Phillips Gallery: Reminiscing | Visual Art | Salt Lake City Weekly

Phillips Gallery: Reminiscing 

A look at 40 years of Utah art

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click to enlarge Untitled - WALDO MIDGLEY
  • Waldo Midgley
  • Untitled

Since 1965, Phillips Gallery has featured hundreds of artists—and seven of the best, all of who are now deceased, are the subject of the current show, Reminiscing. This show takes a nostalgic look back at the opening of the gallery by Bonnie and Denis Phillips, through these artists who are not only part of the fabric of the history of Phillips Gallery, but have each played a singular role in laying the foundation of Utah’s own art history.

The show represents the work of Lee Deffebach, Irwin Greenberg, Waldo Midgley, Moishe Smith, Doug Snow, Harry Taylor and Francis Zimbeaux. These names will be familiar to those well acquainted with the art of Utah’s past, but their legacy is also essential to the current vibrant and dynamic artistic momentum.

Each artist is distinctive, and each has left his or her own particular mark—a certain style or aesthetic adding to the dimensionality of the scope of this artistic progression. These artists may be viewed in a spectrum that begins with the more traditional and representative style of Moishe Smith and continues to a style that is more contemporary and conceptual, as seen with Doug Snow. This continuum can be taken into account while considering the breadth of the artistic contributions of these artists and this show, stylistically and historically.

A fine example of Smith’s work is “Venezia,” a traditional etching that is a loosely rendered scene of the Grand Canal in Venice. The etching is black and white, but far from dreary, and where it lacks color, it is full of depth and feeling for the richness of the city. The contrasts are strong, and the scene has a romantic tone that Smith—who said, “Place and time is the object of my landscape etchings”—is able to capture the mood of sensitively.

One of Utah’s great painters, Waldo Midgley, is represented by the gallery, and a selection of his works are on display from the first half of the 20th century. An excellent and endearing example is “Untitled,” which depicts a lushly rendered fishing boat docked in a harbor. Midgley was a painter who was heavily influenced by George Bellows and the Ashcan School, and the painting is accordingly thickly realized in a coarse but expressive style that gives it a characteristic look as it captures the subtle tones of color in the light of day.

Irwin Greenberg painted many urban scenes, but like the great Modernist Edgar Degas, he was also fascinated by scenes involving the ballet. In “Before the Dance,” Greenberg paints two dancers preparing for a performance aided by an assistant. The scene is light and airy, with loose and quick painterly strokes that allow qualities of the intimacy of feeling and immediacy of the moment to be felt.

A more expressive and gestural approach that is even more personal was taken by the great Francis Zimbeaux, who painted in a fluid and freehanded way. His figures border on the abstract—and some of his paintings are totally abstract—yet all have an emotive quality. “Blue Nude” is distinctly emotional, as Zimbeaux layers his strokes in a transparent manner that has a light touch yet conveys a heavy mood.

More jovial is the fantastical Harry Taylor, who created woodcut prints that are semi-abstract and decorative. Some have a primitive, mask-like quality; a woodcut like “The Carousel” has a surreal-like atmosphere. Figures in bright colors and patterns dance across the scene with riders that are only a shadow; a pale blue sky is an animated van Gogh-like atmosphere of swirls and swoops.

The work that the great Lee Deffebach provided for the gallery was always important, and her work is about color and is totally abstract. “Colors melt, bleed, merge, assert themselves, yield to other, are foils for one another,” the late artist Julie Connell once said about Deffebach’s work. “Invitations Series #15” is a bold composition of pure color. Vertical bands of every hue streak the canvas, amounting to a composition that is exciting and emotionally charged.

Finally, Doug Snow’s works are landscapes, yet are abstract and conceptual and can, he says, be described as “the sweeping power and delicate infinity.” These landscapes work on an emotional level, as well as an imaginative one. “Desert Sky Wall” is a large painted canvas of steel blue, and one can feel the heat and dry, burning intensity of the desert from the impression of warm tones he uses at the bottom.

These are all works by important artists at a show that not only reflects the significance of the past 40 years of Phillips Gallery’s role in the art community of Salt Lake City, but is a crucial representation of a collective range of Utah art history’s cultural heritage.

Phillips Gallery
444 E. 200 South
Through March 9

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Ehren Clark

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