Author: Rheanna Sonnichsen

Aaron Wallis

Upon entering Mestizo’s coffee shop and art gallery, I was in search of Aaron Wallis, the artist that was showing that evening. I was surprised to find that Aaron Wallis was a tall white man in a vintage baby blue suit, a tie and a bandana wrapped around his head who greeted me with a firm handshake and an eagerness to tell me about his well-executed traveling art exhibit he calls The Street Bible.

 

Aaron Wallis is one of those artists that makes you want to buy a house full of his artwork when you meet him because of how he instantly deflates any preconceived notation that well-educated artists are pretentious. Wallis’ Street Bible artwork is like looking at Baroque-style, gold-leaf haloed, filigree-framed, Louvre-inspired images that are historically reserved for holy Roman Catholic Church deities. Wallis said, “The early Christian martyrs were regarded as criminals by the Romans, and I don’t think it’s a complete stretch intellectually to say the criminals of today may be thought of differently in the future.” Wallis instead honored socially defined criminal titans such as the Black Panther leaders, rappers and cultural icons as neatly block print/screen print/intaglio-designed images that elicit one to question our beliefs about the corruption of our political and religious systems. “As a kid, everything I needed to know about life I learned from gangsta rap,” said Wallis. “It was how I found out about reality. … I wanted to do something that addressed relevant issues … getting closer to this core idea of counter-culture sainthood and deification.”

 

Aaron WallisHis strong political views made me want to know where Wallis lives (Jackson, Wyoming) where he was educated (Richmond, Virginia), where he creates his artwork (San Diego, California) and why in the hell more Utah artists aren’t slapping people in the face with neatly framed, politically charged, vibrantly colored pieces that make the viewer reflect on how our culture considers radicals and criminals. Wallis reinstates this idea of the American justice system: “In America, we now have this cyclical system of cops abusing their power, a lack of opportunity created by the greed of corporate America, and a for-profit criminal justice system that only represents the interests of the wealthy,” he said.

 

Aaron Wallis is comfortable talking about difficult topics. “My dad was one of the producers for the 700 Club and worked for the Christian Coalition the year Gingrich took over Congress,” Wallis said. “The adoption of religious iconography is, I suppose in some way, an attempt to deal with my incredibly fucked-up childhood in Christian schools. I have a profound sense of social isolation even still from being trapped in that kind of religion against my will.”

 

Wallis’ artwork will be hanging in Mestizo’s gallery for the next six weeks. I highly recommend swinging by, purchasing their amazing white chocolate cayenne mocha, spending some time digesting an art exhibit where a visiting artist grew a pair and voiced their views on our questionable societal, political and religious beliefs. More artwork from Aaron Wallis can be seen here and on Instagram at @aawallis.

Posted in Art.

Whoa, man .. It’s like they’re moving! Photo: Cody Kirkland

My Grandma always warned me to steer clear of those pot-smoking artist types who listened to Led Zeppelin, had black light posters on their walls, and a lava lamp somewhere in the corner of their room. She said they were lazy draft dodgers who lacked personal hygiene and they were the singular reason birth control was invented. She also said that the Jews had control over all of the world’s money, that you could kill chigger bugs if you covered your legs in clear nail polish, and that shooting deer directly off of her porch was hunting. She meant well, bless her heart, but needless to say she wasn’t always correct in her senile thinking. I would definitely have to disagree with her in regards to black light posters and those who owned them are part of the reason the pill was created. It is common knowledge that the Beatles’ music and their reference to “holding hands” is why the pill was created, not the music of Led Zeppelin or Robert Plant’s bare chest with those wonderfully tight pants.

No one coming to see the Copper Palate Press Black Light show last Friday for Gallery Stroll was wearing love beads and ball-hugging bell bottoms, unfortunately. I certainly didn’t see a lava lamp tackily placed in the corner of the room, no incense was burning and I’m pretty certain no one was carrying a Vietnam-era issued Canadian passport. However, I think someone mentioned going on the pill when the DJs played “Strawberry Fields.” Brian Taylor and Cameron Bentley, who both oversee the art shows and events that take place at Copper Palate Press were among those who participated in the show, as well as the geniuses who put on the black light show. Taylor enthusiastically commented, “I have always been into black light posters and glow in the dark images … It was something I always wanted to do and show them off to the public as well … Playing around with black light posters makes you feel young and juvenile.”

Besides Taylor and Bentley, several additional artists took part in the show including Robin Banks, Evan Jed Memmott, Trevor J. Dopp, John Andrews, Dave Boogert, DUSK, Sri Whipple, Michael Walton and Meg Charlier. The theme that Taylor created for the participating artists was for each artist to choose a band and screen print a black light poster about said band—some of the artists stuck to the theme and others went their own direction. The idea also molded into a collection of several artists’ versions of the quintessential psychedelic black light poster. One of my personal favorites was Dopp’s screen printed neon-colored layers of cuttlefish which he titled “Cuttle Puddle.” I can’t think of a better version of cuttlefish hanging on my wall that are not only illuminated in black light and printed in 3-D, but also makes you feel like the ocean just gave you a soft kiss on the lips.

