DAVID EDWARD LINN
ARTICLES and REVIEWS
A Pilgrim's Progress- American Art Collector, September 2007
Myth Messenger- Pasatiempo, September 2005
The Santa Fean
In Plain Sight- September 2004
Daily Herald, 2004
Tucson Museum of Art Brochure
Terra Incognita- Pasatiempo, August 2003
NPR Artspeak exerpt
Feelings of Place- Casper Star Tribune, May 2002
A Hero's Labor- The Santa Fe Recorder, October 2001
Through a Glass Darkly- The New Mexican, October 2001
Irrational Plausibilities- The New Mexican, August 2000
A Window to an Artist's World- Spartanburg Herald Journal, April 1998
A Visual Treat- Deseret News, April 1998
David Linn Walks an Enigmatic Path, Salt Lake Tribune, March 1997
David Linn, A New Dimension, Deseret News, April 1997
A Pilgrim's Progress
David Linn takes a risky approach to painting. To begin with, he has a message, and there's a long tradition of killing messengers. Linn strives to keep it subtle; he leaves a lot of blanks for the viewer to fill in. But it's obvious his work is allegorical, which both attracts and repels contemporary gallery goers.
All the paintings in David Linn: The Impartial Light, opening today, Sept. 9, at Turner Carroll Gallery are infused with mythic qualities - something that in our age can easily seem oven the-top. Linn brings the dramatic heat of his subjects down a notch by using only brown and white paint. "If these same images were created using naturalistic color, to my eyes they would appear absurd, implausible, or weak,'' Linn said by phone from his studio in Elk Ridge, Utah. ''For me color exists as a veneer on the surface of things. It doesn't seem to go all the way through. I want to strip away that veneer and address the form and substance that underlies it.'' The browns Linn uses have the look of toned or antique photographs - they're strangely familiar, which makes us more willing to accept the symbolic world he presents. His technique is pure classicism. Linn builds his surfaces using underpainting and glazes. His lighting is so dramatic that the action in many of his paintings seems to take place under spotlights.
In And Then I Looked, a steep cliff blocks the path in front of the viewer, yet it is the only place with enough light to see. A wall of rock with vertical fractures glows white, like a frozen fountain, while everything else falls away into impenetrable shadow. Our minds read Linn's deep darks, built of layers of translucent brown, as empty space. That space directs our attention to the light and the seemingly insurmountable obstacle blocking our way. In the artist's view, life is filled with the possibility of spiritual evolution, but people often do not want to take the difficult path that leads them to growth.
The ground in many of Linn’s paintings is a talus field, a plane covered with rock debris. A talus field is one of nature’s most treacherous surfaces to walk on. Stepping on one rock can cause others to shift. Boulders several feet away can slip, quickly gathering force, crushing the unwary walker's ankle or starting a landslide. "My figures are usually traversing a tedious or unpleasant landscape," Linn said. ''That is how I view mortality - not as a bleak wilderness but a wilderness of unintended consequences.
In The Burden Above the talus field lies far above the tree line. Jagged rocky peaks stretch to the horizon. Wind-swept patches of snow could be a sign of spring or could be years old. Rocks hang from the sky by strings, yet the painting seems filled with peace. I don't have the sense that those things are about to break loose and fall,'' Linn explained. "It is a realm where normal gravity doesn't apply''
Linn has spent a lot of time climbing to mountaintops and driving across the desert between California and Utah. Some of the things he has seen and felt in those places have become touchstones in his life, reminders that spiritual growth is possible. Above timberline and in places unmarked by trails, there is a temple-like sensation,'' he said. "You are in touch with sensations you are usually far removed from in everyday life.''
For Linn it matters little if the thing that becomes a touchstone is in itself a positive event. Often while driving in the desert, he has seen smoke rising on the other side of the horizon. Linn knows the most likely source is the dust generated by large industrial smelting operations, yet, for Linn, the form rising from beyond the known represents life’s ultimate challenge and reward. The plumes of smoke in many of his paintings bring to mind the oil-well fires in Kuwait after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, an association some viewers have mentioned to Linn. But the artist finds the symbol too filled with personal meaning to abandon.
The figures Linn puts into this bleak, dangerous, yet serene landscapes are all self-portraits. ‘‘I use myself as a model loosely'' he said. "I suppose my work has to be autobiographical to be authentic, but I intend them to be everybody because of our shared experience.'' Linn faces a problem that has confronted all classical figure painters: if he painted people wearing contemporary clothing, they could become dated fast', if he left the figures nude, they could be seen as bizarre. Linn solves the problem by partially wrapping his figures with strips of cloth, which evokes Renaissance paintings of Jesus raising Lazarus. The wrapping does bring up associations of funerals, Linn said. ''But that is subconscious. The figure is traveling through some aspect of mortality and in the end there will be a spiritual resurrection.''
Many of Linn's self-portraits involve peril. In At the Abyss two male figures, both self-portraits face each other, leaning over the edges of opposing cliffs. They balance precariously by leaning into a boulder they jointly hold over their heads. "It is a visual conundrum.'' Linn said. ''There is no way to get out of that problem unless both figures were to push outward at the same time and at exactly the same rate - and then the stone would drop.'' The painting doesn't show how deep the abyss is. Perhaps the men would fall a short distance', perhaps they would plunge to their deaths. The serious tone of At the Abyss suggests imminent death so strongly that most viewers probably won't even consider the possibility that the abyss could be shallow.
