October Gallery Stroll: Paris Gerrard & Michael Ryan Handley | Buzz Blog

Sunday, October 18, 2009

October Gallery Stroll: Paris Gerrard & Michael Ryan Handley

Posted By on October 18, 2009, 3:39 AM

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Back into the Gallery Stroll we go on a crisp autumn evening. Probably the last fair weathered event we'll get this year before you'll have to start treking from gallery to gallery in coats and boots.

--- This month I made my way up near University Boulevard to Finch Lane Gallery where the local online zine 15 Bytes was holding the awards night for "35x35." Simply set up where 35 artists of different forms and styles are presented all at once along with a film documenting the ideas behind those works. This is actually the second version of the original held about seven years ago, but with any luck it will become a regular event. I took the opportunity to chat with two of the artists, painter Paris Gerrard and intermedia artist Michael Ryan Handley, about their works and the event as well as thoughts on local art. Plus throughout the interviews, their own works and samples of various other artists' work, which you can check out in full in this gallery.

Paris Gerrard


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

Paris: I call myself an artist, because that is what I do. Most of the time, I am either painting or thinking about ideas to paint. Often, I’d rather paint than go out on a Saturday night. Does that make me an art nerd? I also love learning, fashion, cooking, yoga, and spending time in nature. People call me eccentric, and I must admit, I’m not a typical 22 year old. I have always followed the beat of my own drum. I hope that’s not too much of a cliché, but it seems, I just don’t know how to do life any other way.

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

Paris: I have always been surrounded by art. My mother is an artist, as well as my grandmother. I was home schooled (against my mother’s wishes). Basically, I quite simply refused to go into the public system. I couldn’t bear the drama and angst of the junior high school scene. To be honest, I was kind of an unusual child. And probably a little bored and lonely, until art found me. I remember one day in particular, walking into my grandmother’s studio and thinking how fun it would be to paint like that. She gave me a box of pastels and a stack of paper, and I started coloring. At some point, she had the idea that I might enjoy an art class from her artist friend, the late Helen Wiscomb.

Gavin: What was your education like as far as art, and how was it for you studying under Helen Wiscomb?

Paris: Helen Wiscomb, was an amazing teacher, who helped me to see with a new set of eyes. She taught me to start seeing the world like an artist -- to relish the beauty of everyday things. Being immersed in art at such a young age has altered the way I perceive the world. I believe that I experience a kind of artist's intuition. My mind continually explores visual surroundings, noticing planes and patterns, values and edges. I have taken numerous painting workshops and college art classes to further develop my skills. I feel that art, like life, is a never-ending process of self discovery.

Gavin: Where did the decision come from to become a professional artist at just 13?

Paris: Well, I was actually only 12 years old when I sold my first painting, but of course, I was far from being a professional. Thinking back it almost sounds silly that I was just 12 and thought... I think that I’m just going to start painting and selling my art, but the first painting sold unexpectedly, and I was buzzing with excitement. Things just took off from there. It almost feels like the profession choose me. Metaphorically speaking, I was stung with the art bug. I can't actually even recall what the painting looked like, but I do remember how thrilling and enjoyable the process of creating it was. When I was sixteen, I was invited by Ashton Fine Art to have a One-Woman Show. It was a rewarding and successful event. My artwork has been shown in local art galleries such as Relics, The Magpies Nest, and Eccles Art Center, where, in October of 2007, I had a three-generation show with my grandmother, Dawna Barton and my mother, Jill Barton. That year, I was also lucky enough to get into the Meyer Gallery Student Art Show in Park City, UT.

Gavin: How is it for you working with your mother, who also is active in the art community? And has it been intimidating at all following her lead and coming into your own?

Paris: I love working with my mother (Jill Barton) We share an amazing studio at Flynn Artipelago in Millcreek. It’s nice to have someone with whom to bounce around ideas. I haven’t really ever thought of myself as trying to follow her lead or “coming into (my) own”. As I reflect though, it does seem that my style has changed drastically over the years. I used to paint more traditional style florals and landscapes--and birds. Now that I feel more confident with my skills, I am focusing on genres that I find more intriguing. I also do a lot of purely abstract work, which is something that is relatively new for me.

Gavin: What drew you to painting material like landscapes and still-life work?

