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Gavin's Underground

November Gallery Stroll: 15th Street Gallery

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2009-11-23 -

Heading back out onto the Gallery Stroll this past weekend for what was a pretty calm and warm night for November, several areas were really jumping this past Friday. Getting in one last hurrah before the holiday week and the impending snow that's been taking its jolly time to get here. Hopefully not before the early December Stroll, but we'll have more on that in a few weeks.

A recent addition to the Stroll, 15th Street Gallery has made its home near Wasatch Hollows as one of the newest galleries in the city. Fondly being referred to by some as The Big White Room, the gallery itself has transformed the majority of the floor into one giant display area, giving artists one of the biggest showrooms in the city to feature their works in an environment catered to displaying nothing but. This month the gallery had a multi-artist feature and in turn I took the opportunity to chat with three. Wendy Chidester, Chris Miles and Blue Critchfield. Chatting about their artwork and thoughts on the local scene, plus pictures from that night of their work as well as other artists on display.

Wendy Chidester

Gavin: Hey Wendy, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Wendy: I work out of my studios, both in Helper and Draper. I love looking for old, worn objects to inspire me to paint. Things that have been replaced and forgotten make great subject matter for my paintings. These objects become the focal point of much of my artwork. I try to bring new life to old objects and evoke memories of days past in each painting. I enjoy making the painting surface as rich and as interesting as the objects themselves, giving each painting a feeling of age, depth, and beauty.

Gavin: What first got you into art, and what were some of your early inspirations?

Wendy: As far back as I can remember I have always loved to paint.

Gavin: You received your BFA at the U. What made you choose the U for your studies, and what was the program like for you during that period?

Wendy: I started at the University of Utah as an Elementary Education Major. When taking some art classes for my specialized area I quickly fell in love with the College of Fine Art and changed my major. I knew I was suppose to be there. Luckily, I ended up in the best art program and with the best instructors around.

Gavin: What made you decide to paint still life works?

Wendy: My first still life piece was of an old camera I found in an antique shop. I instantly fell in love with the reflective lenses and all around beauty of the object.

Gavin: What's the process like for you in creating a new piece, from picking the object you'll work on to final product?

Wendy: My process of painting starts with finding objects that are intriguing and interesting enough to paint. I love finding things that have been discarded and forgotten by most. My favorites so far have been typewriters, adding machines, movie projectors, cameras, record players and ornate cash registers. I bring the objects back to my studio to paint. I set up the still life with a strong light source and begin laying it out on the stretched canvas. By the time the painting is finished I have put 10 to 12 layers of paint on the canvas to achieve the age and beauty of the object.

Gavin: I read that you studied under both Paul Davis and David Dornan for a time. How was it learning from two different artists, and what did you get from both individually?

Wendy: I was fortunate enough to study with Paul Davis and Dave Dornan while earning my BFA at the University of Utah. Years later I studied in depth with both of them at the Helper Art Workshops in Helper, Utah. Paul has given me a strong foundation in figure drawing and figure painting. His demonstrations have been invaluable. It is rare to find a great teacher and artist all in one. There aren't too many that are good enough artists to be able to give demos from the live model and Paul is one who blows you away with his ability to do so. He is a phenomenal artist and teacher and without his classes I would not have the drawing skills I have today. David taught me to break the rules and find new ways of painting. Being the well-known artist that he is, he has the remarkable ability to give new ideas and push his students to their limits and beyond. He is well-versed in the art world and it is rare that you can surprise him with anything new. He has been my inspiration as an artist. If you want to be thoroughly entertained, watch him paint. He is an amazing artist.

Gavin: You've had some impressive showings over the past few years and taken home some fine awards. What is it like for you to receive that kind of recognition from your peers?

Wendy: I have worked hard to get the showings and awards the past few years. I paint every day and sometimes into the night. Anyone that takes up a career in art soon realizes the time and perseverance it takes to become a successful artist. It hasn't been easy but as Paul Davis says, "If it were easy everyone would be doing it." I wouldn't trade the job for anything else. I love what I'm doing and am happy to have found my passion in my career.

Gavin: Recently you were a part of the Zions Bank Invitational Show. How was that experience for you?

