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Gavin's Underground

June Gallery Stroll: Jason Lanegan

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2011-06-20 -
This past Friday was about as good a day as you could get. Not too hot, not too windy and no rain. But I still want to paddle a canoe down State Street. As mentioned over the weekend, SLC Fashion Stroll was the big highlight over on Broadway this past Friday, but not to be outdone, Gallery Stroll was still going strong with one of its largest lineups in a while, certainly the biggest this year.
This month, we dropped back into Art Access to check out a three-artist show featuring two of our old friends, Tim Little and Claire Taylor, along with BYU gallery director and sculptor Jason Lanegan. Today, we chat with Jason about his career and work at BYU, as well as hit artwork and thoughts on local art, plus photos of all the work on display for you to check out in this gallery here.

Jason Lanegan

Gavin: Hey, Jason. First thing, tell us a bit about yourself.

Jason: Wow, what a question to begin with. I could go just about any direction with that -- I think short and direct will do for a start. I am married with five children, I was born and raised in Washington State, and I joined the LDS faith just before my 18th birthday.
Gavin: What first got you interested in sculpture art, and what were some of your early inspirations?

Jason: I went to high school in a small rural town and art was a very generic subject. It was not till my first year at, then, Ricks Jr. College that I really understood the difference between 2-D and 3-D art. I quickly found that thinking 3-D came much easier to me and I could accomplish more working in clay than in drawing and painting so I began to lean in that direction in my studies. The first time I carved stone at Northern Arizona University sealed the deal. It was pure joy to work in steel, stone, bronze and the like. Like many, I love the work of Michelangelo, Bernini and Rodin -- their mastery of the figure is superb. I quickly began to look at others like Henry Moore, Christo, Arman, Rauschenberg and Joseph Cornell. I have a deep and residing love for tribal art: African, Native American, Polynesian, it all fascinates me.

Gavin: Education-wise, you got your BFA in Sculpture at Northern Arizona University. What made you choose NAU to start out with?

Jason: My father, sister, grandma, and I drove to Flagstaff when I was in high school; it was one of the few times that we traveled outside the state. I was so impressed with my first trip through the landscape of southern Utah and northern Arizona that I longed to go back. NAU was the only bachelors of art program I applied to. With the support of my wife, we moved and began a new adventure, after being accepted, of course.
Gavin: You also attended Eastern Washington for your degree in Art Education. What made you choose it rather than continue with Arizona?

Jason: I had worked simultaneously on a sculpture and art education degrees at NAU. I was very involved in both programs. I was the sculpture club president while participating in tutoring opportunities, a Saturday School Art program, and I was the student representative to the Arizona Art Education Association. I was encouraged to graduate by the department chair with my BFA because I was the top of my class and would be the standard bearer during the graduation ceremony. That was quite a treat for my parents as I was the first in my family to get a college degree. I learned later that when you get a bachelors degree you are no longer eligible for some grants and scholarships, so it was back to Washington where I was a resident and school would not be as expensive. It turned out to be a good move, where I received insight from a new group of instructors.

Gavin: You finished up at BYU to obtain your MFA in Sculpture. What made you choose the Y, and what was its program like for you?

Jason: I was one of those people who said that they would never attend BYU or live in Utah. The choice to attend BYU came after visiting many programs in the Pacific Northwest. I was working at Fed Ex and took the time to jump-seat down to SLC and go down to visit the campus. This was a big thing, because Cast Away had just come out in theaters and I was sure I was going to crash and be stranded on some mountain or in the desert. I was very impressed with the faculty, Brian Christensen and Bryon Draper, and even more so with the diversity and quality of work coming from the students at the bachelors level. I turned down a great high school teaching offer and an apprenticeship to attend BYU. I found the program to be challenging. I had to move beyond the creation of beautiful objects that were well-crafted to the integration of concept. I was constantly asked what it was that I wanted to say and what unique point of view did I have to offer? It was during this time that I began working with the format of reliquaries. I felt that I had found my voice and I only needed time to refine it.
Gavin: You're currently the Gallery Director up at the Y's Department of Visual Arts. How did the opportunity to join that team arise, and how has it been for you being a part of the gallery?

