Whether an art exhibit is a snack or a feast depends largely on you, the viewer. If you walk quickly through a gallery, you'll probably pick up some tidbits here and there. But if you're willing to slow down and study the exhibit perceptively, you might discover a feast spread out before you.

To enjoy that kind of a visual feast requires time and effort. As you move through an exhibit, ask yourself such questions as, "What is the purpose of the show?" "What is each artist trying to say?" "Has the artist imbued his work with his own personality and philosophy?"Another thing that will help is to take time to read the artists' statements. Here you will find important clues to understanding the artist and his or her intent when creating the art.

- For example, Anton J. Rasmussen, one of the artists participating in the "New Portraits" exhibit at the Salt Lake Art Center, has this to say about his portrait paintings.

"Portraiture is not a common subject in my work," he explains. "But I enjoy the challenge of trying to capture the unique qualities of the sitters - a quality that speaks to their most special and revealing truths."

Rasmussen feels that his portraits - as well as his landscapes - are a form of self-portraiture "because they reflect my emotional, intellectual and spiritual likeness."

Rasmussen is only one among a number of artists whose portrait paintings fill the Main Gallery at the Salt Lake Art Center. Works by 13 other artists dot the walls and partitions in the gallery, while bold, colorful banners by 30 designers hang from the ceiling.

When you descend the stairs into the Main Gallery, you'll be greeted by three portrait paintings by Susannah Kirby - "My Family Portrait," (1974), "Self Portrait," (1985), and "Oh, Susannah" (1990). In her artist's statement, Kirby states "I am stimulated by portraiture because of its personal nature."

Alex Bigney's portraits are stylized and distorted. In fact, human noses are elongated and appear like elephants' trunks. To better understand Bigney's works, read what he says. "My pictures are records of my own looking for, touching or finding what feels like a hidden thing or place."

Photographer Ed Rosenberger uses a cubistic approach by juxtaposing several images. He says through this method "I can stimulate more interpretations than a single portrait would allow."

The most poignant portraits in the exhibit are photographs by Cheri Piefke. It won't take very long for you to feel the impact of her photographs, once you realize they focus on people with AIDS.

Accompanying each photograph are handwritten messages by AIDS patients and relatives. One message from a male begins, "My life flashed before my eyes as my best friend quietly embraced me and said he had AIDS and his life was to be shortened - and thus mine also . . . ."

Other artists participating in the "New Portraits" portion of the show are David Baddley, Devin Bjorklund, Paul Davis, Brian Kershisnik, Jean Lambert, Leslie Lammle, Thalo Porter, Kent Wing and John Wood.

Three art/lunch tours have been planned to help you understand the artists and their works. They will be held on Wednesdays at noon. Featured speakers will be Dan Ruesch (Nov. 7), Dolores Chase (Nov. 14) and Cheri Piefke (Nov. 28).

`Identity Places' shows ethnic diversity

Complementing this exhibit is "Identity Places," a fascinating show in the SLAC's Upstairs Gallery.

Wendy Ajax and her assistant Catherine Cheves designed the format of the space, but the content is provided by 10 women of different ethnic groups. And although these women are not physically in the gallery, their presence is definitely felt, thanks to the way Ajax has combined body prints, plaster casts, stories, personal objects and biographical information.

"I believe that art functions most as a relic or a leftover of an individual's exploration of life, aesthetics and how one discovers meaning," Ajax explained.

Participants donned old clothes before they were painted from head to toe. While the paint was still wet, they pressed against the walls of the gallery, leaving imprints.

These body prints were augmented with plaster casts of the women's faces, hands and feet as well as personal, ethnic objects.

Ajax said, "The show is a celebration of the diversity which exists in our culture."

The participants and ethnic groups to which they belong are: Donna Land Maldanado, Native American; Maria Lisieski, Slavic; Michelle Salas, Hispanic, Stafanie Sergakis, Greek; Phyllis Kimie Jenks, Asian; Carolyn Faye Holland, Black; Paula DiMatteo Rokich, Italian; Melody Ann Moore, Anglo-Saxon; Seini Ngaluone Pavia, Polynesian; and Ziba Marashi, Middle Eastern.

"Identity Places" remains at the SLAC through Friday, Nov. 9, while "New Portraits" continues through Friday, Nov. 30. Art center hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday.

`Paper Made' displays papermaking art

Two more artists reveal their personalities and philosophies in the "Paper Made" exhibit at the Atrium Gallery.

Kerri Buxton enjoys the interplay of concept, material and construction in her paper and metal sculptures. "I see myself as a builder. I build objects - not images; the object is the image."

She added, "If I pay attention to what my hands know and what the materials suggest, there is an insightful interaction which becomes an object; the object documents the journey, and the journey is the point."

She makes a special effort to layer information and media so that what is above does not completely obstruct what is below. As a result, many discoveries and surprises are reserved for the viewer who is willing to take time to carefully study her work.

Marilyn Miller is primarily a painter. But 10 years ago, she was introduced to papermaking by former Salt Lake City artist Sharon Shepherd.

Miller said that Shepherd explained that the process was simple. "You just toss some paper scraps and water into a blender and pour it onto a screen." Through experimentation, Miller found papermaking can be just as simple as that first recipe or as complex a fine art as she wishes to make it.

Enchanted by making her own paper, she says, "It gives me complete freedom to create my own shapes and textures." These abstract forms are triggered by her respect for desert rock formations and the forces that give them shape.

In addition to Shepherd's influence, Miller has studied papermaking at workshops in Michigan and Switzerland.

Buxton's three-dimensional sculptures and Miller's cast-paper wall hangings will remain at the Atrium Gallery through Tuesday, Nov. 6. For more information, call the City Library at 524-8200.