Wendy: I have been in the Zion's Bank Show for three years now. I love talking to people and getting their feedback on my work. It's also nice to meet the people interested in my work. Being an artist is a lonely profession because it's just you and your canvas in the studio and I relish the opportunity to be part of shows like the Annual Zion's Bank Show where I can actually talk to people who enjoy art.

Gavin: Tell us about the works you'll have on display for Stroll, and what your take is on 15th now being a part of the event.

Wendy: I love the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll, I have been going to it for years and am now happy to have my work displayed as part of the monthly event. 15th Street Gallery is a beautiful space to show artwork and I am excited to be one of the artists exhibiting there.

Gavin: Going local a bit, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Wendy: Utah has some of the best artists around. There is some strong competition here in our state. This group of talent pushes me to work harder to produce work that stands out as excellent. I just wish more of the public would realize what great paintings surround them and invest in original art work.

Gavin: Anything you believe could be done to make it bigger or better?

Wendy: Advertise more. There are still people out there that are surprised to learn about the event.

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

Wendy: I plan on painting throughout the end of the year and into the next to produce my best work yet. Who knows what I will find to paint, it's a constant adventure.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Wendy: Check out my work in Utah at Williams Fine Art, 15th Street Art Gallery and Coda Gallery in Park City. I am honored to be one of the 21 over 31 artists selected out of 1200 competing artists nationwide in November '09 Southwest Magazine. I am excited to be featured in the December '09 issue of American Art Collector Magazine concerning a show I have at Giacobbe Fritz Fine Art, Santa Fe in December. Also check out my website. I am looking forward to Art and Soup hosted by C.N.S. and the Anuual Plate Show at Art Access next year!

Chris Miles

Gavin: Hey Chris, first thing, tell us a little about yourself.

Chris: I grew up in Utah and like Utah and the West very much, especially for the skiing, hiking, and general natural beauty. I graduated in art from the University of Utah in 1990 and then moved to New York City, where I illustrated for magazines, book covers, and children's books. While in New York I also took some side trips into publishing a volunteer neighborhood newspaper and teaching English as a Second Language. In 2000 I returned to Salt Lake and have been doing fine art ever since. In September 2006 my wife Jeanny and I had twin girls, Maya and Annika. I still manage to paint full time.

Gavin: What first got you into art, and what were some of your early inspirations?

Chris: I really like the old Masters, such as Bruegel and Rembrandt.

Gavin: You studied art at the U until 1990. What made you choose the U, and what was the program like for you during that period?

Chris: I chose the U really for proximity. My emphasis at the time was illustration, which I also did in New York. I really enjoyed the drawing and painting classes.

Gavin: What made you choose illustration and design as your main craft?

Chris: I really like the work of many illustration artists.

Gavin: Afterward I read you went to NYC as an illustrator. What made you choose New York and what projects did you work on while you lived there?

Chris: There is very little opportunity in Utah for illustrators, and New York has the largest illustration market in the US.

Gavin: What eventually made you return to SLC to take up your own artwork again?

Chris: I got homesick for family and skiing, etc.

Gavin: What's the process for you in creating a piece, from concept to the finished product?

Chris: I start with a sketch, and develop the sketch with additional elements and sometimes do a color study. I go through many stages of refinements which I sometimes do in Photoshop these days. Then I transfer the drawing down to the final painting surface and begin painting. I continue refining things as I work on the final wood panel. I use quite a bit of photo reference throughout the whole process.

Gavin: With the care you take in doing your work, does it always come out how you envision it or are there points where you'll change it around and experiment last minute?

Chris: Mostly I plan out my paintings fairly thoroughly and when I make last minute changes they are mostly minor. Surprise and experimentation happen more in the drawing and color study stage for me.

Gavin: Tell us about the works you'll have on display for Stroll, and what your take is on 15th now being a part of the event.

Chris: The main painting I have at 15th is called Peace and Movement. This painting took over four months or 600 plus hours to complete. This is one of a series of paintings I am doing involving muses, or women with wings flying through the air with musical instruments.

Gavin: Going local, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Chris: There are many good artists in town, and a lot of interesting work being done.