"An interesting evolution in my own artistic growth is losing my fear of having other people come up with far better interpretations of my work than I can,'' Linn said. "When I was young, I used to think that if people didn't get exactly what I was trying to say I had failed. But I have come to see that everybody brings something different to a work of art, and some bring something that is more deep and profound than what I could bring. I feel honored that I can create something that allows people to open their own packages in response to the work.''
By Catherine Livingston
For David Linn, painting is a means of reflecting what lies within rather than what the artist sees in front of him- he paints only from memory, in a studio from which he blocks all natural light. Many of his gray and sepia toned oil paintings showcase his signature stoic male figure- scantily clad, faceless, illuminated in fantastical light, and surrounded by a barren, limitless landscape. They also repeatedly use boulders, cloud formations, and other natural images. All of these representations combine to build a metaphor for man's spiritual journey through what Linn calls "internal wilderness spaces."
"My work is tied together by a fairly common thread," Linn says, "and that is one of exploring universal themes of passage through mortality- searching for meaning in our existence here, and asking some of the beg questions about who we are and what we are doing here." The artist attempts to show this universal quest by articulating his own. "We're all navigating the same terrain," he says, "but we comprehend it in different ways. I'm just sharing my way of comprehending my own journey and trying to create some images that are hopefully meaningful to others- and that they can grasp.
In Plain Sight
When Roger Denson stated in his book, The New Metaphysical Art, that "metaphysics resurfaced in 80s art through a search for the sublime," he underestimated the breadth and intent of artists dedicated to expressing the spiritual through their work. Actually, this type of work did not resurface – it has been an element of contemporary art all along, but not widely recognized, pushed to the edges of art criticism until more recent times as reframed modernist history or as a post-modern phenomenon.
This "positive response" gives distinction to David Linn’s devotional paintings exhibited in "The Peripheral World" at the Frey Norris Gallery in San Francisco, CA. Linn describes his approach "as meditations, attempts to provide … evidence of a spiritual process. They are also offerings, fashioned objects of devotion."
There are two ways to explore the spiritual in contemporary art – devotional and heretical. The latter heretical approach often makes artworld headlines. Criticism and sarcasm are powerful tools in the hands of artists to expose the absurdities of politics, religion, and our social condition. As for the former approach, artists who advance their work on a devotional level seldom find print in glossy art magazines, but they wrestle just the same with life’s conundrums, as do their more satirical counterparts.
The strength of Linn's paintings comes from their simplicity and technical achievement. His work is easy to dismiss as simple and obvious in its starkness; yet, the greatest mysteries are always hidden in plain sight. Whether occupied by or existentially void of figures, Linn’s command of mood, detail, and tone coalesce in a vibration of expectation. Viewers who identify with his work feel as though they, too, are strangers in desolate lands, struggling for meaning, rewarded by awe. The settings in his work often depict dark, barren landscapes, some with plumes of smoke or spits of fire on a distant horizon, others with talus-strewn fields penetrated by draperies suspended from the heavens.
An instance that shows Linn’s dexterity as a painter of textile is "Departing." A skein of fabric is suspended, center frame, in the air with no visible supports, gathered in the middle by a cord pulled by opposing twin figures. A fire consumes it, which illuminates the dark and barren landscape. The paint is so thinly applied to the surface that it could have been breathed into existence.
As a symbolist painter, Linn attempts to explore the many questions encountered along the varied and stony path of his solitary journey. The smoke and flames that rise into the sky in many of his works, such as "The Small Prophecy," could, for example, be residues of unknown events in a distant place, or of burnt offerings surfacing from unseen and faraway altars. The viewer only knows that these whirling pillars of atmospheric disturbance are the product of some unnamed event: Sacrifices? Wars? Pollutions? "Just why certain modes of expression or images galvanize my psyche is a mystery to me and I believe it should largely remain so," the artist notes.
Linn's iconic images are composed atop an underlying structure inspired by divine symmetry, a sacred geometry. This subliminal device, reinforced by Linn’s use of intense illuminations provided by holy fire or other single sources of light, helps draw the viewer into each painting’s story without much need for explanation. Embedded in the work is a sophisticated spiritual intent, and the resulting paintings are material evidence of a contemplative mystic set in a time desperately in need of vision.
The worldview Linn presents through his paintings is not one of estrangement or withdrawal into melancholy. Instead, it presents the bold and mysterious journey we all take between birth and death, a symbol-accented exploration that, as Roger Lipsey might say, "requires a positive response from us."
UTAH PAINTER WINS ARTS GRANT
David Linn has a problem.
A so-called "symbolist" painter known around the nation for the quality of his monochromatic, heavily symbolic images, Linn, who lives in Elk Ridge, has ordered four custom panels for an upcoming exhibit at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art.
Each hulking panel is the size of a bay window -- and each costs about $500. But after Linn moved one completed painting into his home-based studio Thursday night, he woke up Friday morning to find the heat had caused the glue joining two sections of the panel to expand overnight, leaving a crack through the center of the art.