I don’t actually paint a lot of landscapes or still-lifes for that matter. Sometimes I do. For me, landscapes have always been challenging. I’ve taken workshops from Ovanes Berberian and Elio Camacho, which have stoked my desire to become a great painter. They make it look so easy. Ovanes is a true master, he wields the brush like a magic wand. But, I really love doing figurative work, and that’s what I have been trying to create lately. Some of my favorite artists are making really amazing stuff-- Jonathan Viner, Audrey Kawasaki, Milt Kobayashi. and Alex Kanevsky to name a few.

Gavin: What's the process like for you working on a piece from idea to final product?

Paris: Every painting is different , but I like to think of painting like this: It’s a paradox--a process that allows me to sort through past experiences or explore uncharted emotional territory while at the same time being present in the very moment. I love the immediacy of painting, how it brings me into a direct and instant involvement with the work. It almost seems as though the painting itself is alive and active in the process. I often begin with an image that speaks to me, or if I am working abstractly, with perhaps just a feeling or color. Sometimes, I feel my work is bold and serious, sometimes it feels light, perhaps even sweet. No matter what, for me, it is an evolution that becomes a process of discovery. I love to try to recreate for others the way that I see the world.

Gavin: How are things for you with your studio at Flynn Artipelago?

Paris: I hate to admit it, but I haven’t been spending many days painting in the studio. I just got accepted into Westminster College and most of my week is busy making art in Converse 308. But, my studio is amazing. It’s old exposed brick, high ceilings, and north light. It’s really an artist’s dream, and who wouldn’t love working with their mother?

Gavin: How did you get involved with the 35x35 display?

Paris: I received a call for entries via email from 15 Bytes and thought, maybe I should give it a shot. I loved the idea of being on display with some other good artists. I think that it is always great to see what other people are doing and being a young artist, exposure is always nice.

Gavin: What pieces do you have on display, and what are your thoughts on the gallery?

Paris: I have two pieces in the show: 17th Street Regular -- 36” x 48”. This painting is a large sea foam green Vespa. I got a scooter this summer and that was the inspiration for this piece. Pocket Change -- 20” x 21” --- I did a whole series of what I call “half figures”, which were basically paintings from the waist down. This one is of a girl with yellow pants and a green bicycle. Finch Lane Gallery is a lovely space. The location is fun because it is in the city, but it feels like another world.

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

Paris: Utah has an amazingly large number of talented artists. After a recent trip, combing the NYC galleries, it made me think that for such a small state, Utah art is pretty bad ass.

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

Paris: Something about larger cities that I love is street art. Utah has some super cool stuff, but I would like to see more. I love walking down streets and seeing simple little art notes that people have left around, as well as other acts of creativity. I love graffiti. The impermanence of it all adds another dimension.

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

Paris: Gallery Stroll has grown a lot over the past few years. I think it is wonderful that local people really love and support the local art scene. I hope that within the next few years you will see more of my work out and around the town.

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

Paris: If all goes as planned, I will graduate in the Spring of 2011 with a BFA in painting and drawing from Westminster. Yeah! ...It will feel good to graduate. I hate to admit it, but I’m turing into what I would call a “super senior”. I can never quite make up my mind concerning what I’m doing, so one semester I’m in school and then next I’m not. I have such a long list of things I want to accomplish in my life. If I hear from you in the next few years or so, hopefully I will be fluent in French, traveling the world, skateboarding and painting in... possibly Prague. Oh, and I might be an Iron Chef as well.

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

Paris: I don’t have anything to plug or promote other than my website
. But, I would like to take this opportunity to honor all of the wonderful teachers I’ve had along the way. Let me wrap it up with this quote from an unknown author, “A good teacher is like a candle--it consumes itself to light the way for others."

Michael Ryan Handley


Hey Michael, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I'm a poor country boy with a hound dog.

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

My mother got me into art. I was eight. I don’t know why, but one day she took me to the local craft store for some painting lessons. I still have my first painting hanging on my wall. I didn’t have much art inspiration when I was younger. I tried to hide my artist talent and ways.

Gavin: How was it for you moving around Uath in both small and major cities?

Well, I wouldn't change a thing, but I sure as hell wouldn't want someone else to go through what my family and I went through. It was far from easy, but I learned how to observe, question, work hard, to be honesty and humble, to be kind to all people until they are not kind to you and to read people. All these things help me as an artist.