Gavin: Anything you believe could be done to make it bigger or better?

Chris: Well, perhaps a more centralized promotion for the different venues and events.

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

Chris: I’m working on a series of landscapes of the Wasatch Mountains and foothills and the Salt Lake area. I’ve been taking photos for years of local landscape scenes but never gotten around to doing a series of landscapes, just one or two here and there, so I’m really looking forward to this. I did four this month which for me is a lot.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Chris: Yes! Our artist studio stroll! Rockwood Holiday Open House, Dec. 5th 2009, 11:00AM–5PM. Sugar House Business District Event. Sponsored by Westminster College & Sugar House Merchants Association. There will be Festive music in various spots, a Build-your-own-gingerbread-House Station over by Artistic Framing, Sponge Stamping for children. Rockwood Art Studios Open House, Publicity is covered in the Sugar House Journal, Free Neck Scarf and Beanie handed out to those who visit multiple merchants.

Blue Critchfield

Gavin: Hey Blue! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.

Blue: Well, I grew up in Heber City, UT in a geodesic dome that my father built. I was born February 22nd, 1979. My full name is Samuel Blue Critchfield – I chose to use Blue a few years ago because I like how the name Blue Critchfield correlates to the tension between the informal and formal elements in my work.

Gavin: What first got you into art, and what were some of your early inspirations?

Blue: My father is an artist and he taught me some drawing basics at a young age. There were also a lot of big art books around the house that I would flip through. Some of those paintings just burned themselves into my memory; such as Salvador Dali's “Civil War” painting of a fleshy formation maniacally stretching and distorting itself. As far as early inspirations, I loved to draw monsters, like a lot of kids. It's interesting because the “hybrid beast” I designed for my painting, “A Death's Head Wisdom Could Free His Hybrid Beast”, is reminiscent of many of my fish monster drawings from around the age of 3–6. I would have monster themed birthday parties where the decorations consisted solely of my monster drawings all over the walls. My sweet mom would make me Slimer from "Ghostbusters", cakes and stuff. As I got a bit older I mainly drew human figures out of my head, and stylized faces.

Gavin: You received your BFA at the U doing painting and drawing. What made you choose the U for your studies, and what was the program like for you during that period?

Blue: I chose the U of U because it was affordable. I grew up poor in the realization that I'd have to pay for college on my own. I'd also heard they had a strong, theory based foundation program. I agreed with their philosophy of focusing first on technical skill and investigating concepts later on. I enjoyed the program. Most of the professors I had are gone now; like Dave Dornan, Tony Smith, Brad Slaugh, and Paul Davis. My favorite professors were Brad Slaugh, John Erickson, and Paul Davis. I do wish that I'd been more committed to my art education back then. I allowed myself to get tangled in several messy relationships which really distracted me while I was up there. I learned a good amount, but, man, I could have seriously kicked ass and moved along much faster without all the drama. After a few breaks from school to save money for tuition bills, I finally graduated in March of 2003. I think the program could have done a much better job addressing various philosophies of art, and encouraging the students to grapple with larger issues of how artists can help shape the societies we live in for the better. To many working artist's today are contaminated with the desire for money and recognition, instead of aspiring to contribute something of higher value through exploring personal expression.

Gavin: How did you come to choose oil painting as your main form of artwork?

Blue: You know, I don't think I consciously “chose” oil painting as a medium to focus on. It was just the medium that made the most sense to me, which I'd had the most experience with. I think I enjoy doing my work alone as well; knowing that whatever I create is entirely up to me. If I'd been around film makers or installation artists growing up, I may have chosen that instead. I considered being a sculptor for a short time, and quickly knew that the process and materials would feel too cumbersome for me to translate my ideas with. I suppose that's another aspect of painting I like; that you can bring so many things into being with relative ease. Other forms of expression typically require more collaborative efforts. That being said, at this point in my progression, I'm recognizing a lot of limitations with painting. For example, when an audience experiences a film or an installation, I think there's a much higher potential for them to be impacted on a profound level. This is very hard to parallel with a painting or drawing. Seeing as how I'm not ready to pick up a new discipline, I'm currently investigating some alternative methods to maximize the impact my paintings have on my audience.