"I hope I can fix it," he said, pointing to the crack. "My work is about heading toward a goal, what you think is your goal, and then there is this imminent event that arises and you think there is no way to get through. This painting now has a direct connection to the picture."
Of the eleven Utah artists recently awarded $1,091 grants by the Utah Arts Council, Linn was the only Utah County artist and the only painter chosen. Linn used the money to pay for two of the four custom canvases he will use for the BYU show. After the show, the paintings will tour the country with other museum exhibits; eventually, each will be offered for sale for an estimated $24,000.
Tay Haines of the Utah Arts Council said only one in eleven applicants was chosen for the grant.
"His imagery is very powerful," Haines said of Linn's work. "It has spiritual characteristics and this holy light, and he is technically very good in his composition."
"The Arts Council does a ton of work to promote the arts in Utah, and most of it is done pro bono, benefiting not only the artists but the general public," he said. "Good art in a community has an energizing, uplifting power. Unfortunately, many communities are not immersed it the arts."
Linn should know. His work has been seen in 13 solo exhibits and 36 group exhibits ranging from New York to California and has been reviewed by the likes of The New York Times and National Public Radio. He has received 23 awards for his work, which is sold at the Turner Carroll Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., and the Frey Norris Gallery in San Francisco, Calif. Linn completed a bachelor's and a master's degree in visual arts from BYU.
Linn said he hopes his paintings both warn and encourage people dealing with life's spiritual and physical challenges.
"My philosophy is the result of the intersection of life experience with my natural need to create, combined with my spiritual upbringing and my unique way of seeing things," he said. "I see the world symbolically."
His work is done in sepia tones because the absence of color adds power and honesty to the image, he said.
"Color lies on the surface," he said. "When I strip away the color, I get to the object. Color for me carries a lot of psychological baggage."
The four-panel exhibit at BYU will be part of a larger exhibition of artists from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that focuses on the metaphorical language of art, he said.
"The whole installation is designed as a meditation on the necessity of affliction," he said. "I think passing through certain essential afflictions is part of our mortal schooling."
Tucson Museum of Art
One of the more powerful paintings dealing with the self in this exhibition is David Linn’s The Gift, 2003. In this painting, the artist articulates elements of his passage through life. While at first the scene appears to involve two men, it actually portrays the same person engaged in a classic debate with his soul. The rocky terrain is a recurrent environment in Linn’s work and symbolizes the often shifting and challenging ground we traverse–"It is the world," explains Linn, "where stones of decision and consequence lie in uneasy balance." The part of the man that stands on stony ground offers a fragment of that terrain to another part of himself who, standing on soft ground, is distracted by a plant. The stone is an invitation to pursue a difficult, but meaningful path in life. The plant perhaps symbolizes the distractions that divert him from his true mission.
This painting is not about conventional aspects of love, but about loving oneself and the relationship between, as the artist relates, "different facets of our souls, our psyches, and the internal battles that ensue as we attempt to discover and walk a true path."
The lonely pilgrim who picks his way across the barren talus field in David Linn’s paintings is both divine and human. He wages war within his soul, he weeps with sorrow, he succumbs to exhaustion, and he sees the world through imperfect eyes. Yet he is also divinely guided and inspired- a seeker, a wanderer, a prophet in search of the holy city.
When I first encountered Linn’s work, I hastily assumed that the artist was expressing an experience that was specifically male. After all, the individual featured over and over again in his paintings is a strong masculine figure, swathed from his waist down in white linen, his mysterious, dark face encircled in a halo of light.
Yet in time I realized that Linn’s paintings confront all of us- male and female- with the profound experience of our inner journey. It is not the material world Linn paints but the emotional and spiritual pilgrimage that we all make. According to Linn, we must all pick our way across the talus field, the field of life, "where stones of decision and consequence lay in uneasy balance."
In Linn’s strange land, the simplest act takes on exquisite significance. Every gesture is a prayer offered in the quest for meaning. The pilgrim stretches his hands to heaven in The Petition or rinses his eyes in a dark pool in Preparing for Sight- and somehow we feel as if the whole world has stopped and is holding its breath, waiting for the eternal consequence.
"My work is simultaneously very personal and autobiographical but also an attempt at articulating things universal," said Linn during a recent telephone interview from his home and studio in Elk Ridge, Utah, a small town at the base of the Wasatch Mountains. "What I try to articulate is what exists at the core of things. Everything you see in the painting means at least one thing, and chances are it means many things."
Linn is quickly establishing a reputation as one of the most important figurative painters of our time. In just the last three years, his work has been the subject of numerous museum exhibitions across the United States. His paintings have also been included in some landmark shows. Such as Representing Representation- one of the finest exhibitions of representative artwork in the country- at the Arnot Museum of Art in Elmira, NY.
His latest show at Turner Carroll Gallery titled The Unseen Ceremony, is his only scheduled show outside a museum in all of 2003.
Linn had been exploring emotional and spiritual themes in his work for many years before he realized that he had to sacrifice color. Now, his simplified palette consists only of shades of sepia. "Around the middle of graduate school, I was still immersed in color- deep, rich color," he said. "But I found that combining the colors with the imagery I was creating was generating a disconnect. The color creates a connection to the real world, while the monochromatic environment separates it a few steps."
