Art Fans appreciate ceramic work by David Socwell. Photo: Martin S Rivero
The Utah Arts Festival fully recovered from the rainy gloom of Thursday and every hope and expectation I had set for the day was more than met. It’s difficult for me not to slip away into a state of romanticism at the festival—the moment I entered Friday evening, all my senses where assaulted: music from the park stage carried the mood, the smell of spray paint from a near by artists tent mingled with the food-court aromas. The perfect sunny weather warmed my skin as I chowed down on a burger and fresh cut fries from Scrumptious. I don’t think summer had started until that moment. This is the magic of the UAF, the ultimate curation of visual and performance arts that, for me, inspires for the summer months to follow.The Festival’s provisions to the art enthusiast expands in all directions, including the opportunity to explore mediums that perhaps have never been fully considered before. I was delighted to talk to Donna Watkins, an artist whose affinity for gourds and turning them into beautifully designed pieces is highly contagious. She doesn’t simply paint the exterior of this nature given canvass, but manipulates the gourd inside and out. “ You can do a bazillion things to them, there’s are million uses for a gourd, mine’s all ornamental. They look pretty ugly when the gourd dries out, black and moldy.” Watkins explained, about the transformation from gourd, to decorative art. She also expressed her desire to see the work of other gourd artists locally—“We need more gourd art in Utah,” she says. “We need to have more people doing this. There’s not just one way to do this, this is my way to do it, but another creative mind may have other ideas. And, I would really love to see more of that. “Watkins excitement lead to me seek out other mediums I had perhaps never considered—I stumbled upon the works of David E. Socwell. Socwell creates functional art pieces with pottery. His mugs, plates, vases and other pieces are beautifully mastered with designs that pay homage to the Intermountain West’s plants and animals. Using negative space—taking clay away versus adding it to the piece—his pieces are an anthem to the wild life of Utah. Once a landscaping architect, Socwell shared his start—“I started Red Kiln about 13 years ago,” he says. “It seemed like every time the economy was bad, my pottery picked up. You can see in some of the pieces; the trees I do are how (you) would draw them in a blue print.” My favorite aspect of Socwells pottery is his manipulation with stains and glazing. He always leaves some of the natural clay exposed, giving an even deeper sense of depth.While I tried ardently to stick to my “festively planned fun list” I found my self often derailed by the many performances and activities. I TRIED TO KEEP FOCUSED. But my focus was on the festival, and if the festival distracts me, then I suppose my focus can’t be lost. One such distractor was RJ Walker, a member of the Sugar House Poetry Slam Team. As I’m feverishly trying to make my way towards chocolate covered strawberries and bananas, I hear Walker’s voice boom over the audience, bitterly crying “I am the Koopa king! And overlord of all, and I still can’t stop a freaking plumber! I’ve tried everything, giant living bullets with faces on them, walking time ba-bombs, a really pissed off guy who sits up in a cloud and throws spike monsters at him, he was expensive. Everything!”— I have to stop. I’ve never been so compelled to sympathize with Bowsers’ plight. I had originally planned to visit the Big Mouth Stage on Saturday, but Walker’s comedic approach to the Indie Poetry Slam competition kept me hanging around to hear the rest of Bowsers lament. The final round of the Indie Poetry Slam in Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m.. I can’t imagine missing it—being a closeted slam poetry fan, I am eager to see who wins this year.
The rest of my evening, I played a quieter role, primarily observing families enjoying the festival and the hustle and bustle of night. I wander past and through several more tents, and came across two more favorites of mine. Dave Borba, being no stranger to arts festivals, displayed his interactive-portrait-stylized-mixed-media-sculptures. A variety of carved wooden animals echoing folk-art roots, each gifted with mobility in one rite or another. His goal is to inspire connectivity and interaction, one that I believe he achieves.
Artist Grant Fuhst and his works were just around the corner from Borba, and drew me instantly. I don’t know how I’ve managed to over see his presence in Salt Lake, but evidently I am in a minority for it. Fuhst’s art, also mixed media in nature, feels dark and hallowing, like a children’s story that draws you in and frightens. It all very much so reminded me of the movie Howl’s Moving Castle. His sculptures seem simple from a distance, and upon examination are meticulously complex in detail. “Specializing in Irrational Art,” is the appropriated slogan for his work, and perhaps the only way to express what his creations are, artistic irrationality.
One of the most exciting pieces of information from Fridays trip was learning that The Leonardo’s Body Worlds: Animal Inside Out is showing for $3 to see as an Arts Festival guest! I’ll be stopping by The Leonardo so the exhibit, but only after stopping (at least) once again by the Big Mouth Stage, where Wise Guys Stand Up Comedy will be having several comedians entertain. Saturday will also have the MarchFourth Marching Band roaming the festival starting at 7:30 p.m., and an overwhelming volume of workshops, activities, performances and all around entertainment. I’ll be kidnapping my younger brother to have a viable excuse to visit and participate in the many activities they have for the kids, including the Utah Children’s Theater and making some fun head wear at the Mad Hatter!