Fest for the Rest 

The Utah Arts Festival’s new gallery creates a year-round showcase for local artists.

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Before there was an arts community in Utah as we know it today'the hip, happening, charismatic and innovative voice that it is in the 2000s'there was the Utah Arts Festival. First staged in 1977, the festival'with its added elements of outdoor marketplace and party'has served an outreach role in the area, providing people who might not usually venture into a gallery exposure to the entire spectrum of art, from visual to the performing arts. So it just seems natural that, after celebrating its 30th anniversary, the festival would take another innovative step by opening its own gallery. For better or worse, the festival for may people represents the face of the arts in Utah, partly because of the name. And while festival staff wouldn’t take that stance, the gallery is another adventurous move by the festival to support it.

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The curator of the gallery is no stranger to the festival, and no stranger especially to bringing exposure to new artists. “I’ve worked for the festival since I was 16 [years old],” Chase Leslie enthuses. “I helped put up one of the first fests on Main Street.nn

After completing her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Utah in 1990, in addition to building her own impressive body of work in painting, she has refined her eye for emerging local artists, curating a number of exhibitions at various sites. From the downtown library to New Visions Gallery to most recently coordinating the artists’ marketplace at the festival for the fourth year in a row, she has given venues to a lot of great local artists.

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Although this month’s holiday show is the gallery’s first exhibition, the festival offices have resided in this space since September. As opposed to the purely administrative function the old office served, this office is intended as a public venue. Remnants of the festival store offer mementos from years previous but, in addition, posters going back to the original year offer a visual history of how the festival has evolved. “We want to let the public know we’re open year-round, to give the opportunity to see what’s going on in the work of local artists,” Leslie explains.

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The curving contour of the interior, with administrative offices off to the side, invites you to venture in. The space feels relaxed and cozy unlike the static, hollow box of many galleries. Across the hall is the new home of Art Access Gallery, and the two organizations partner in many events.

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The artists in this first show, which premiered at the November gallery stroll, are all connected with the festival in some way. Erin Westenskow Barrett’s classically styled miniatures depict whimsical subject matter, like candies from a sampler. Her debut showing at last year’s fest garnered Best of Show, and she has also shown recently at the Art Barn. Trent Call has emerged in the last several years as one of the most conspicuous local painters (see City Weekly, Nov. 30), including the Arts Fest as an invited artist, yet he never seems overexposed due to his amazing stylistic diversity. His portrait “Tessa” is tenderly rendered, while his “Sphinx of Zion” resembles the car-insurance gecko of television, perched atop the LDS Church Office Building. Graffiti-influenced repetitive backgrounds are merely the jumping-off point for his astounding imagination.

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Tom Mulder has exhibited at the festival for years. His landscapes provide a rich color palette and classically inspired, painterly technique. In contrast, Steve Larson’s urban vistas utilize muted colors and expressionistic textures to create a postmodern patchwork of architectural structures. (Mulder and Larson have both been featured at the Arts Fest in past years). Gail Piccoli’s glasswork is the only genuinely holiday-themed work, with star shapes but also painting-like views that incorporate landscapes as well as abstract elements for singular pieces. Leslie’s own floral paintings, using a traditional oil glaze technique, combine a wonderful warmth with incredible realism. In total, these artists combined make for a finely balanced exhibit, with a wide range of styles and color palettes. In a sense, it’s like a mini arts festival in itself'a snapshot of the state of the art of painting in the state.

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At three decades and counting, the Utah Arts Festival has been one of the longest-running arts festivals in the country'and one of the most instructive as well as entertaining, with demonstrations of artists at work since its inception. Shows for next year are already planned, with the figurative paintings of Rick Graham in January, works on paper in February and award winners from previous festivals in March

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The UAF also hopes to start an outreach to area high schools, setting up a scholarship fund and giving the winners their own exhibition. “Artists are wonderful people,” Leslie believes. “Their work lives and breathes in the viewer’s eye from one show to the next. They really make an impact.nn

UTAH ARTS FESTIVAL GALLERY
nHOLIDAY SHOW
n230 S. 500 West, #120
n322-2428
nThrough December 20

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