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Gavin's Underground

Gallery Stroll: Trish Empey & Rose Park Group Exhibition

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2013-01-20 - While much of the entertainment focus was up in the hills of Park City on Friday night, down here in the valley the art scene was front-and-center with the first Gallery Stroll of 2013. Something that may come as a shock to many is that those who wish to get out of the house but not wanting to deal with the hustle that is film-fest season will spend the opening weekend going to Stroll, making it one of the most attended throughout any given year.
This year's stroll was no different, as every gallery I attended was either near-packed or at least constantly busy. Today, I'm focusing on the show at Art Access featuring a Rose Park group exhibition curated by Justin Wheatley, and Trish Empey's photographs from her volunteer years documenting Sundance. I chat with both and showcase photos of what you can find at Art Access over the next month, which you can see in this gallery here.

Justin Wheatley

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

Justin: Thanks for the interview, Gavin. It’s kind of you to consider me. I grew up in Clinton, about 30 miles north of Salt Lake. I had great art teachers in junior high and high school and decided then to be a teacher. After an LDS mission to Chile, I went straight to Utah State and graduated in 2006 with a dual degree in art and education. I interviewed at a few schools and took the first offer I got at Cyprus High in Magna. After my first year of teaching, I participated in the Japan Fulbright Scholarship Fund and traveled to Japan to study their education system for five weeks. From Japan, I went to Germany to teach a class for an art-study-abroad program run by Utah State. In 2008, I met my wife at the Salt Lake City downtown library. We live in Rose Park and we love it.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art, and what were some early influences on you?

Justin: It’s one of those things where I’ve always been interested in art. I think that my understanding of the purpose of art has changed, and my aesthetic as well, but I’ve always loved the idea of creating something new. My parents were really good at getting us out to see things. I can remember going to an M.C. Escher exhibit at the FairPark, a Norman Rockwell show at the Springville museum and a Ramses exhibit at BYU. All of those things helped me appreciate art. I’ve always been shy, and was painfully so as a child, but I still wanted to be accepted. I loved the fact that I could make a drawing and get attention for what I had done without having to actually explain it.

Gavin: You received your BFA from Utah State University in 2006. What made you decide on USU, and what was your time like there?

Justin: Things have always just fallen into place for me. If something feels right, I follow the feeling. I had planned on going to BYU my entire life but then didn’t even apply when Utah State felt like the right place. It was. The relationships I developed there continue to encourage and influence my work.
Gavin: During your time there, what drew you toward painting and mixed-media works?

Justin: There were a few important experiences I had while going to school. One was a trip to San Francisco and a visit to the studio of Ed Musante, a mixed-media artist. Ed went over his process of layering paper, pigment, and paint onto cigar boxes and I was fascinated. I also had a photography teacher who encouraged me to add an element of drawing into my photos. The biggest influence was probably Namon Bills, also a mixed-media artist, who came to Utah State as a grad student. He taught me most of the processes that I use in my work and has become a great friend. Doing mixed-media work allows me to combine my love of photography, architecture, geometry, drawing and paint.

Gavin: After USU, what made you decide to stay in Utah and base yourself out of Salt Lake City?

Justin: Salt Lake was really never really in my plans; I would have loved to stay in Logan, but I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I am here. I’ve traveled quite a bit and Salt Lake is right up there on the list of my favorite places.
Gavin: As an artist, what's the process like for you when creating a new piece, from idea to product?

Justin: It’s very intuitive. When doing a painting, I will usually start with a photograph, but I rarely have a specific end goal in mind. I’ll do several studies and choose one as a starting point, but the study and the final large piece rarely look the same. I like to joke with my students about letting their art speak to them, but I think it’s true. My faith plays an important role in my work, and I always include something that recognizes that; nothing obvious or in your face, just something that I can see.

Gavin: Do you play around with your creations a lot while forming them or do you try to stick to the original idea?

Justin: I play a lot and have started to play even more. I bought a whole bunch of new paint colors and have been forcing myself to use them. I was stuck in a color palette of reds and grays, and I couldn’t escape. This really became obvious when I had my picture taken for a show and my shirt looked exactly like the painting behind me.
Gavin: How was it for you breaking into the local art scene and earning a following?

