Gallery Stroll: Birds of a Feather

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In the small town of Wangaratta, Australia, a little girl dreamed of becoming an artist. With limited access to the visual arts, she looked to the town’s single art gallery. The gallery curator paid no mind that this gallery was in a rural community: He curated to challenge and enlighten the gallery attendees. That little girl grew up to be acclaimed contemporary abstract painter Fran O’Neill.

Weber State professor and Visual Art and Design Department Chair Matt Choberka has seen many an art student come through his program, wide-eyed, full of inspiration and drive. He was once one of those budding artists, back when he attended the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture. It was during this time at the Studio School in the late ’90s that Choberka met O’Neill.

While pursuing their careers, O’Neill and Choberka have remained friends. Both participated in Pure Paint for Now People, a group show at Weber State University in Spring 2015. It was during this show that CUAC Executive Director Adam Bateman conceived a show that would team up the old friends. “Pairing Utah’s Matthew Choberka with New York’s Fran O’Neill is a great example of what we try to do at CUAC,” says Bateman. Akin to that small gallery in Wangaretta, CUAC’s early years brought the art world to the small community of Ephraim, Utah. Today, it sits in the heart of Salt Lake City at 200 South and 200 East and continues its mission of exposing talented Utah arts to the global art community and to expose Utah residents to talented global artists. “This pairing is magical,” says Bateman. “It contextualizes our local community in a broader context and provides a measuring stick for comparisons that tend to be positive.”

While both artists will be exhibiting abstract paintings, the shows were produced completely independently of each other. When asked about the fluidity of the two shows, O’Neill says, “While there has been no collaboration and each show could be considered a stand-alone exhibit, our shared education instilled a strong belief in structure and composition.” Choberka adds, “We share artistic DNA,” but he also notes the differences in their technique: “O’Neill’s work is large, physical, swooping, and performative,” he says. Meanwhile, Choberka has recently scaled back, focusing on smaller movements and paying more attention to his hands and wrists to make smaller marks: “Like handwriting, I want my marks to be very thoughtful and efficient,” he says. “This layering or accrual of marks keeps me honest about why I’m making the painting. It gives me time to figure out what I think.” Recently, politics and current events have given Choberka plenty to contemplate—his response to contemporary events feeds this new body of work.

A deeply personal, extremely relevant and epic pairing of talented artists, this show is not to be missed. The exhibition runs July 15 through Sept. 9 with a reception held Aug. 19 in conjunction with the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll.