Chaos Club | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Chaos Club 

Shawn Rossiter’s “Tiamat” gives epic form to mythology and history.

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During the Sept. 22 Salt Lake Gallery Stroll'generally abuzz with drinks and conversation'at one gallery, the art actually held center stage. But then Shawn Rossiter’s “Tiamat” is one of the deepest, most multi-faceted works of art produced by any local artist in recent memory.

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At 5 feet tall by 90 feet long, the pastel and charcoal drawing'encircling the entire west gallery of the Art Barn'is large enough to take in the epic scope of history, mythology, religion and politics. Tiamat was the Babylonian goddess of chaos, and Rossiter draws from mythology and religious texts as far back as The Epic of Gilgamesh'the first known work of literature'to inform his imagery in a dazzling patchwork of figures that depicts a revision of the tangled web of multiple religions’ creation myths.

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Simultaneously, it comments on the postmodern act of storytelling as revisionism, and even current events. Present-day Iraq is on the site of ancient Babylon, the warrior Marduk trying to subdue Tiamat might be symbolic of George Bush, and the minotaur and labyrinth of mythology suggest the present quagmire in the region. Creation is bound up with the origin of evil, which complicates things incredibly.

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If you get the idea that the work is dense and full of chaotic energy, just gaze at it for a while. It isn’t that it’s impenetrable so much as it is thought-provoking. Figures start to work their way out of the surface and suggest themselves to you, struggling to emerge from the background context in which all is enmeshed. You might find yourself rapt in the act of interpretation. For instance, I noticed a section that seemed to recall God touching the hand of Adam in the Sistine Chapel, but Rossiter pointed out that it was actually from Tintoretto’s rendering of the Greek mythical characters “Ariadne and Dionysus,” the former giving Theseus the thread to trail through the puzzle and escape the bull. The multitextuality of his work should be no surprise, given that Rossiter actually got his bachelor’s degree in comparative literature from BYU, and his art is self-taught.

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The madness to his method implies the conceptual nature of the work even more. Furthering the theme of revision, Rossiter is allowing people to select sections of the work they want to purchase to cut out after the show comes down for $50 a square foot. You can scope out which sections are still available'and even make comments'on the “Chaos Club” link at ShawnRossiter.com. Rossiter himself doesn’t want to suggest interpretations; rather, let people formulate their own. Instead of reading about what the work is “about,” you can read about his artistic process, which includes somehow fittingly, finishing the work just hours before the opening.

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He had second thoughts about letting people cut it up, but believes that the process, in his words, will provide “a sense of release, completing the process, like Buddhist sand paintings” that are carried away by the wind. On yet another level of interpretation, his selling process forces people to confront their feelings about the commodification of art versus the mythic ideal of its spiritual nature and look at their own roles as observers of it.

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The reaction has been strong since the opening night, before a single foot had sold. “It’s one of the most unique exhibits we’ve ever had,” says Kim Duffin, assistant director of the Salt Lake Arts Council, which houses the gallery, “partly because of the process and the historical value of the imagery. Shawn is a remarkable artist and makes an amazing contribution to the community.nn

In addition to Rossiter’s own artworks, his contribution also takes the form of the 15 Bytes newsletter, a local artists’ resource at ArtistsOfUtah.org. “Utah has a high caliber of artists, but sometimes we don’t take ourselves seriously enough,” he maintains. “I thought if I brought people together, interesting things would happen.” Like the images that collide in his own work.

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SHAWN ROSSITER
TIAMAT
through Nov. 3
Finch Lane Gallery
54 Finch Lane
Reservoir Park
596-5000.

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