Mariah Mann Mellus. Photo: John Barkiple

It is with the utmost respect for SLUG Magazine, the staff and management that I pen my final Gallery Stroll column. I did not come to this decision lightly. It was with careful consideration, based solely on my growing personal commitments. It has been an honor to write this article for 16 years, but it is time for me to step back and open up space for the next generation of art enthusiasts to share their perspectives on this vibrant art scene.

It’s been a long ride, begging the question: How did I get here?

The year was 2000. Despite speculation, the world didn’t end, the lights didn’t go out in the city and the only walking dead on the streets were people leaving the after-after party. A charismatic, tenacious and genuine young woman named Angela H. Brown had just purchased the local counterculture publication, SLUG Magazine. Angela and I met in the hallways of the Artspace Rubber Company, an apartment complex designed to provide affordable housing for artists. From 1997 to 2004, the building and my fellow tenants were my Camelot—a place where dreams came true, a breeding ground for inspiration and an incubator for creativity.

Unbeknownst to me, my interview took place one evening as I escorted Angela and friends to a few of my favorite Gallery Stroll stops. By the end of the night, I was offered a position as the monthly gallery reviewer. I have never claimed to be an artist, and for the first few years, I didn’t even claim to be a writer. My qualifications for this job included crafting an argument, rallying people to action and digging up information—all things that have proven extremely helpful in orchestrating this column over the years.

When I began this journey I couldn’t have imagined, the opportunities I’d have—from intimate meetings in artists’ studios to interviewing the Chairperson of the National Endowments of the Arts, Jane Chu. The personal and professional growth has been invaluable. I have a mantra: “Do something that scares you every day.” Some days writing this article was scary, fighting to find the words, always concerned with ensuring that my interpretation matched the motives and  message intended by the artist. Through it all, this community has remained loving and accepting.

A lot of changes have taken place. Galleries have closed and more have opened. I’ve watched as once-emerging artists solidified themselves in permanent art collections and are now mentoring the next generation of artists. I can honestly say that I have never seen Utah’s commitment to art waver. A curt but wise friend of mine once said, “The goal is to become unnecessary.” Not that I can claim any credit for our thriving Gallery Stroll—I’m just one voice—but I know people will take up where I leave and will continue to promote the richness of our art offerings. Always sign up for gallery newsletters. They will keep you in the know.

I’d like to thank Angela Brown for believing in me, to the artists who trusted me with their stories. You inspire me beyond words. To the art galleries: You truly are the scaffolding that holds the art community together—thank you!

My favorite quote is from Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Take the risk, raise your voice, find your tribe, create something you can be proud of! I haven’t closed the door on writing for SLUG. I hope to collaborate on projects when time allows, but for now, and for the last time as your Gallery Stroll columnist, Mellus OUT!

Posted in Art.
Artist Blake Palmer's evocative, multimedia pieces will be on show at Fice Gallery for November's stroll.

“What kind of art do you like?” This question comes up frequently in my social, home and career circles. The answers run the gamut. Some even say they don’t like art at all. Not your thing? To that, I say impossible—you just haven’t found your niche.

So, where do you go when you want to curate your individual art experience? Salt Lake Gallery Stroll gives the public an entrance point to the local art scene, allowing the customization of your art-viewing experience. Some months, I choose soothing and calm shows; other times, I seek shows that will enlighten and challenge my school of thought. The best part about Gallery Stroll is that you get to choose what you want to see. A variety of galleries, shops and businesses participate in the stroll, and shows range from the traditional to the avant-garde. Salt Lake City’s November Gallery Stroll takes place on Friday, Nov. 18 from 6–9 p.m. This month, you’ll find me at a less traditional gallery space, Fice, on 160 E. 200 S., featuring the latest work from artist Blake Palmer.

Fice has participated in the monthly Gallery Stroll since opening in 2008. It’s a place where urban music, art and fashion seamlessly combine to create a high-energy, progressive atmosphere. As an active person who enjoys exploring the city and Utah’s rugged terrain, Palmer has been a longtime fan and patron of the store, and like the man, Palmer’s art supports and harmonizes with Fice’s atmosphere flawlessly.

