Modern West’s ‘Variant’ Takes a Meditative Approach to Collective Uncertainty

Time and growth—a mutually reliant pair—come together in Modern West Fine Art’s new exhibition Variant, showcasing previous and new works by artists Al Denyer, Jorge Rojas and Paul Reynolds. 

“We wanted to do a show this spring that honored the changes we have all faced,” says Shalee Cooper, Gallery Director of Modern West. 

Variant is an ode to the past year when control was so often lost in our daily lives. The exhibition displays works with similar underlying themes, and each of the artists’ pieces vary slightly from the last. Denyer, Rojas and Reynolds explore time and growth while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of their own artistic identity.

“It’s really fascinating. Their processes are so unique, but there’s a meditative approach to each of their work,” Cooper says. “When you come into the gallery, you really want to sit with each of their work individually.”

Al Denyer's "Stratify I," acrylic on canvas 36x36, displayed at Modern West
Al Denyer’s “Stratify I;” acrylic on canvas 36×36; Courtesy Modern West
Al Denyer’s “Borders (Isolation) II;” 8×8 ink on paper; Courtesy Modern West

Denyer’s work is inspired by topography and negative space, inviting viewers to experience a vacillating understanding between prominent and inconspicuous subjects. Her art feels almost illusory in nature, yet has an organic quality of life throughout. Often her work features subdued tones, but she has recently begun exploring the liveliness of color in contrast to her more  muted topographies. 

“Al’s works on paper are really interesting in the way that they nod to her subject matter with the topographical view, and how paper kind of has this movement to it,” Cooper notes. 

Paul Reynolds' "Headstand;" oil and graphite on birch
Paul Reynolds’ “Headstand;” oil and graphite on birch 37.5 x 47.5 in.; Courtesy Modern West

Reynolds works with oil and graphite on birch, and has been pushing his practice to focus more on the wood grain and how it affects his art. Reynolds works in abstraction, but his work emits a lyrical and gentle feeling over oscillating tonalities. 

Discussing his new artistic approach, Reynolds notes, “I’m still working on raw birch with oil glazes, not quite obscuring some of the grain. There is a hard-edged centerpiece in these new pieces, a solid block that starts to look transparent as I rub out indistinct images with a rag in a quick, do-it-or-die challenge.”

“Paul is using birch and the oil is rubbed into the grain, so that you can actually see a little bit of the birch underneath it,” Cooper says. “It’s really interesting and calming.”

Jorge Rojas' "I Wanna Be Your Lover," created with sandpaper and crayon
Jorge Rojas’ “I Wanna Be Your Lover;” Courtesy Modern West
Jorge Rojas’ “I Wanna Melt With You;” crayons and paper 8×10 inches; Courtesy Modern West

Rojas’ work for the upcoming exhibition uses uncommon materials, like sandpaper, wax and record sleeves, to emphasize color and texture. Within each piece there is a dichotomy between the inherent experience of art and our tangible nature as humans. One of the focal points of the exhibition is Rojas’ 2021 piece “I Wanna Melt With You,” in which the discoloration of the sleeves, created with sandpaper and crayon, is reminiscent of skin color, commenting on issues of identity. 

“Jorge is using this sandpaper, that’s kind of abrasive, but the tonality of the palette is neutral,” remarks Cooper, emphasizing the state of duality Rojas works in. 

Denyer, Reynolds and Rojas are all quite different in their aesthetics, yet their combined collections infuse Variant with a meditative quality that can’t be replicated through other works.

“With this body of work, there’s a lot of elements that you can’t really control, so there’s this fine line and juxtaposition between controlling everything about the work and then letting go and letting the work have a life of its own,” says Cooper. 

Variant was curated to showcase and embrace the uncertainty of the past year, both in art and life, while acknowledging that this ambiguity allows for growth.

“This last year has made us all slow down and look at things in a new way, re-prioritizing what’s important,” adds Cooper. “I hope that people will come into the space and want to be here, and that they’ll have a moment to catch their breath and really sit with each of the works.” 

Variant will be on display at Modern West beginning May 21 through July 25. All are invited to attend an artist reception on opening night from 6 to 8 p.m. Read more about Utah arts and culture here

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