It was difficult for the artist to give up color at first, but it eventually became a relief. "Color carries psychological power, and to abandon that was a risky thing," he said. "But I came to realize that I actually see things monochromatically- not physiologically, of course, but psychologically, emotionally, spiritually. The relationships between objects, and between objects and the environment, exist within me in a colorless world. Color for me is a veneer; it exists only on the surface of things."
Today, when Linn buys oil paint, he buys only white and burnt umber. He has become a connoisseur of burnt umber, understanding and working with the subtle differences in warmth and coolness between various brands.
"I am single-handedly sustaining the burnt-umber industry," he said with a laugh.
Linn’s choice of palette complements the sort of imperfectly lit, murky atmosphere in his paintings. The images are born not from dreams, but out of what the artist calls his "internal peripheral vision." If he looks at them directly, they vanish, Linn said. He has learned to gaze at his visions, his gifts from his muse, out of the corner of his eye.
Many of Linn’s paintings are nonfigurative and involve strange meteorological events. In There They Wait for Me, a cluster of plumes lingers ominously over dark water. And in The Obscured Source, an unnatural, circular cloud eclipses the sun, like some miracle out of the Bible.
Linn said that his nonfigurative paintings offer a contemplative arena in which to wander, a segment of this infinite terrain. "A part of me really prefers the nonfigurative work because there is no intrusion of another person. It is a place where I can just become a player on a vast stage. I assume that it is the same for the viewer as well," he said.
Women don’t appear in Linn’s work. The artist said that whenever he has considered putting his wife into his paintings, it breaks the spell. "I only use the male figure because that is my own point of reference," Linn said. "I can’t put myself into the role of the female. It would be a detached view from my own, and would therefore lack integrity. It will take a while to internalize the experience I have with other people and make them a part of the vision." Until then, it seems that Linn’s pilgrim is destined to travel alone. But in truth, life and our passage toward death is ultimately a solo journey. People may help us along the way, but the experiences we have, the choices we make, all happen on a personal level.
In his artist’s statement, Linn wrote, "Whether the wilderness is in the desert, in the austerity of a mountaintop, or anywhere in between, these are but metaphors for places that exist within us, for the journey is always at its core an internal one.
"The immeasurable horiszon that stretches across so many of my works is not an end; the solitary mountaintop is not the destination, but is simply another station in the vast circuit we travel. It is where we all walk."
Excerpt from an NPR radio broadcast
...our final destination: the sunken Hoag gallery, the domain of only two artists: painter David Linn and sculptor Laurel Swab, the single most impressive space in the Sangre's current lineup.
Linn's earth-toned reddish-brown oil paintings inhabit a bizarre world of symmetry and confusion: where the occasional appearance of the human male happens without eyes to see- as eternal struggle is the order of the day. His dreamscapes are perhaps the most obsessively rendered works in a series of galleries filled with obsessive works. Even as he exposes his troubling universe, Our eyes and brain are drawn to these studies of rocks and foliage that in their most fascinating guise are close enough to touch even as they diminish into infinity of image.
LIFE IN TECHNICOLOR NEUTRALS
By Julie Pratt McQuiston
In real life, David Linn's landscapes would be bleak, but on canvas, they're surreal and intoxicatingly beautiful. Perhaps it's their minimalism, their clean lines and baby skin-smooth surfaces. Utah artist Linn, whose paintings Into This Wilderness are on view at the Indianapolis Art Center, creates something depthful through the medium of surreal hyperrealism.
Linn seems to pay homage to what's underneath. His paintings, reminiscent of the Utah remoteness he lives near, are not verdant. Instead, a field of rocks spans to a limitless horizon; snowcapped mountains surround a deep pool that seems to sink, literally, into the canvas. His clouds are as palpable as a squirt of whipped cream. This is trompe l'oeil at its finest. What we see, though, is not a trick: It's evocative of a magnetic center. Each landscape, with one exception, is painted with a central light source, indicative of something unseen and spiritual holding things together. But where is the life in this deathlike environment? Linn manipulates his scapes like the unseen hand of God, or brush, as it were.
In "Evidence and Continuation," drapes fall from the sky as if onto a stage. The glossy effect of oil on panel further states the odd interplay between what is so real and what is stage-like. The sky behind is unmistakable, but then again it, too, could be a backdrop, a stage set. Perhaps the planet is just a theater after all. The question is, who moves the props, and who writes the script? Life is in the movement, in the parting of Linn's rocks, giving space for something to take hold, or in the dance of tree branches ("The Lesson") that have fallen from the tree and now strike a morbid pose, while the tree trunk remains intact and has grown new leaves. From death, then, there is apparently life.
Linn has honed his craft not to reflect realistically what he sees, but instead, to reflect on the reality behind what he sees. Perhaps there is a void we are being asked to pay homage to, or at least to recognize; and from this, color can emerge. The colors of life truly lived, after all, are where we find them; and the meaning is what emerges from beneath.