Using a combination of photography, Xerox transfers, graphic design and line drawing, Palmer pays homage to the Bauhaus art movement, layering styles and shapes upon familiar scenes like industrial spaces and wilderness landscapes. Also a fan of Dada, Palmer rejects the conformity and branding of art, opting to leave his work untitled, promoting ambiguity and thus requiring personal refection from the viewer.

As I view Palmer’s work, I’m transported to sunny California, weaving around the industrialized city on a skateboard or a BMX bike, looking for natural half pipes, rails to grind and blank canvases. In another art piece, I feel the crisp mountain air as it fills my lungs with the smell of pine and the sunlight flickers through the trees. “Just like a song will mean something different to each person based off their experiences, I hope my art means something new to each of you,” says Palmer. “My favorite thing at a show is to sit back and listen to everyone make up their own stories and conclusion about the work.”

Come and make up your own conclusions and enjoy your very own Gallery Stroll experience. A list of many of the local galleries are available at gallerystroll.org, but not all participating galleries or Gallery Stroll stops are officially affiliated with the Gallery Stroll association. Keep your eyes peeled, get on your favorite gallery email lists and always pick up a copy of SLUG for my favorite places to stroll.

Posted in Art.
Local photographer Lynn Hoffman-Brouse will be one of the artists featured in Art Access’ The Dreamers Project.

Strolling the city streets in downtown Salt Lake has changed since I began writing this column 16 years ago.  In 2000, the economy was on an upswing and the Gateway District had begun to gentrify west of the old 400 West railroad tracks. A slew of galleries lined West Pierpont, creating a street-fair feeling every third Friday of the month for Gallery Stroll. The pinnacle of this art euphoria was one hot July night when the suspended sidewalk buckled under the pressure of too many art patrons. Today, galleries are still thriving, but we don’t have that same centralization of Gallery Stroll participants. Galleries are spread out, and those west of 400 West particularly struggle with foot traffic. One thing that the art community as a whole can pride themselves on is fortitude. Galleries and artists don’t just move when the neighborhood struggles—they just dig in their heels. Art has a way of sprouting up where it’s needed most: a mural under the overpass, the walls of a homeless shelter, a community in need of reconciliation.

This month, I’ve chosen three galleries to highlight that continue to bring light, beauty, inspiration and acceptance into our beloved Downtown area. Each gallery is equipped with ample parking, should you choose to drive between your stroll destinations.

Everyone has a story, and while we know that our own story twists and turns, it’s easy to compartmentalize and make assumptions when it comes to others. Art Access recently launched an expansive multimedia program, The Dreamers Project, to engage Salt Lake’s migrant community to tell their stories in the hopes of “expanding cultural knowledge, sensitivity and humility in the Salt Lake community,” says Sheryl Gillilan, Executive Director of Art Access. October’s show will feature the work done during the Dream in Pictures Family Art Studio at Escalante Elementary, led by Megan Hallett. Students worked within their family to tell their stories and strengthen the generational bonds through visual storytelling.  In the Art Access II Gallery, also located at 250 S. 500 W., you’ll be treated to the Third Annual Veterans Exhibit. Veterans were invited to submit work either done during Art AccessVeteran Art Workshops or work done independently. For more information and for a complete list of Art Access services, please visit accessart.org.

Rio Gallery, located at 300 S. Rio Grande St., is housed in the beautiful and historic Rio Grande Depot, and is a place where tradition and new ideas converge. October’s show features the best and the brightest designers Utah has to offer. The DesignArts 16 show, juried by designer Jim Childress, features creations by 18 designers, whose work ranges from lighting concept and housewares to athletic equipment. For more information, visit heritage.utah.gov.

The Urban Arts Gallery, located in the Gateway shopping district at 137 Rio Grande St., thrives on the energy of the city. This contemporary space is fun and flexible, hosting playful exhibits with plenty of audience participation. In October, celebrate artificial intelligence and random freakiness with Monsters and Robots. The show will run Oct. 3–30, with a special Gallery Stroll costume contest party on Oct. 21. For more information, visit
urbanartsgallery.org.

This month, I encourage you to look around and see the beauty, the possibilities and the commonalities, and to celebrate and respect our differences. Art is a great equalizer. Stand tall with an open heart and mind and go for a stroll.

