, the idea of splitting the costs over a place
to work and possibly inspiring, encouraging and influencing each
other isn't a bad idea. And with artists collectives and workshops
forming all along the Wasatch Front, its one that's catching on
quickly these days.
Recently one of the minds behind the Sego Arts Center, Jason Metcalf, decided to open up a new creative studio for himself, boldly shacking up inside a storage warehouse to create new work, along side fellow Utah County artist and fellow Sego co-founder Ryan Neely to form their own workshop. I recently got a chance to chat with the two and check out the work coming from them in their new place, plus their thoughts on local artist and work coming from our scene.
Jason Metcalf & Ryan Neely
Gavin: Hey guys! First, tell us a bit about yourselves.
Ryan: I was born in Michigan and grew up in Washington state. I've been in Utah for eight years now. I'm currently working in the studio and preparing for grad school, hoping to go to either Yale, Columbia, or Bard.
Jason: I'm a Salt Lake Citite, and grew up here, but have lived all over the country in a number of places. I've made art as long as I can remember. I attended the school of the museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and then went through the BFA program at BYU. Just wrapping up a few credits there and then on to bigger better things. Want to do grad school, but not sure where. Thinking NY or Berlin perhaps.
Gavin: Jason, you and I chatted last year during a Stroll event, how have things been going for you since then?
Jason: They've been going really well. A ton has happened in the last year, but most important, I'm making a lot of art these days, and that is a very good thing. I've been really honing things down, and my work has taken some interesting turns. I've been doing work on the computer and web, as well as sculpture and painting and drawing. I have some curatorial ideas as well that you'll be seeing soon.
Gavin: The word is you're not involved with Sego that much now. Why did you back out and where do you stand with them now?
Jason: Well, I'm actually as involved as anyone else is, and didn't back out of anything. It's funny, I heard a rumor that I went "rogue" and was trying to steal shows from the Art Center! I'm on the board of directors along with Maht Paulos and Ryan, and we're currently deciding where things are going to go next. Sego started as a festival, and that was canceled this year due to funding issues, but there are plans to continue it next year and beyond. We actually have some pretty crazy ideas, as usual. I was directing the Art Center and was a primary founder of it, and that must be what you're referring to as me not begin involved in as much. We also had to close that due to funding issues. We had a great year, a year we will always remember. We haven't ruled anything out for future possibilities for the art center. Again the only thing that stopped us from continuing it was funding. If we had 50k for our entire year budget (not much by most museum standards - a show at the BYU MOA often will cost over 100k), we could have continued on. It was just a bad time to open, but the right time in other ways too. I think what we were doing created excitement about contemporary art. I hope that can continue with organizations such as the Central Utah Art Center.
Gavin: Ryan, what first got you into art, and what were some of your early inspirations?
Ryan: Family. My mother is an artist and both of her parents were prominent Bay Area artists. My grandfather, George Harris, was an international artist, working in the bay area, as well as France, England, and even Jordan, where he was the prince's art instructor. Being around art from an early age influenced me to consider aesthetics in everything I did, although I didn't formally start studying art until college.
Gavin: What persuaded you to get into doing the prints and designs you've come to be known for?
Ryan: I'm interested in a visual language that's simple and honest. I love the simplicity of black and white right now, and all of it's possible implications. I like to use local and regional references, but try to keep a global perspective and audience in mind. I'm really into Nicolas Bourriaud right now, and his show at the Tate Triennial earlier this year, "Altermodern."
Gavin: The one big piece I think most people would know is the giant Morse Code wall. How did that idea come about, and what was the message written out?
Ryan: "What Hath God Wrought?" Samuel Morse's first message sent via telegraph in 1844, about the same time Provo was being settled. It was comprised of 40 sheets, a generational number signifying Provo's past, and being on a construction site of a new high-rise in downtown, it's future.
Gavin: How did the two of you meet up and become friends?
Ryan: Jason did a show at Mode. Through that process, we talked a lot about art and started hanging out. It became apparent that we fed off each other, and were both passionate about creating art--and being art nerds.
Jason: This is all true- shortly after my show at mode Maht and Ryan approached me about their idea for an Art Center. I was of course really into it, and since then we've all been good friends.
Gavin: When did you both decide to form a partnership and get a workspace?
Ryan: We spent all our time together anyway, and were constantly talking about joint projects, without a space in which to execute them, so decided it was time to act.
Jason: Yeah, we also needed a lot more space, and were sick of painting small and making easel paintings. So we ventured out to find a space without size limits.
Gavin: What was it like finding the building and deciding on the current location?
Ryan: Pretty much three weeks of constantly driving around. We had to get really creative, eventually transforming a storage unit. It was cheap, and gave us all the space we needed.
Gavin: Was it difficult to get setup in considering both your styles of art and the space required?
Ryan: No, we just had to spend a lot of time lining the corrugated metal walls with a workable wood surface. We also had to get creative with lighting, power, and water.
Gavin: Have you thought about opening up the space for others to join in or expanding?
Ryan: We were sort of there on special considerations, seeing as they let us steal power, so we kept it a secret for a long time. We don't have room for anyone else in our space, but others are certainly welcome to do the same, although I doubt anyone would want to put in the work necessary to transform a space like that.
