April 2011

My friend, Tony Smith, and I meet every Thursday night at the Rio Grande Restaurant. Tony is a former University of Utah art department faculty member I got to know several years back when reviewing an exhibition of his works at the Salt Lake Art Center. We, and a few other regulars, sit at a round table, sip drinks, and swap on-the-spot drawings back and forth, making changes to each others’ work until ordering dinner.

Tony is also a well-know painter throughout the Intermountain West, especially in Utah. Since retiring several years ago, he’s hardly done any painting, spending regular hours daily at his studio, making nimble drawings of whatever strikes his fancy, quite often playful commentary on contemporary society, especially goofy politicians and greedy corporations. Drawing, he said, invites immediate and spontaneous engagement of mind, hand, and paper with whatever media he’s using at the time–pen, pencil, or marker. Some of these works are quite large — others are brief gestures caught on castaway fragments of acid-free paper.

Today I read a Wall Street Journal piece by Ellen Gamerman about an exhibition of Richard Serra’s drawings that just opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Serra’s comments about his practice of drawing reminded me of Tony and his abandonment of painting for drawing, at least for now.

Drawing is “a place where I can get lost and a place where I can throw out work and a place where I don’t have to worry about what it is I’m up to,” Serra said to Gamerman during their interview. Their discussion included a reference to 9/11 and the terrorist attacks. Serra lives by the World Trade Center — the collapse of the Twin Towers and the death of thousands of people so close to his doorstep gave him a sharp perspective on life with “an expectancy,” he said, that “could be snuffed out at any minute. One’s lifespan”, he said, “is a nanosecond, and if you have a contribution to make, you better make it now.”

What better way to spend that nanosecond than with friends, finishing each others’ drawings that we pass around a circular table loaded with chips, salsa, and black bean burritos.

Speaking of circular shapes, “spiraling” is happening at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. Curator Jill Dawsey organized an exceptional exhibition, The Smithson Effect, including “sculpture, video, photography, installation, and sound art” by twenty-three contemporary artists influenced by the works and writings of Robert Smithson, best known here for his Spiral Jetty landart piece in the Great Salt Lake. Seeing the exhibition caused me to blow dust off an article I wrote for Sundance several years ago about the Spiral Jetty, found here.

The next exhibition of my work, “HOLY MOLY,” will be in June-July at the Nox Gallery in Salt Lake City. More on it next month.

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