Charlier contributed to the show by printing a band poster for the much-anticipated reunion show for the local band Vile Blue Shades at Urban Lounge this upcoming Halloween. The image depicted a part-horse, part-human covering her breasts and the head was made up of three hands spelling out the initials “VBS.” Charlier commented on why she chose to take part in the black light show: “The black light show has been a fun tradition of Copper Palate’s,” she said. “Really grateful to those guys for being so fun and creative.” Whipple busted out his signature smooth painted strokes to create what looked like a black light cloud without linking a band name to his poster. He instead opted to create what looked black light cotton candy on paper. DUSK and Dopp did a collaboration piece of a cat on its back playing with a desk lamp’s power cord that seemed to be one of the most popular of the pieces based on the fact that a cat playing with a lamp cord is fucking adorable and something most people could watch for hours.

Taylor and Bentley wanted to experiment with different inks, as Taylor said: “We have screen printed with neon inks in the past, but for this show I was after making proper black light posters.” The ambience of the show was staged with illuminated black lights from the ceilings, an eclectic mix of music playing loud enough to make you feel as if you were at a house party, and two walls covered with enough black light posters with such individualized style that you couldn’t help but don some 3-D glasses and move back and forth in front of each image. Taylor and Bentley didn’t stop there. They were both chatting viewers up about which poster they enjoyed best, which artist did which poster, the process of how each one was made, all without spilling a drop of beer. The show was an intimate gathering of the who’s who of the printing community, and those of us that did attend sure as shit wished they had a draft card to burn.

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“That Isn’t What I Said” by Gheybin Comish. 22″ x 30″, mixed media.

I cannot remember a single instance where I have had an such an innate longing to embrace a member of the same sex and instantly vie for their attention like a starved puppy. As I met Gheybin Comish at Nobrow Coffee Werks for an interview, the winter chill outside its doors didn’t stop me from envisioning her and I dangling our feet in the water of a pool in the summertime. Sharing our life stories, wearing gently worn vintage floral bathing suits, drinking out of colored straws and praying for Monroe-like physiques we would never be able to obtain. Comish is that woman that you want to take with you everywhere because she fits you without the hassle of trying her on. As an aspiring tattooer and a Utah Valley University graduate, she is still another relatively undiscovered artist in Salt Lake that is slowly making a name for herself.

Comish is well known for her line work drawings with watercolors bleeding into one another. Regarding why she decided to get into tattooing and not just stick to being a pen and ink and watercolor artist, she says, “I had a lot of people ask me to do tattoo designs for them. Enough people asked for images, and I thought that I am not really tough enough for [tattooing] … I don’t fit into that … I don’t have that image … but people are so supportive that they like what I do, so it just took off on its own.”

Comish was immersed in art and encouraged to create at a very young age by her mother, who also happens to be the nation’s leading oil painter of Santa Claus imagery. Comish was taught to be comfortable in her own technique and confident that she was enjoying what she was creating. Comish’s secondary motivational mentor was her high school art teacher: “My high school art teacher taught me about clichés and how to avoid them,” she says. “You have to take risks to make good art because if you don’t, it’s boring.”

Comish touched upon what has been inspiring her lately—she excitedly says, “I cannot stop drawing mermen!” She then proceeded to take out her sketchbooks that she brings with her everywhere, enthusiastically showing me pages and pages of mermen that were completed with black-ink lines, watercolors or colored pencils, as well as depictions of other animal life that she is currently fixated on. Comish points out her overall inspiration—she says, “I like the primitive act of fighting. I am into Inuit things and figures. I like the plump, fleshy figures.” I could not help but feel privileged to see notes, doodles and observations that she takes with her everywhere, a private insight to her whimsical imagination. Comish’s talent runs deep, and when she casually mentions that she was a child-prodigy pianist, I don’t bat an eye and enviously mumble under my breath something to the effect of, “Oh, of course you were.”

Comish’s innocent passion about the way she views her art generates an instant ease about her, where it wouldn’t take much convincing to be on her Frisbee team (if she had one) and wear those god-awful, ill-fitting jersey shirts with whatever sponsoring local-car window business is printed on them. When Comish assesses her existential contentment with her art and her aspirations in tattooing, her brown eyes light up with a childlike excitement as she says, “I can’t be any other way. If I could fit in in life, it would probably have been a lot easier … I cannot not do things that are weird and different. It’s part of who I am. It’s a painful and lonely road.”

Comish plans on taking her tattooing slowly and is remaining grounded in what she believes is her uncommon outlook on her art’s subject matter and tattoo design: “The opposite of the culture we have now is what I am interested in. …We can take care of each other in a community type way … embrace our bodies in a different way … embrace each other and our relationship we have with animals,” says Comish. Comish’s unique outlook on human nature, the innocence of animals, her profound interest in the Inuit culture, as well as the origin of the species is what makes her a genuine artist and a tattooer that anyone can relate to.