Gavin: Let's talk local. What are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Ryan: I can say that I spent the vast majority of my time and energies (and money) over the past three years to the betterment of local art in Utah, especially Provo. Through shows at Mode, as Director of Provo's Gallery Stroll, and co-founder of Sego, I and many others spent countless hours building up and showcasing local art. I can say that there are a lot of local artists I'm interested in right now and proud to be associated with. Overall, however, Utah is a totally underdeveloped art scene. There are a few people, most are fairly new to the state doing great things. Adam Bateman, Jill Dawsey, Jeff Lambson, Adam Price, etc, and it's all building. Right now there is a major shortage of funding, and awareness of contemporary art, and that is why we were desperately trying to create venues for contemporary art--to include the public more closely in the cultural dialog. Also, people's preoccupation with the Mormon church can be a bit disabling, either for or against. A lot of art I see in Salt Lake seems a little overt and tacky. Luckily we have exciting new programming at the CUAC, MoA and UMFA to get behind. If anyone hasn't been down to the Central Utah Art Center in Ephraim, they have openings the second Friday of every month, and is my favorite place right now. I would love to include the Salt Lake Art Center in that statement once they go back to their mission of showing contemporary art.
Jason: I'll second everything Ryan has said. Utah is a funny place. It is strange there is not a greater love of contemporary art. Even though there is a shortage of funding for institutions, even pre-recession, we just don't have the collector base to support a thriving contemporary art scene. There are certain collectors like the Kanters, Freedmans and Stewarts who are acquiring some really great work. But we need more of the other collectors who focus on historical or traditional work to get excited about contemporary art too. This I think, above anything, will help solve the other issues in the Utah art scene. Then the collectors will donate more to contemporary programs and acquisitions, and this will foster a greater general awareness and so on. With that being said, I totally second Ryan in his assessment of our state institutions. Jared Latimer and the CUAC are doing the best job hands down. I think Jill Dawsey is doing some really great things too, and hopefully the recent changes at the UMFA will enable her to create even more amazing programming. She is one of the smartest art figures in the state, and her work definitely shows it. We just heard about Heather Ferrel resigning her post at the Salt Lake Art Center in December. She's done a great job. I hope their board chooses a new director who also has a great vision for contemporary art that engages with the community (their mission statement), and who doesn't lean so heavily on bagged traveling shows. Jeff Lambson's current portrait show is probably the best group show we've seen in Utah ever. And Adam Price has done as much as anyone recently for promoting contemporary art. He deserves all the credit in the world for the community and excitement he's built.
Gavin: Anything you believe could be done to make things more prominent?
Ryan: Sadly, there needs to be a market. We live in a capitalist society and artists still need to make a living. Intelligent, challenging art that has relevance and importance can be hard to sell in such a conservative community. As long as people come out to Gallery strolls, and attend galleries and museums and support artists they like, we can continue to grow and improve.
Jason: Again, it's all about the private money. Collectors need to buy a lot of contemporary art, and not just international or national art, but the very best of local art, even if they don't see it as a huge monetary "investment." But self-professed everyday supporters of art need to buy as much art as they can. Even if that is only $50 a year. If every Gallery Stroll goer bought $50 of art a year, we'd have more artists, more galleries, and more art institutions, which would equal more prominence. There is no reason why a city the size of Salt Lake can't have a bigger art scene than it does now.
Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll these days and how its evolved over the years?
Ryan: It's great to see a broader audience growing for these events. That seems key to its growth and development. It's always a great time, and I love seeing it grow.
Jason: I've been attending the SLC Gallery Stroll for ten years. It has definitely changed. I remember when Phillips gallery was the hottest place to go, hands down. I think there are a lot of good locations doing good things, but nothing really outstanding. But the important thing is that things have been relatively consistent and that they have continued on. I think the SLAC and the UMFA could both do more to be active in Gallery Stroll. It's tough because their shows are so lengthy that they cannot have frequent openings. But they could certainly have more event based programming during gallery stroll, such as art-rock music, film screenings, and performative type events.
Gavin: Both of you do national showcases, how does Utah measure up to that of other major spots?
Jason: Well, it is hard to judge Utah compared to other, more established locations. I think we're a bit behind. But with what we've said about collectors and funding, I think we could match up eventually to Denver or Portland. Don't think we'll ever even be on the scale of LA. But we could match up a lot better for sure, if people and foundations with money decide to spend it the right way.
Ryan: I agree. We're just not there yet, but could be. It's going to take a lot of vision, and a lot of education. Not to sound pretentious, but the general public has historically been left behind on current art issues. If we can get more people interested and involved, it will help. If people see the value in something, they will get behind it.
Gavin: What can we expect from you both the rest of this year?
Jason: Well, the year is almost up, so not a whole lot. But we might be having an art sale cum relational aesthetics event next month. So stay tuned.
Ryan: We are hoping to have a joint show at NoBrow as well, but will most likely be sometime next year.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Jason: Well, I've already plugged so many things. Chris Coy, an internet artist who's in and out of Utah. The Fairview Museum of History and Art, The Museum of Love and Devotion. Maht Paulos' recent work. I'd have to say again, the Central Utah Art Center. They are doing the all around best programming in the state. Even though they are a bit far away, it is well worth the drive. In November they'll be opening an exhibit with Micol Hebron, a well known Los Angeles artist, who will be exhibiting work she showed at the LA Louvre Gallery. It'll be a really big deal, so make sure you're there.
Ryan: Yup. Go to shows, get involved, contribute.