Posted in Art.
Fletcher Booth. Portrait by Trent Call

Some people just have a calmness about them—you know the type: They know who they are, have nothing to prove, and are a steady hand—a rock in a storm. Fletcher Booth is that kind of person. Many only get to see Booth as the doting boyfriend and now-husband to the dynamic Angela Brown, Executive Editor of this very magazine, as well as Executive Director of Craft Lake City. Yes, while Booth is quieter than some of us uber enthusiastic “scene makers,” he continually makes powerful ripples in the art community personally and professionally. Unfortunately, Booth’s humble, nonchalant attitude means that, unless nosey friends and writers publicized Booth’s show, opening Sept. 16 at God Hates Robots, no one would know what they were missing.

Booth is an artist, whether it’s as a scholar, a professor, a curator, a creator or an installer. He’s taught at Weber State and the University of Utah, and he currently spends his days with the Utah Arts Council, negotiating and placing pieces of art around the state, from larger cities to rural communities, giving people access to a massive art collection from a variety of artists. This placement and handling of art and artifacts can be quite gratifying. “I feel connected to art every day,” says Booth. “I think that might be why I haven’t felt the need to have my own show recently—I see so much art, it’s like, ‘Do we really need more?’”

Mostly known for his large-scale paintings of authoritarian figures, Booth’s last solo show, in 2004, rocked the art community when some of the pieces were censored for content. Booth once again went with the flow, moving those pieces to another location. His works play with metaphors and symbolism, but his ambiguity leaves the viewer to create their own dialogue. He doesn’t make excuses or apologize for the content. My first experience of seeing Booth’s work on display was a solo show at Weber State University in 2001, where he was teaching at the time. The exhibition, titled Head, was a series of large-scale paintings featuring strong and fierce-looking men. The paintings hung around the room, standing tall over my 5’3” frame. To counterbalance these large pieces, Booth also made a small run of women’s panties with the show’s artwork portrayed on the crotch, taking the attendees from feeling overwhelmed and powerless to nonthreatening and playful. To the dismay of my husband, I currently own two pairs!

Given the past content of his work, one would think that Booth’s upcoming show would reflect the world’s current political and societal stresses. “I was thinking of calling it Shit Show to reflect the current state of the world,” jokes Booth. But life hasn’t been so bad for Booth. As of last year, he married the love of his life, Brown; they adopted an amazing and obedient dog, Hondo; he has the house, the car and a good, creative job—all the benchmarks he envisioned as a young man looking toward his future. “I feel like I won at the game of life, so I’m calling this show Victory. Angela has brought a sense of optimism to my life. I don’t think I was a pessimist before, but more of a realist, and she has taught me how to see the potential in things.” I don’t want to say this show will be a departure from his normal art, because that sense of playfulness has always been a component in his work. Booth did an excellent job of shirking any requests about the show specifics, but I’ve been promised the “biggest, silliest” show he could think of. “I showed my wife these ideas, and she loves them, then laughs,” says Booth. “That’s all I need. Any criticism or complaints are just jealousy—Victory.” For more information on this and upcoming shows at God Hates Robots, visit godhatesrobots.com. Victory’s opening reception will take place on Sept. 16 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Posted in Art.
Fran O'Neill's "Wash Me Down" will be on show at CUAC through Sept. 9.

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.

Posted in Art.

Painting by Rob Adamson

Fresh air is often credited for calming the nerves, sparking ideas and recharging the mind, body and soul. It’s no surprise that creatives would gravitate to this easily accessible muse. A technique known as plein air painting takes the artist out of the studio and into the environment of their  subject. Master artists like Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were plein air painters. The term is derived from the French phrase, “en plein air,” meaning “open air.” Armed with a canvas, brushes, a field easel—or better yet, the collapsible French box easel, which has compartments to store paint and brushes that conveniently straps onto one’s back—a plein air artist can paint literally anywhere, from the rolling countryside to the deep woods, from riversides to the sides of the road.