A Hero’s Labor
David Linn’s paintings totter on the brink of dawn and dust, a lucent hour when his hero’s destiny is within reach of his will. The meditative pieces in The Physics of Purity could not be more appropriate in view of the paradigm shift we have now entered.
At first glance, Linn’s perplexing monochromatic paintings seem to share something of the world inhabited by a quiet madman. Fastidiously painted, these oils, many of which are no bigger than a sheet of letter paper, set the stage for what could be either the final curtain or a backdrop of solace. In his intimate visual chronicle, we see a world on a tightrope between the fore and aftermath of a momentous event.
Linn’s work springs from a clear well of ideas and symbols aiming to "articulate the terrain of (his) own passage through mortality," i.e. trials, rites and personal integrity. Sparse but not forbidding, his moorlands, plains and deserts show a quite and untouched terra firma rife with possibilities. At the heart of this emptiness is a divesting of all but natural systems with a reigning, pure God-like presence. An omnipresent halation in the skies and crowning aureoles around the protagonists mark the artist’s quest for equilibrium between inner states of being and the outer world.
It is within such environments that the artist portrays himself, appearing as an indomitable figure, humbled by nature but with clarity and purpose. This recurring figure, who manages to transcend into the sublime while remaining tangibly human, embodies a clear symbol of redemption. With the bare essential of tools (candle, clouds, trees, rocks, fire, water), the heroic messenger is warning us of despoiled, futile lives, lest Mankind choose a higher path through mindful, benevolent living.
David Linn’s principal character is a strong, Spartan male engaged in an ontological dialogue with natural forces. The essence of this exchange hinges on duality and its inherent cycles. Swathed from the waist down in bands of white cloth, his torso bare, the hero performs simple gestures as an attempt to find a point of balance. In so doing, her returns to his proper role as steward of the land, attuned to "the spiritual currents that flow beneath the observable world."
Linn’s technical mastery is indubitable, parsimonious, laborious and as lustrous as any Georges de la Tour. Sepia hues, muted grays and umbers dominate these effulgent panels, His works are the pages of a magnum opus on the purifying effects of nature, if these paintings embody an aura of religiosity, it stems from their author’s deep commitment to finding substance within the Western world’s cosmological legacy, hence. Leaving no stone unturned.
THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY
By Craig Smith
For David Linn, color is a paradox. On one hand, his artist's eye acknowledges that color infuses the world. On the other, the mesmerixing dreamscapes Linn likes to put on canvas find their real expression in subdued hues.
That's why shades of ash, brown, black, white and gray predominate in The Physics of Purity, Linn's show at Turner Carroll Gallery. In that pale context, the occasional green or rust tone stands out lke a full moon at midnight.
"Monochromatic is the way I see things, the way I make sense of a thing," Linn said from his studio in Elk Ridge, Utah, an hour south of Salt Lake City.
"Color is the veneer that exists on the surface of objects, I tend to strip (color) away to get the the core of whatever it is I'm looking at."
Linn definitely does that, to the point I wondered if he'd been frightened by a silverpoint-and-red chalk drawing as a child- so selective, but enticing, is his palette.
"I don't know about silverpoint, though I've always lived things like that," he said thoughfully. "Though I was drawn initially to the late-Renaissance and Baroque arists, and I certainly never was frightened of anything they did." I grew up as sort of an art nerd. I went to museums as much as possible, checked out art books from the library multiple times. But the tonalities I come up with are closer to early photography" than to silverpoint.
The decision to paint as he does, Linn said, was "conceptual." His early and later academic studies involved lots of color, but through "a series of stumbles," he became drawn to the lack of it. "Color carries with it a lot of psychological baggage," he said. "I discard hat and deal with other issues."
That may be easy to say, but it's a bit hard for a viewer to accept: Linns images are packed with psychological possibilities and viewer-driven implications, expressed in his chosen icons. Among them is a male figure, or figures, apparently involved in journeying through some fantastic landscape- a field of rocks, a darkling plain within a limitless horizon, a mysterious pool in the apparent middle of nowhere.
The men are uniformly nude from the waist up, and barefoot: their abdomens and thighs are dressed, or wrapped, in layer upon layer of bindings, like bandages or mummy wrappings.
And virtually all of them carry nimbuses of light around their heads, or halos. One wonders whether it is reflective of a spiritual projection, or a personal aura or simply a natural phenomenon in Linn's inner world.
"I steer clear of the word 'archetype,' but there are these things that occur in all cultures," said Linn of his images. The wrappings, he said, originally came from the fact that he enjoys the way drapery interacts with the human form. But "I wanted to articulate it in a way that didn't refer to any particlar time or culture. I wanted to creat symbolic clothing; some sort of covering that exists on a spiritual level.
"My paintings deal with wandering through a metaphysical wilderness," he added. "The clothing suggests a state of preparation, a protection, or a veil of some sort."
And the nimbus? "I'm driven by spiritual concepts," said this active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. "The faces are all undefined, thy're dark, veiled, obscure, because I didn't want to distract from any possible dialogue with the work by specific features. The halo around the dark head accentuates that effect.
"You have divine influence existing alongside darkness- not darkness in terms of bad or evilm but as "through a glass, darkly," he said, quoting Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.