Comish’s sincerity inspires you to buy her ice cream, instantly seek out a swing set, then go watch Shirley Temple movies on someone’s living room floor before you have to get on home before dinner—you want to know her, her art and be a part of her earnestness. Don’t let me mislead you—the woman is a confident tattooer who isn’t “scratching” out of a dingy basement under dim lighting with nothing but a cold metal chair to sit in and brown shag to dig your toes into. However, if she did decide to get into the business of dodgy tattoo work, you can bet your ass I would be in said dingy basement supporting and Instagramming the fuck out the whole ordeal. Although Comish does not currently have any art shows planned for this winter and is instead focusing on learning the art of tattooing, you can see her art at gheybincomish.com and follow @gheybin on Instagram. She is currently honing her tattooing skills until she becomes the Lena Dunham of tattooing, that is.

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Clay Cavender has a plan.

When I hear the word “privileged,” I automatically assume that it has to do with wealth, expensive tastes, consecutive poor choices with someone else’s money, and the term “asshole” comes speedily to mind. Oddly enough, I coincidentally envision a neon colored Hummer and my memory sense immediately smells baby oil. In my understanding of the word, it means those who have the luxury of waking up whenever the hell they feel like it, rolling out of bed in their custom emblem plaid pajamas, slipping on their mink fur slippers to wander down the Persian rug–adorned hall toward the kitchen bathed in marble, overlooking a exquisitely trimmed yard, more than likely located somewhere in shithole Florida. What I don’t think of when I hear the word “privileged” is raw talent, someone who maintains this air of humility about them, surrounded by a support system of people that encourage them to pursue their dreams and aspirations, and has an eagerness to become successful. When I hear the word privileged, local artist Clay Cavender does not come to mind.

However, Cavender is privileged in a different sense of the word, in that he remains deafeningly humble about the beautiful and broad mediums of art that he creates, the supportive friends around him that supply him with steady art projects, his professors who teach him and show alongside him at art shows, and his family that has encouraged him to create since he was a child. When I meet with Cavender, he talks about finishing college this semester from Utah State University with his BFA (within the unheard of standard four years as an art major), how he hopes to take his art to Europe, possibly be the creative designer over a fashion label, conceivably dabble in producing music and eventually make a living out of creating, it’s obvious he has a plan. “I went to Utah State because it was far enough from Salt Lake that I could distance myself and grow on my own. Being in Salt Lake, it is easy to get distracted … get caught up in activities that you won’t get long term benefit from. If you stick yourself in a room with nowhere to go, then at the end of the day you are still in a room with nowhere to go … you might as well be doing something that helps you out long term.” Cavender is a dreamer but with business savvy, drive and versatility that can potentially make him unstoppable in the art or fashion world. Cavender has dabbled in a large variety of mediums, from print making, line drawing, block printing, acrylics, oils, spray paint and lithography. He has shown his works at Fice, as well as several other upstanding fine art galleries alongside his art mentors and teachers of USU. While being an undergraduate and having already shown at some of the major galleries in Salt Lake City, Cavender has seemingly already outgrown SLC’s little art pond. I asked Cavender what it is that he is consistently drawing. He says, “Paisley … I started [drawing] it because someone told me I couldn’t do it … it’s a visual language … any pattern you want, it’s just finding lines.”

Some artists I know complain about getting stuck in a rut with their art, sometimes for years, unable to steer away from the same style. Cavender, though, is so versatile that his works, ranging from skate decks that he printed on, screen prints and line drawings are so broadly different in style and medium that they look like a different artist created each one. Cavender’s versatility shows in his simplest of answers—when I ask what his favorite color is Cavender says, “It depends on the day … there’s different personalities to each.”

 

I ask Cavender who has inspired him most. He mentions how supportive his parents are and how grateful to his family he is for their constant encouragement. “I wasn’t able to watch television as a kid … we were allowed two hours a week and that two hours went to National Geographic specials … so I was always drawing … mostly dragons.” He goes on to thank his close friends, as well as his professors, and as he gushes his appreciation for those in his life. Cavender continues to explain how he idolizes So Me (Bertrand Lagros de Langeron), an artist he admires for his versatility and music production skills that also incorporates his graphic design artistry, whose art also centers around a collective of mutual friends creating different art forms.

Cavender is the next upcoming artist in Salt Lake and I highly encourage you scoop up some of his artwork before he moves to New York, starts dating a model, produces a music video for some abstract Swedish noise band, is a regular fixture at Cannes Film festival and refers to Aesop Rock as one of his homeboys. I doubt that even with his imminent success he will ever wear a gold chain or be in any way associated with poor Florida choices and baby oil. You can see Cavender’s work in the Utah State University 2014 Graphic Design BFA exhibition on April 18, held at 256 E. 100 S. in downtown Salt Lake for Gallery Stroll. You can also find Cavender’s artwork on Instagram (@claycavender) and in his online portfolio.

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