Gavin: You're currently at the U working on your BFA for Intermedia Sculpture. What made you choose that particular area, and how has the program been for you at the U?

I chose sculpture for two reasons. One being, one of my sculpture professors showed interest and made himself available to me. He didn’t suggest I go into sculpture; he just encouraged me to continue doing what I was doing. I soon found in sculpture I could pursue multiple ways of making art rather than just a few isolated ones. The second reason was that I heard laughing and saw people actually having fun while making art. I didn’t see that in the other departments. I want to laugh and smile while working. The program has been very challenging for me. It is a great facility and if you have the imagination you can do anything there. It is all up to the student. It is teaching me to be strong about my work. I do believe that by the time I leave the U, I will be extremely prepared to create, produce and defend my work.

Gavin: The majority of the pieces you do don't fit the conventional artforms people are used it. What made you decide to take your work in that direction?

For me, performance art is exactly what art is about. I love practicing other mediums, but performance pulls me out of all my comfort zones. There is nothing safe about being a performance artist. It scares me. It challenges me in ways other mediums do not and it challenges my beliefs of what art is and can be.

Gavin: How do you usually come up with a piece, and what's it like for you formulating how it will all come together?

I really don’t have a formula for the work that I do. I try to have fun. I look at everything with an artist eye, which keeps me receptive to new ideas. I just like to create. I was asked to do a site-specific performance for the 35x35 opening and the first thing that appeared in my mind were stacks and stacks of blank white paper. I had to trust myself and develop the piece from there. Which I believe looks really cool. I had never seen 32,000 pieces of paper before.

Gavin: I remember you had the untitled piece from The Pickle Company in June. How was it to be both the artist and the artwork at the same time?

I don’t really think of myself as the art piece, I am a material that is involved in making the art. The untitled piece you are referring to is the “174 Snow Angels” piece (I finally gave it a name) that is being shown in the 35x35 exhibit. I don’t believe that piece could not have been done any other way and still hold the power it does.

Gavin: What's the reaction you get from people upon seeing your works?

The majority of time people don’t know how to react. It seems people still aren’t sure about performance. I see people looking awkward and unfamiliar, which I believe makes them get defensive and reject my work as art. I’ve heard conversations like “What is it?” “I don’t know I guess it is suppose to be art!” I also see people who are so excited about it. They have ear-to-ear smiles and want to talk with me about it. When I did the 32,000 paper performance, one viewer told me “Thanks for sharing your art with the world”, which I felt was beautiful.

Gavin: How did you get involved with the 35x35 display?

A call for entries appeared in my email. I put in and they accepted all my pieces.

Gavin: What pieces do you have on display, and what are your thoughts on the gallery?

I have three pieces being show, “174 Snow Angels”, another “Untitled” piece and the site-specific piece. I’m into the gallery! The show looks beautiful. I’m down with the pieces that are being shown. I’m really excited that they brought performance in. That is a huge marker for contemporary art here in Salt Lake. Overall, it has been a great experience. I’m really excited about the Artist Of Utah folks and all their efforts in promoting the show and the artist. They have promoted in print, via web and in video. I really like the fact that they put together a video with interviews of the artist from the show.

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

Good question. Shit. I grew up in Utah and the art I saw did not make me want to become an artist. I gave up on art almost as soon as I started. All because the art that I was introduce to did not excite me and I still find that today. I’m love that people are active in making art, but I am not excited by a lot of the work that I see here.

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

There is a lot of energy rolling through this city right now and it needs to be harnessed. The Arts need to be there directing it.

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

Honestly, I haven’t made myself apart of it until recently. I do like the fact that it activates the city, I could do without the pub-crawl aspect of it though. When it comes to galleries around town, I’m not seeing the majority represent contemporary art to its fullest. I talked with a professor in music composition today and what he had to say and what I heard blew my mind. The sad thing is that I had to find the art! And I’m an artist. I don’t think people really want to play art detective. The art that we show people is the art that people recognize as being art. Lets show them more.

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

Finish up the semester, make art and hang out with my dog.

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

For sure, Jared Steffensen and the Kayo Gallery have put together something awesome. It is called “The Mixed Tape Video Series.” It is an on going event where performance and video art is shown. The first installment happened last month and exhibited work from local, national and international performance and video artist. The event was so cool I didn’t want it to end. It was rad. The next exhibit will be held in January. Brian will definitely put together a great show. Please look for it.

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