Jason: I absolutely love what I do. Mentoring students and helping them to do the best they can is exciting. We have great students who come up with some fascinating ideas. How did I get here? Not at any time during my education did I say to myself, “I am going to be a gallery director.” I was working at NAU as a sculpture professor and had become the director of its art museum through an unusual turn of events. I had been there two years and it was time to move on. I had applied to several positions and was the finalist on three. Honestly, BYU was not my first choice, yet when the others did not go through for one reason or another, it became clear to me where I was meant to be.

Gavin: What was it like for you first starting out and doing solo exhibitions of your work?

Jason: It is always a combination of apprehension and excitement. In a solo show, you are putting yourself out there for others to see and, truth be told, I am not generally a very open person. I put a lot into my work and I hope others can find some sort of joy, intrigue, or what ever in what they see. There will be those who do not like what I do, those who do not see anything in it. I try not to take their criticism to heart and tell myself that they are not my audience. Those who take pleasure in my work, I try to hang around them as much as I can.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a new piece, from initial concept to final product?

Jason: For one thing, it is never the same twice, I have not been good at sticking to a formula. Sometimes an object inspires me; when I see it something clicks and I know what to do with it. Other times, I come up with a great structure and build it and then go on the search for the right thing to be contained in it. Many times, it is a struggle where I fiddle around with the elements until they work together. The result is varying degrees of success. I learn from each piece and try always to push myself. I do try to keep in the back of my mind the goal of what I am making. What is it that I am trying to communicate? I pause often to reflect and see if the piece is working toward the goal I set out with. Some pieces are completed quickly and others sit on the back burner for long periods of time.

Gavin: Over the years, your style and approach to the art form has changed. To what do you attribute the changes you've made to your work and the way you display it?

Jason: I have been creating reliquaries for over eight years now. The changes in that time are due to the refinement of craft, the influence of experiences, research on many subjects, and the depth or variety of interests. I have the rare occasion to create work without any outside pressure thus far. There are no demands or deadlines save the ones I set upon myself. The only limitation that is upon me is financial; everything I create is done on a limited budget.
Gavin: Being both a gallery director and an artist, do you feel it gives you a better perspective on your own art, or creates more difficulty for yourself not to be critical?

Jason: Well, I do not have any trouble being critical. I think that comes too easy to any artist. The hard part is calling a work done and walking away from it. I do not know if my perspective is better, but I am very conscious of the influence context has on interpretation.

Gavin: Tell us about the latest works you have on display for this Stroll.

Jason: This is a series I have been working on for several years; I keep coming back to it. It is a circuitous route to use an exploration of the "American identity" as a way of self-introspection, nonetheless; it works for me. I like the outward humorous quality in the show.
Gavin: What are your thoughts about being displayed at Art Access along with Tim and Claire?

Jason: I actually do not know either Tim or Claire, but I like what I have seen of their work and look forward to meeting them. Art Access is a great space and I have seen many quality shows there. I have not done a solo show in four years and I am glad that it is at Art Access.

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

Jason: I actually live in Spanish Fork and sometimes it seems worlds away from SLC. Each time I come here, I am impressed with what I see. There is a bit of everything, from traditional to contemporary work. I do not think it takes a lot of effort to find something you like. The artists support each other very well. We just need to back it all up with those who want to purchase what they see.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Jason: I am sure there is, but I hope there are smarter people working on it because I do not have clue of what to do.

Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll as a whole and how it's doing today?

Jason: Other than a struggling market, I like how SLC has approached the stroll. They could always use more galleries, but that is an artist’s bias. I honestly need to make it up more often and participate on my end.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?

Jason: I wish I had something really cool to tell you, like I was going to swim the Great Salt Lake, climb some huge mountain, or even loose 20-30 pounds, but I do not. I am going to keep plugging along with my work while spending as much time with my family as I can. I do hope to have a new revamped Web page with all kinds of bells and whistles, up by the end of the year.

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

Jason: Yes, three things, to be exact! First, Nox Contemporary is a great space and Frank McEntire has a wonderful show up now, a must see. Second, my greatest tie to the SLC art community is through the Foster Art program, I encourage all to support it and the results will be great for all. Lastly, if you are bored in SLC, drive down to Spanish Fork and visit Confetti Antiques & Books. My good friends own the place and they allowed me to borrow many great furniture pieces for this show. You will have fun there. I always do.


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