Justin: I remember the first time someone recognized my name when I introduced myself. It was an incredible feeling. I had been in Salt Lake for about two years and still felt very green. Even more incredible was that she was, and continues to be, a respected authority in the Utah art scene. It turns out she was mistaking me for Jason Wheatley (no relation), but she didn’t tell me this at the time. I figured it out on my own and asked her about it later. When we had our BFA show at USU, a friend who is also an established artist took me aside and pointed to one of my paintings. He said, “That is shit.” An hour or two later, Shawn Stradley, who was managing Palmer’s Gallery in Salt Lake, asked if he could show the painting at the gallery. A month later, someone in California bought it. It was the first painting I ever sold through representation. It was a great feeling to be validated in what I was doing. Since then, I have been able to work with, and have been helped out by, a lot of great people. As far as a following goes, I like what you say about earning it. I’m still working on that.

Gavin: The show you have coming up features several artists from the Rose Park area. First off, what got you interested in the artwork coming out of this particular area of the city?

Justin: I was at a little gathering and started talking to Ken Critchfield and Aniko Safran; we discovered we live in the same neighborhood. I already knew that Ken’s brother, Blue, and Blue’s wife, Erica Houston, lived in the neighborhood, so the natural next step was to find out what other artists lived close by.
Gavin: What motivated you to highlight these artists, and how did the idea come about for an exhibition?

Justin: After asking around for names of artists, I invited them over for a meeting on a possible show. There were about five of us at the meeting and we began to talk about our neighborhood and why live there. Ultimately, we decided that this is what the show should be about. Ehren Clark, who writes for City Weekly and 15 Bytes, mentioned that Rose Park is drawing a growing number of creative types, so the show reflects this, as well. I like the thought that Rose Park is becoming the creative heart of Salt Lake City.

Gavin: Tell us about the artwork on display for this Stroll.

Justin: Though the main idea for the show is what has brought so many artists to such a small area of the city, it is completely open for interpretation by the participating artists. There will be a variety of media, including painting, photography, graphic design and even some sound installations by Ken Critchfield that I’m pretty excited about.
Gavin: How has it been for you and the others working with Art Access for this showing?

Justin: I can’t say enough about how great Art Access is. They were quick to embrace the idea of the show, and I think that is because they are completely invested in our community.

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

Justin: The art scene isn’t huge, but the quality is excellent. There are a wide variety of galleries and nonprofits that foster a healthy art-making culture. The UMOCA is doing amazing things. 15 Bytes, the online magazine that covers art in all of Utah, is about as good an art publication as you can get. There are a lot of people and spaces pushing the envelope -- Nox Gallery comes to mind; John Sproul has created a beautiful space for any type of art to take place.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Justin: I think the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art is taking positive steps in becoming more community-oriented. It is great that they are doing more to embrace the talent that exists here. The Museum of Art at BYU has also done some incredible things. What I would really like to see is an institution in Salt Lake challenge the Spring Salon in Springville. It’s hard to believe that the premier show in the state is clear down past Provo. We need a huge juried show in SLC.

Gavin: Who are some local artists you like checking out or recommend people should look for?

Justin: Curtis Olsen is creating some incredible work in Park City. Here in town, I’ll go with the first 10 who come to mind: Paul Vincent Bernard, Linnie Brown, Jeff Juhlin, Adam Bateman, Duston Todd, Namon Bills, Stephanie Dykes, Tom Aaron, Sandy Brunvand, and Aaron Bushnell are all artists worth looking at. I’m sure I’ll think of another 10 who I wish I would have mentioned.
Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll and the work they're doing to promote local art?

Justin: Gallery Stroll is what keeps the art scene going. For example, every month I get together with a group of friends for the stroll and then we meet afterwards for an art critique. It’s a shot of artistic energy that keeps us producing work. The only thing that could make the stroll better would be if it could actually be a stroll instead of a drive. The galleries are so spread out that it’s difficult to make it to all of the good shows in one night. We need a set arts district.

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

Justin: This year will be my busiest yet. In February, I’ll have a piece in the Kayo 12” x 12” show. In April, I have a solo at USU Eastern and some work in a show called That Thing You Hate at the Alice Gallery. June is the 300 Plates show at Art Access. In August, I’ve got a solo exhibition at Finch Lane that is all about Salt Lake City. I’ve been exploring all of the neighborhoods in the city for the past six months in preparation for that one and I’m really looking forward to it.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Justin: Art itself. As an art teacher, I see firsthand the continuing battle of keeping art relevant. It’s kind of scary -- understanding art starts in school. The majority of my students will not pursue making art after high school, but they will be a part of our community. And they will appreciate art if I have any say in it. It is getting more and more difficult for students to take art classes. The less students taking art, the less relevant it becomes to everyone.


Trish Empey

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

Trish: I'm a Virgo and I like long walks on the beach.

Gavin: What first got you interested in photography, and what were some early influences on you?