Gavin: What's the process for you in creating a piece, from concept to the finished painting?

Blue: Most of the time, ideas for paintings will flash into my mind in the form of a daydream. This can happen for me anywhere at anytime, but, most often it happens while I'm being a consumer (grocery shopping, buying gas, etc.) or while I'm involved in one of many self maintenance activities (shaving, showering, pooping, peeing, etc.). I live in a never ending stream of ideas, and it's kind of a mystery to me why I end up painting the specific ideas I do. In general though, I fall in love with an idea, for whatever reason, and just know that I have to paint it. Usually, what flashes into my mind is the backbone of the image; most often including a figure involved in some type of narrative. Eventually, the idea solidifies enough for me to begin creating the imagery I need to paint from. At this point, I've envisioned someone I know that would work in the painting and ask them to model for some photographs. Occasionally, I do some preparatory sketches as well. Once I've got that basic backbone image translated on a surface, I start to work more intuitively; I try to listen to the image as I'm working on it in case it's trying to whisper any bits of unexpected genius into my consciousness. Depending on what I hear, the painting can change somewhat from my initial vision, but it always retains it's original spirit.

Gavin: Do your paintings ever come out the way you envision them or is there a lot of trial and error on your part while designing it?

Blue: I don't like having my ideas completely spelled out and resolved before I begin working. I don't feel satisfaction from creating something when I already know exactly what it's going to be. My paintings are always the result of a balance between my conscious and subconscious experiences and feelings. So, I suppose there is some trial and error, but, in general, once I fall in love with a certain decision, I commit to it unrelentingly; almost as though I'm on a quest. I see my paintings as being a byproduct of my evolution as a human being. As I live day to day there are pressures exerted on me which cause me to feel at odds with most of what I observe in my environment. As a result, eventually paintings pop out of me; like white blood cells fighting off an infection or sickness.

Gavin: When did you decide to move into Artspace, and how is it for you being a part of that community?

Blue: I moved in there after receiving a hot tip from another artist friend of mine. Previously I had a space at Arrowpress Studios which used to be above Benihanna and Blue Iguana off of 2nd South and West Temple. My old studio was smaller and more expensive. I've always shared a painting studio with my close friend, Eric Erekson, who is a very talented fellow. Not only is he a fine painter, but a very skilled fiction writer as well. I've loved getting to know everyone in the building. I've come to really value being in the building with the likes of Travis Tanner (Tanner Frames), the Art's Festival folks, Bad Dog Rediscovers America, Art Access, James Gorac (Black Mountain Jewelry), and several others. Tanner Frames builds all my surfaces now, I used to build all of them on my own. My wife, Erica Houston (a colored pencil artist), and I have also been able to participate in Art Access's fundraiser exhibits, a few of their group shows, and also teach a workshop over this past summer. So we've definitely enjoyed being a part of the community. I must admit, though, that I am coming to long for a more isolated space to create in. Many times I have difficulty focusing in a community atmosphere; for a variety of reasons.

Gavin: You were recently involved with the 35x35 showing at Finch. How was that show for you and what works did you contribute?

Blue: It was an honor to participate in the 35 x 35 exhibit with such a committed, able, and earnest group of artists. The Utah Arts Council did a great job organizing the event. In particular, I'd like to recognize Shawn Rossiter's efforts to produce a film which consisted of a collage of interviews from most of the participating artists. I also loved that my wife and I were in the show together. I contributed two pieces: “Rest in Peace of Mind”, and “Squeaking on the Jar, My Gloves are.” “Rest...” portrays a man (modeled by Travis Tanner), cropped at his chest, dressed in a pink, lacy woman's blouse, pearl necklace, and a blue striped business tie. He has three bullets and a memory card from a computer tower sticking out of his closed mouth while he stares out at the viewer. His brain is abstracted through the use of dripped latex paint. Sitting on top of his head is a nude, plastic baby doll with a price tag stuck to it's forehead; the doll holds a bullet. The background consists of abstracted layers of earth colored in rich aqua blues, golds, oranges and browns. At the top of the composition is an image of a cemetery. “Squeaking...” displays a young ethnic (perhaps Asian or South American?) woman (modeled by Brittany Badger) anxiously awaiting to be worked on in a dentist's chair. Her mouth, which is spot lit by a work lamp, is propped open with lip clamps as her eyes nervously look up into the dentist's face (modeled by Dr. Charles Walker). The dentist is about to open a jar of teeth molds which he's holding above his patient's head. On the dentist's work tables there are other jars he's apparently been working with. The dentist is rendered in a variety of abstractions culminating in a warbly and overly anxious expression about his face which features bulging eyeballs and an eager arrangement of teeth. The young woman holds talismans consisting of snake vertebrae and feathers to help calm her fears that have apparently overtaken her consciousness.