Another thing faund in Linn's oeuvre are rocks, whether single, double, or whole field of them. From that, "you'd think I grew up on the high steppes," he joked. "But I grew up in Northern California. I spend a lot of time mountain climbing and backpacking. I draw on those intense spiritual experiences you tend to have high above the timberline."
Linn's works have emotional content, but they are not uncontrolled blotches. They are carefully detailed and technically astute, especially in terms of human motion and anatomy.
"I've taken a lot of figure drawing," he said. You can't get an MFA in painting" (which he holds from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah) "without having concentrated on the essentials for a long time. But I find in terms of general painting technique, I'm primarily self-taught. I had established much of that before I began graduate school."
Linn confesses to many influences, from the great narrative painters of the Renaissance to the American Hudson River school and such site-specific installation artists such as Cristo and Smithson. But having found his own expression, the 42-year old artist intends to keep on mining it.
"I'm really not interested in doing something that is overtly 'contemporary,' because the world we live in today is finite, it has an end. In a somewhat clumsy way, I try to create things that exist outside any given time frame."
Linn has done large scale work in the past, but for the Turner Carroll show, his work is generally measured in inches rather than feet.
"A small painting, conceptually, can seem much more massive and expansive than a physically large painting," he said. "You approach a small painting and the scale causes you to become still and fixed and allows your mind to engage seldom-used faculties in comprehending whatever is in the painting.
Several of his pieces for The Physics of Purity are 8 by 10 inches; others are somewhat larger, at 22 by 20, or 30 by 42 inches. One of the latter, The Lesson, is especially gripping despite its relatively modest dimensions. In it, a single tree stands in what appears to be a plaing; there are low brown hills at the horizon. And a blank, tan-colored sky above.
The Tree has lost its only two branches, and from its center, a single large bough of growth springs up. The branches stand upright on the ground as they've fallen, and look startlingly alive, as if they are striding about their parent trunk. An unsettled feeling pervades the work.
"My art is a distillationg of who I am and what I've experienced," Linn concluded. "Ive found the more personal and genuine I am with my own work, the more people are moved by it.
A paintbrush becomes a 500 pound weight if I'm doing something not in my heart."
In David Linn’s haunting monochromatic paintings, inanimate objects including stones and pools of water exude a powerful presence. It’s an otherworldly environment where nothing stirs but we sense something mysterious has just happened- or is about to happen.
Those unseen events take place in what Linn refers to as hierophantic time: eternal or static time where action coexists with timeless stability. The setting is just as measureless- an expansive, often inhospitable rock-strewn landscape, which for Linn is layered with meaning and paradox.
"Rocky land does indeed resonate with me," the artist said by phone from his home and studio at the base of a mountain in central Utah’s Wasatch Range. "It’s a very powerful part of my visual vocabulary. Part of it is from many years spent backpacking and climbing mountains where there’s no sign of other human beings.
Then there’s the physics of a talus field, which is constructed of things (rocks) that have broken off a mountain. To me mountains are symbols of yearning- they’re destinations and goals- and talus fields are pieces and fragments of that goal.
"Also it’s very unstable terrain and there’s a tenuous movement you enact on it. It’s a great metaphor for how we traverse life, not knowing the consequences or how our actions will affect others."
Linn, whose work is in three solo museum shows around the country next year, recently joined Turner Carroll Gallery. His first-ever solo show in Santa Fe opens with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. today, Aug. 25. The show continues through Sept. 12.
Creating imaginative alternate worlds, especially ones where the irrational appears plausible, is something Linn said he’s done most of his life. As a very shy child, he felt somewhat disconnected from everyday reality. Beginning in high school he was drawn to surrealist art, the Baroque masters, conceptual and earth art, and American Luminist and Hudson River School painters whose portrayal of the sublime in nature reflects his own sense of awe.
Later, earning a master of fine arts degree in painting from Brigham Young University in Utah, he challenged himself to push the creative process up a notch by employing a version of realism to explore ideas and emotions from his core, from a place, as he put it, "where neither words nor images exist."
An avid backpacker and mountain climber, Linn knows the experience of exploring unfamiliar terrain has a powerful influence on his thinking and perception. Yet in his art he is more interested in concepts and ideas than in depicting the natural world. An although a deep, spiritual base that includes membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints feeds his work, the imagery is metaphoric and universal, transcending any particular set of beliefs.
What is important, he said, is art’s power of shifted perception. When a piece is successful, the viewer enters the image as if it were a "real" landscaper, then comes upon an odd or unexpected element that nonetheless feels credible within that environment. In addition to the elimination of naturalistic color, the artist’s mastery of realistic detail heightens that experience of shifted reality.
Adding to the work’s meditative yet expectant quality is what Linn called a "sense of intense, active stillness"- an effect achieved by creating a strong symmetrical composition and then introducing curves, tangents or arcs that animate the stillness.
"There’s a sense of order yet an implied movement, a brooding element that alludes to sort of a divine presence," Linn said.
Many of Linn’s paintings befit as images that hover at the edge of his consciousness in what he called his internal peripheral vision. In other cases the visual and conceptual ideas emerge simultaneously.
There They Wait for Me depicts a placid sea with plumes of smoke rising from objects on the water. The idea came out of Linn’s reading of journals written by his pioneer ancestors.
