According to archaeologists, one of the earliest depictions of the human figure is the "Venus of Willendorf" (stone, 15,000-10,000 B.C.) from Austria. While this rotund fertility figurine would not be considered a beauty by today's "Baywatch" standards, it nevertheless demonstrates that man has been depicting the human figure for a very long time.
The Kimball Art Center continues the age-old tradition of exhibiting the human figure in art with its show "Figurative Group Exhibition," through April 12, featuring work by Alex Bigney, Laura Lee S. Bradshaw, Brian T. Kershisnik and Marcelino Stuhmer.Born in Boston in 1952 to first-generation U.S. citizens, Bigney was raised in a small village in the hills of Nova Scotia. "The folklore of both Gaelic and Slavic cultures has influenced my life, dreams, attitudes, and shaped my images," writes Bigney in his artist statement.
Bigney's paintings have an uncanny, stylistic resemblance to the work of Swiss illustrator Etienne Delessert, albeit Delessert on LSD. Bigney's paintings are obscure, ominous, whimsical and unnerving. But they're also technically fascinating.
"I am consistently drawn to art created during the earliest stages of enlightenment, as new models visibly emerge and people think thoughts they have no names for," he writes.
Bigney incorporates actual objects into his paintings without drawing undue attention to them. This can be a very dicey technique, but Bigney manages it without turning his works into kitsch. When he uses a snake's skin in "What Cannot Be Spoken" and actual human teeth in "Wildman Packing Fruit" he genuinely enhances the painting's mood instead of detracting from it. His "Angel" and "Holy Man with Swallows" are also enigmatic pieces that will intrigue viewers.
A recipient of a Masters of Fine Art degree from Brigham Young University, Bradshaw's figurative sculptures can only be described as sumptuous. Her ability to capture in bronze the experience of being a woman is without equal in Utah.
Bradshaw's most cleverly designed piece in the exhibit is "Caryatid Maidens." Here she brilliantly melds the human figure with architecture. She begins, at the top, with a flawlessly proportioned cornice. At the cornice's base, two scroll capitals become the four breasts of two, armless female torsos. Moving down the slender figures, the legs coalesce to become the shaft of the column, which come to rest on a simple stylobate and stereobate. It's all very harmonious and visually solid.
This and other classically rendered sculptures only serve to strengthen her more abstract works like "Mystic Moves" and her elongated "Acanthus Child."
Kershisnik has a way of seeing, a point of view that captures and expresses parental or filial love with pedagogical zip. Born in Oklahoma, the artist has lived in Angola, Thailand and Pakistan, as well as areas of the United States. After completing his graduate studies in art at the University of Texas, Kershisnik moved to Kanosh, Utah, where he works and lives with his wife and children.
In his "Father and Son" one savors the obvious love between the two wrapped in each other arms. It is a touching, yet honest, moment. In "Man Swinging" Kershisnik somehow gives the viewer the sensation of freedom and flight.
"There is great importance in successfully becoming human - in coming to fully understand others and ourselves and God," writes Kershisnik in his statement. "The process is difficult and filled with awkward discoveries and happy encounters, dreadful sorrow and unmitigated joy - sometimes several at once. The purpose of art is to facilitate this process, rather than simply decorate the journey or worse, distract us from it."
With all his hearth and home homilies, none of it would succeed without the incredible painting surfaces Kershisnik manages to create. It is with his intentional primitiveness, his coarse black line and intense colors, that his simple message of love if delivered.
As a first generation American, born of Dutch and Indonesian parents, Stuhmer feels that his nationality and artistic concerns hover somewhere between North America, Indonesia and Europe. The schizophrenic result is most appealing.
Stuhmer's paintings are like tasting a greasy slice of Bacon (Francis) and a strong cup of Jawlensky (Alexei von); they're good, but will give some viewers indigestion. His works are "akin to theater and film as well as biography and fiction," he writes. "They are constructions of identities like a novelist's characters are; it is important to me that these personas, as one inspects the interiors they inhabit, remain enigmatic and unknown, yet utterly human." His people are certainly enigmatic. Yet one cannot take one's eyes off the surface of Stuhmer's canvases. The colors are lush, the texture rich, and when the curious characters in "Exile" and "Fleana' Rooms" stare back at the viewer, there is a primal, voyeuristic itch to stare right back.
"Figurative Group Exhibition" is a completely satisfying experience, and the Kimball Art Center should be congratulated for putting such an exhibit together.
The Kimball Art Center (638 Park Ave., Park City) is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, noon-6 p.m.