Catching these artists in the act of scenic painting could be a full-time hobby, but luckily for you, on July 15, the Plein Air Painters of Utah will create and exhibit their work at the 15th Street Gallery. Artists will arrive between 3 and 4 p.m., check in with the gallery and then venture out into the neighborhood around 1500 East and 1500 South. “This neighborhood is incredibly friendly and welcoming,” 15th Street Gallery Art Director Lucy Heller says. “The residents and the businesses get very excited to have the artists here. They are proud of their neighborhood and their homes, and they love opportunities to showcase this community and engage with the artists.” The small business district known as 15th and 15th is abuzz from the early-morning bagel runs at Einstein’s to the Friday-night live music on the patio of Caputo’s on 15th. Combine the energy of a bustling community, light flickering through tree-covered streets and what most would call a rare glimpse of the American dream—only Mother Nature could stage this perfect kind of scenery.

The Plein Air Painters of Utah is a member-based organization with a mission to “create, promote and educate the public regarding plein air painting while strengthening the camaraderie and carrying on the traditions of painting in the outdoors.” Membership in this group is regulated by an internal nominating process by practicing professional plein air artists. Needless to say, the work produced by this organization is of the highest caliber, and while one look at their Facebook photos will tell you that they have fun doing what they do, they are also very serious about their craft. Currently, their membership includes just under 40 of the best and most prolific plein air painters of Utah. This year, joining the event will be the 15th Street Gallery’s own artists, many of whom produce plein air works along with their studio pieces. Artists working side by side will create pieces throughout the evening as the sun sets. Finished work will be available for view and purchase inside the gallery.

This month’s pick is the embodiment of what Gallery Stroll is meant to be: a breath of fresh air. For a complete list of Gallery Stroll participants, peep the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll Association website at gallerystroll.org.

Posted in Art.

Photo: William Milner

Salt Lake City’s inner art community feels like an extended family, but for reasons that I don’t completely understand, artists outside of the Downtown sanctum are detached from the group and are often, albeit unintentionally, marginalized. Artist and scenemaker Andrew Ehninger identified the need to rectify this inequality and founded Salt Lake City Artists on Facebook. Ehninger, along with a few of his peers, passed the invite along. Three weeks later, the group has 500-plus members. To capitalize on this movement, the group began discussing collaboration opportunities. This discussion quickly turned to community impact and common good, and it became the genesis for Stranger In A Strange Land, a group art show to be held on June 17 at Mod-a-go-go to benefit the International Rescue Committee of Salt Lake City, which serves the Utah refugee community.

The International Rescue Committee of Salt Lake City supports refugees from around the world who are invited by the U.S. government to seek safety and freedom. They provide resources for housing, education and community integration and development. Utah, even with its oddities, can seem like a relatively normal place to live. The job market is good, homes are in line with wages, liquor laws are—while frustrating—still manageable. IRC of Salt Lake City not only provides sustainable resources like food, water and health care, but they also provide vital mental health counseling and resettlement support in navigating this unfamiliar land.

Strangers in a Strange Land features over 20 artists, many of whom have deep roots in social justice and human rights work. Cat Palmer will be one of those participating artists. Her work to shed light on female reproductive rights and inclusion of all humans has won her several awards and widespread recognition. Craig Fisher is well-known in the refugee community for his work in the Healing Through Art program, run in conjunction with the Holladay Arts Council. Fisher’s piece for his show turns the focus on to the military forces, many of which are dropped into unfamiliar territory and left to navigate their way in a strange land. While several of the pieces in this show will tackle the theme straight on, artists are given the flexibility to work within and around the theme as they see fit.

How can you help? A departure from a traditional exhibition, this show will be displayed and sold as a silent auction. Each piece of work will have a minimum starting bid to allow the viewer’s generosity to flow. This is a unique opportunity to purchase art, likely discounted from its market value, while simultaneously supporting an incredible, deserving human-rights organization.

A complete list of artists can be found at SLUGMag.com. These 20 artists deserve a round of applause for banding together for a common good by donating their time and talents for this show and silent auction. Their efforts echo the words of early film and stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, who said, “Life engenders life; energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.”

Utah is fortunate to have so many kind, generous, talented and passionate people. Please enjoy the rich humanities our community has to offer and take time to go for a stroll.

Posted in Art.