"I ‘saw’ an image of a place, a shallow sea, with floating pyres, perhaps sacrificial platforms floating with fires on them," he said. "They’re representative of the sacrifices those who went before me offered and I sense that somewhere they’re waiting for me to do the same."
In a sense Linn already is doing that. With his meticulous, time-consuming painting, he sacrifices time that could be spent on his other interests including writing poetry, composing and performing avant-garde music on keyboards and guitar, spending time with his fiancée, and designing experimental radio-controlled objects that fly (or to see whether they will).
But the sacrifices are worthwhile, he said. The long hours in his "dungeon" of a basement studio result in paintings he referred to as offerings- meditative journeys through his interior world. Other people can experience those journeys with open-ended interpretation.
"I think one of the great things about art is its ability to draw back the curtain and invite people into different worlds and let them see things that in daily life they might not otherwise see," he said. "It can change the way we look at things.
Painted in minute detail in shades of burnt umber and white, David Linn's engrossing panels could be mistaken for sepia photographs, were the imagery not so mystical. In most of the paintings on view here (all 2003), Linn focused on a single figure: a haloed pilgrim (or "everyman") draped in white fabric from the waist down and caught in the midst of a deeply solitary journey. The settings are barren cliffs and deserts, where the man sleeps, offers supplication to the skies, and peers into the abyss. Sometimes, as in The Gift, he is pictured twice, perhaps a representation of the multiple states of the unconscious or a reference to a spiritual relationship.
Every element in these paintings is charged with symbolism. A dead branch, a cloud, and a single, backlit curtain dropped from the sky onto a rock pile were particularly effective. It is difficult to look at The Fear, in which the loose end of the man's garment drops into a hole in the ground, or Lamentation, where his clothing is caught on a branch, without feeling a sense of foreboding. Linn's unpeopled landscapes picturing plumes of smoke rising from water and vast, burnt rock fields are especially apocalyptic.
In the past two years, the 44 year-old, Utah-based Linn has been featured in nine museum exhibitions. The potency of his work and its spiritual intensity place him comfortably in the lofty company of the Symbolist painters of the 19th century.
A WINDOW TO AN ARTIST'S WORLD
In the Parsons Gallery, David Linn, from Elk Ridge, Utah, shares events and images that have stirred his own spiritual growth.
Although he describes his technique as fairly conventional, his works have a technical quality that reaches past the brushstroke to link the viewer directly with the subject of the work.
The luminescent quality of his work, which is essentially monochromatic, is created by the function and textures of the paints he uses, his judicious use of glazing, and the subtle finish. All of the work in the exhibit was painted with burnt umber (using different brands to achieve degrees of warm and cool) and white. "Sometimes I prefer a silvery brown much like the effect achieved in early photographic platinum prints," he said. "Other pieces veer toward warmer tones."
Although he has a master's degree in painting, Linn never had formal classes in how to paint. "By the time I began my undergraduate work, I had already spent years working in oils and watercolors, and had made innumerable mistakes." At an early age, he studied Renaissance and Baroque masters, who became his teachers as he tried to emulate their technique. "I was an art nerd. I spent much of my youth pouring over books and visiting museums."
Over time, his trial-and-error pattern of learning led him to his own forms of expression.
"My work is born out of a need to articulate for myself the terrain of my own passage through mortality- to explore the events and implications of a spiritual existence and journey that form deep currents flowing beneath the observable world," he said.
Yet many of the images represented in his works are variations of places and objects he has seen while mountain climbing or backpacking, activities that have helped him strengthen his own spirituality. Spirituality made tangible is what may be experienced Linn's exhibit.
He has striven to provide a window and an invitation into his own world as a way to help viewers find their own windows and spiritual connections.
LINN'S UNOBERVED EVENTS A VISUAL TREAT
By Dave Gagon, visual arts writer
After reviewing David Linn's brooding, monochromatic landscapes last year at the Springville Museum of Art, I said they were a ``visual and spiritual reservoir of enlightened imagery and craftsmanship.'' Linn's current exhibit, ``Unobserved Events,'' at the Atrium Gallery, only reinforces my opinion of his work. And while many of the pieces in the exhibit are from 1996 and '97, several new works demonstrate Linn's continued prowess in rendering the land in sweeping, enigmatic strokes.
In the exhibit's larger works, ``The Calling (Hierophantic Time),'' ``As Is My Lot'' and ``Interrupted Veil,'' Linn creates a spiritual turmoil with his chosen subject matter, then softens the blow by bathing the viewer's eye in perfect symmetry. His Baroque, American Luminist and Conceptual site and earthworks influence is deeply felt.
The one figurative piece in the exhibit, ``The Blessing,'' portrays a man ascending a rocky slope with a large bundle tied to his head, impairing his vision. The bundle is heavy, forcing the man to balance himself with two thin sticks that appear to be totally useless. The message presents an oxymoron, and Linn challenges the viewer to decipher its meaning.
Besides the oil paintings, Linn includes monoprints and charcoal sketches in the show. The mono-prints are competent, but the charcoals are inspired, lending themselves more to the spirit of Linn's leitmotif. ``Ceremony,'' created in 1995, is the only piece in the show in color.
