Artist Josh Taeoalii is one half of Weird Chief Pictures, an art duo that includes Adrienne Taeoalii. Photo by Brent Rowland
“Submerged” was exactly the descriptor for what one might have felt at Salt Lake’s third annual Submerged in Art show. Immersive and riveting, the two-day event occurred February 24 and 25 above the Tap Room on Highland Drive, and I happily viewed the fleeting gathering of about 40 artists on the second night. Meandering through the galleries, one felt like a wide-eyed fish that swam unknowingly into a tropical reef, bright artwork substituting for the coral formations and colorful plants. The fine arts display meshed with the humble atmosphere of a craft fair, while edgy music, like a warm current, trickled through the rooms. It was lively and exciting, a spontaneous spring of artistic talent that bubbled up on Highland Drive.
Iosua Tai Taeoalii (aka Josh) was responsible for channeling this talent to Sugarhouse. He began Submerged in Art three years ago as a way to combat the winter blues. “I get real depressed, I drink too much, and I turn into a mess so I need to find something to give me something to do,” he said. When he recognized his surplus of both artist friends who could sell work, and other acquaintances who were financially struggling or homeless, he decided to form Submerged, an art show that was designed to benefit The Road Home, Utah’s largest homeless shelter.
A board member for the organization and Taeoalii’s cousin, Daela Taeoalii-Higgs described the shelter’s intentions and goals. Her passion for the organization was evident as she detailed its obstacles. “The downtown shelter right now, tonight, is housing a thousand people,” she said, and she added that an overflow shelter in Riverton housed an additional 70 families. The shelter has focused primarily on providing places to live for those in need, but also has offered case management and workforce services.
Taeoalii’s own work was for sale at the event, contributing to the proceeds that benefited The Road Home. Seven years before, he began producing stenciled images and offering them on Ebay—they quickly sold, so he became a full-time artist, touring the country to sell his work. Despite the popularity of his stencil-based art, he chose to feature his detailed pen drawings of bizarre hybrid creatures at the show.
Unlike Taeoalii, other artists opted to display their stenciled work. Jorge Arellano Molina utilized recycled materials to generate his images. Daniel Overstreet, another stencil artist, even produced patterns of his work on the walls where his productions hung at the event. His creations, which frequently featured iconic pop-culture images, originated in the streets and were transplanted onto canvas when people asked to purchase his works.
Jared Knight offered colorful paintings that were reminiscent of Picasso’s radically distorted and imaginative figures. However, Knight claimed his inspiration was derived from other sources. “I have a general admiration for Picasso like everybody else—‘Guernica’ and all that stuff is great, but really, it’s not what compels me. I am really into ancient art—cultures like ancient Egypt and Greece.” Indeed, his Etruscan influences were visible in “With Child,” a piece that depicted a highly abstracted pregnant woman on a background of painted blue tiles, which seemed to imitate an ancient mosaic.
A man of few words Adrian Prazen fabricated disturbing metal sculptures from disassembled toys. The culminations were bizarre monstrosities, baby doll heads mounted on crab-like bodies and fierce metal arthropods. His sculptures congealed whimsical childhood memories with disquieting nightmare apparitions. “I am kind of a schizophrenic artist,” he admitted. “I do everything from fine interior furniture to freaky toys.”
Photographers like Brian Gerber and Chris Madsen were a talented presence as well. One could gaze at the vibrant compositions and energy of Gerber’s fashion photography. The strange locations featured in his work seemed even more impressive when he explained that they were not contrived in Photoshop; he engaged in photography in its pure form with only minimal digital manipulation. In contrast to Gerber’s work, Madsen’s quieter images seemed both desolate and tranquil, often depicting Utah landscapes punctuated by serene female nudes.
Music contributed to the night’s atmosphere as well. Friday featured Mad Max and The Precinct, among other artists, while the Saturday lineup included artists like Uncle Scam and The Moth & The Flame. Pablo Blaqk’s intimate vocals flooded the event early in the evening, while Ischa and Raffi of Uncle Scam closed the night with a rocking performance. Mike Cundick of Jesus or Genome first performed and then promoted his growing organization Artists for Local Agriculture, a non-profit that has supported sustainable farming in local communities.
Through silent auction, patrons bid on donated artwork and contributed funding for a noble cause. Artwork sold throughout the night and the creative energies fused with the selfless joy of charity. Ultimately, the show provided a thrilling submersion into the world of Salt Lake art, a refreshing plunge into a sea of vibrant work and humble artists. Check out more photos from the event here.