Trish: Photography was in my blood early on. I was very visual as a kid. I was always observing people in their environment.
Gavin: You received your BFA in photography from the University of Utah. What made you choose the U, and what was its program like for you?

Trish: The U wasn't my first choice, it was simply the most practical choice at the time. My dream was to study out of state, but financially it wasn't happening. The art department at the U ended up being some of the best years of my life. The photography department was small but fulfilling, and rewarding for me.

Gavin: How did the decision come about to go freelance and work for yourself and occasional clients?

Trish: The decision came about when I was working at a hair salon and I asked the owner if I could hang my photographs on the "shampoo wall" where customers had their hair washed. As they would lean back in the chair, they would be forced to look at my work. I thought it was a fine, little scheme at the time. I continued promoting my business and, eventually, I quit my job at the salon and started out on my own.
Gavin: For your own personal choice, do you prefer traditional film or digital, and why?

Trish: I love love love film and always will. It is what I know and it is how I see through the camera. I resisted digital for a long time but it offers amazing possibilities and it is here to stay. That being said, I use both film and digital, but I am still old school when it comes to my relationship with film.

Gavin: What kind of equipment do you shoot with for your main body of work?

Trish: I shoot mainly with Nikon and I love medium format. I also play with old cameras and plastic cameras now and then.
Gavin: With a lot of your work being done with people in-motion or at events, what is it like for you trying to figure out the best shot and get it in time?

Trish: It depends on what kind of time frame you have in any given situation. It can get quite stressful when you only have moments to get a shot. I prefer to have more time with my subject.

Gavin: How did you first get involved with snapping pictures at Sundance, and what was it like for you heading up every year and taking those photos?

Trish: I was a volunteer at the festival for many years and, eventually, I began shooting. I worked with a few film crews doing interviews, and various magazines throughout the years. My gigs would vary from year to year. The energy at the festival is quite intense and can eat you alive. Each year, more and more press showed up on the scene. When I found myself being elbowed in the face by other photographers in the press line, I realized that my "access" to filmmakers and actors had been forever changed.
Gavin: What was it like for you forming T.H.E. and putting together your own studio here in Salt Lake City?

Trish: It was incredibly liberating. There is nothing like the freedom of working for yourself. When I first started my own business, the industry wasn't nearly as competitive as it is today. It was a very male-dominated profession when I began working as a freelance photographer. That pushed me to work even harder. I am used to the male ego; I have four brothers, after all.

Gavin: With the various forms of photography you do for art and clients, what's it like for you balancing the two and constantly being creative on multiple levels?

Trish: I find it quite easy to balance the two because I won't take a job that doesn't allow me to express my style and allow creative freedom. Hopefully, this is what a clients want when they hire me. Unfortunately, most people today hire a photographer without knowing anything about their work. They typically go for the photographer who is the least expensive.
Gavin: Tell us about the photographs you have on display for this Stroll.

Trish: The photographs on display are from black-and-white negatives and cover a 10-year span from the film festival, 1993-2003. The images convey a less polished era of Sundance. These images exude grit and authenticity. They were the glory years, in my opinion.

Gavin: How has it been for you working with Art Access and displaying these photos so near to the festival?

Trish: Art Access has been amazing to work with. They have been incredibly supportive and helpful. They do amazing things for artists and our community. Art Access is an huge asset here in Salt Lake. I think the timing of this show is perfect. Hopefully, people will take a moment from the festival to reminisce through these photographs.
Gavin: Going local, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Trish: I am amazed at the talent here locally. There is such an array of visual arts, performing arts, film and music. When I travel, I often find myself defending my little town from people who think that we all live on a big farm here in Utah. The first thing I always mention is what a strong art scene there is here.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Trish: I think you are doing just that with your interviews. Giving an inside look at the artists is a great way for the viewer to see beyond what is hanging on the wall.
Gavin: Who are some local artists you like checking out or recommend people should look for?

Trish: I would check out my fellow peeps from Rose Park who are showing as a group in the Art Access main gallery along with my show. They are spectacular artists. I would also keep your eye out for my uber-talented brother and painter, Eric Empey.

Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll and the work they're doing to promote local art?

Trish: I think "they" are doing a great job promoting local art.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?

Trish: Fabulous and spectacular things!

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

Trish: Not at the moment, but you will be the first to know.


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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // February 14,2013 at 16:26

the show was grand. i went down by myself and just sat ---taking it in --in the silence.  

my sister Trish's photos truly moved me. She's a talented woman and I respect her and all the artists that contributed to that show.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // January 22,2013 at 17:31

Captions under the photographs would be much appreciated. It would be nice if the artists who are not Trish or Justin got credit for their work that you've included in the article.

 

 
 
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