Gavin: Tell us about the works you'll have on display for Stroll, and what your take is on 15th now being a part of the event.

Blue: I'm really glad Rebecca was able to come across my work and have such confidence in it. First off, the gallery looks amazing. When I'm inside 15th Street, I feel like I'm in San Francisco or the Chelsea District in New York. I love the decision to have an all white environment which truly allows for the work to speak on it's own accord. The lighting they've chosen to show the work in is pleasant and diffuse which minimizes any glare on the paintings. I'm really diggin' it. The gallery chose to represent a very interesting and capable group of artists who are all an honor to show with. Over all, I have very high hopes for 15th Street Gallery. Thanks to Glenda Bradley for following through with her vision for the space. The work I have on display there spans three years of progression, which I love. I feel this represents my path in a well rounded way. The six pieces there have a very wide dynamic range and, to me, the images all play a role in each others narratives and potential meanings. Some of the images there exist in a more ethereal place while others are positioned at a crazy kind of crossroads where the figures are experiencing wake up calls or beginning to question their realities.

Gavin: Going local for a moment, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Blue: I think the art scene in Salt Lake has been steadily growing for a long time. I've only been in direct contact with it for about four years, so I feel my perspective may be somewhat limited. Before that, I was holed up and trying to figure out what was important for me to express. I see a generational shift occurring, where younger artists are breathing new life into the community through a wide variety of media and interests. Obviously, organizations like the 337 Project are becoming well known and provide an independent and valuable outlet for artists in the community, and are also making art more accessible through methods like the Art Truck. Shawn Rossiter's online art-zine, 15 Bytes, has played an important role with increasing awareness about what local artists are up to. It's also nice to have some fresh blood at the Art Center downtown; it seems they've made a decision recently to include more locally based exhibits and socially relevant showings. So, I think, considering that we're a relatively small community, that we've “got it goin' on.” The only bad side I can see isn't really bad, it's just that we are smaller and still pretty insulated from a lot of the influences which make other cities a more viable breeding ground for amazing art. In a few years time it will be interesting to see where things go.

Gavin: Anything you believe could be done to make it bigger or better?

Blue: I see a lot that could be improved in the art world in general. I think that the more artists we have honestly expressing things which are important to them the better. The more art made which doesn't worry about whether or not it will sell the better. The more artists are challenging themselves and their beliefs as well as those of society, the better. The more artists we have creating work in the spirit of finding solutions to problems the better.

Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll and how its evolved over the years?

Blue: I've only been involved in Gallery Stroll for about three years, so I don't really know much about how it's evolved. I like that it happens and wish more people would participate in it. It's a great opportunity for artists, galleries, and the public to interface.

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

Blue: More and more my ideas are becoming more focused in on social, philosophical, and spiritual commentary. To be more specific, the ideas that are flashing to my mind are bigger and feel more important to me than anything I've been working on. I'm going to begin incorporating broader narratives which make use of a more three dimensional environment instead of flattening backgrounds into color fields; like so much of my most recent work has done. I have plans to make people feel more connected and familiar with the context the paintings take place in everyday places like grocery stores, shopping centers, cars, etc.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Blue: I'm going to be involved in the “Just Another Pretty Face” auction which is going to place at the Art Center downtown over the summer of 2010. I'll have new work on display at the 15th Street Gallery on a regular basis and my wife, Erica, and I are scheduled to have a show at the Art Access Gallery in September of 2010.

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