There are visually aware artists (painters, potters, sculptors) and there are verbally aware artists (poets, playwrights and prose writers.)
Then there is Mark Brest van Kempen.Brest van Kempen often fuses words and images in his work to give people a fresh look at their world.
"I'm a person who likes to change the context of things," he says. "Sometimes I write little stories and try to present them in a new light."
At the Loge Gallery recently, that meant placing several sentences on the wall that could be read vertically or horizontally as a "crossword story."
At a recent arts festival it meant projecting words onto a large screen in a random pattern, producing random sentences.
Says he: "I like to open up possibilities."
Using language with visual art is an idea that more and more artists are turning to. Mexico's Juan O'Gorman and Diego Rivera often painted murals featuring people holding up slogans or displaying little notes with messages from daily life on them.
Their reasons for including language in their work was often political, however. In the case of Brest van Kampen, it's all in the service of art. He wants to surprise us, wants to break down some of our preconceived ideas.
"I guess a lot of what I do is related to Dada and surrealist games," he says. "I want to show what things can be. If I say to you `exit,' that means I want you to leave. If I paint the word `exit' on a large brick wall, it becomes an existential statement: No Way Out. Just because we have preconceived notions about what we see and read doesn't negate other possibilities."
Raised in Emigration Canyon, Brest van Kempen claims his treks through the woods as a boy taught him first to observe things very closely, then got him thinking about the notion of perception itself. He also learned that "in science one version might be true, but in art many things can be true."
Today he works out of his Pierpont studio, living on what he makes as a teacher and what visionary patrons award him in the form of grants. He's the first to admit that there's little market for what he's doing; but says he's determined to press ahead.
"I don't decide what to do with my art," he says, "the art tells me what it needs to do next."
People interested in what that art is doing right now should drop by the Salt Lake Art Center some time between Sept. 9 and Nov. 13. The work of Brest van Kempen and fellow artist David S will be on display there.