As engaging as Linn's large canvases are, there is nothing in the exhibit that compares to his 12 small panels in ``Days I Have Been Given.'' Each 6-by-9-inch painting illustrates how desolate yet magnificent the land can be. Harsh, rocky plains, threatening clouds, rolling hills belching mysterious gases whisper their arcane message.
In his artist statement for the exhibit, Linn writes, ``The work in this show is born out of a need to articulate for myself the alternate worlds and states of being - a spiritual existence forming currents that flow beneath this visible world. These created internal worlds seem at times more real than my physical environment because they are evidence to me of what is felt more acutely.''
PAINTER DAVID LINN WALKS AN ENIGMATIC PATH
By Frank McEntire
We must recognize that the real contact with a work of art is always a secret thing, born of a mysterious relation... well be-yond the conscious zones of our being, and, no doubt, well beyond what our eyes perceive in the work. Father M.A.Couturier
PROVO - David Linn's painting studio is near the Harris Fine Art Center at Brigham Young University, the same building where his final MFA exhibit hangs. He graduates next month and is looking for a new studio.
His exhibit "Where I Walk," includes five large works and more than a dozen small pieces. They are the product of more than five years of experimentation with monochrome and tonalist techniques. "Waking dreams without color," he calls them. Georgia O'Keeffe, Pablo Picasso (his famous "blue" period) and other painters also went through monochromatic periods. Some, like Mark Tansey, have yet to leave it.
The strengths of Linn's monochrome paintings (his works vary from a burgundy hue to warm and cool browns or grays) are their simplicity and technical achievement. The settings are barren fields with plumes of smoke on the horizon or talus-strewn fields and mountainsides. "I approach these paintings as meditations, attempts to provide myself with evidence of a spiritual process," Linn wrote in his master-of-fine-arts final project report. "They are also offerings, fashioned objects of devotion to be placed outside myself where they can be witnessed by others."
These are good times for competent realist painters such as Linn. Narrative and figurative work is finding acceptance among serious collectors of contemporary art. Admirers and speculators are already purchasing Linn's paintings. His list of clients and collections includes a number of corporate, university, museum, and private collections. "The whole resurgence of realism is a valid movement," Linn said. Actually, it is not resurgence. Realism and other forms of representational art have coexisted with the more notorious movements of abstract expressionism, minimalism and conceptualism. It is only within the past decade that representationalism has gained recognition with the art intelligencia for its potential to address contemporary issues.
Like all art genres, contemporary representationalism has its vulnerability. As often happens with narrative work, its illustrative power is seductively easy to conscript into the production of art "merchandise," usually sentimental and non-threatening decorative images demanded by popular culture. Linn's landscapes on exhibit, however, are conceptual rather than narrative. Spirit pole markers and stone cairns punctuate the space that perhaps shows unexplored or previously investigated paths, a record of his life's journey. Suspended within the vistas of his large paintings are expertly rendered draperies, adding a theatrical flair to the work (Linn has also designed and executed theater sets).
"The Calling (Hierophantic Time)" shows a curtain that, if not parted, would suggest a continuous pathway through a field of stones. The curtain is pulled back to expose the path's abrupt end, inviting the viewer imaginatively to step onto the path and decide to go forward over the stones, to continue clearing the path, or to go back. At the end of the clearing, a small plumb bob-shaped stone is balanced upright, seemingly twirling on its point.
The strength of Linn's images is their ability to pull the viewer into their two-dimensional landscape without the need for spoken or written explanation, although underlying the work is a sophisticated spiritual intent primarily based on his personal beliefs. Linn's recent paintings tend, as Picasso said, to ask questions, not necessarily provide answers. Interpretations remain with the painter and viewer individually. Linn's symbol-accented landscapes are refreshingly free of didacticism. The smoke or dust devils that rise into the sky in his 4-by-5 foot "Wilderness (With Two Events)" are symbols of unknown occurrences in a distant place. We only know they are "events."
For Linn, the illuminator must subjugate the illustrator. This struggle is, perhaps, why he said he "fears chasing away whatever muse lurks" beside him. "Just why certain modes of expression or images galvanize my psyche is a mystery to me and I believe it should largely remain so.
The mysterious gift of his muse, disciplined determination and intellectual encounter give this emerging artist's work promise.
Frank McEntire, a sculptor and curator, is the Salt Lake Tribune's art critic.
DAVID LINN- A NEW DIMENSION
By Dave Gagon
If one were put to the task of describing the artist David Linn, one would have to use the word "hawk-like" because the artist's large, dark, penetrating eyes make him appear - as in the case of a hawk - capable of discerning minutiae at great distances: His paintings of impeccably rendered, monochromatic landscapes bear the comparison out.
Linn paints in monochrome because, he says "I realized that if they were done in naturalistic color, they would have appeared absurd." By removing naturalistic color, Linn takes the images and places them in their own context, giving them their own world in which to exist.
Influenced by Baroque, American Luminism, and the conceptual site and earthworks of such artists as Christo and Smithson, Linn distilled the movements into something usable. "It wasn't the actual (physical) work or site that affected me," says Linn, "but how it translated (through photography) into a two-dimensional representation of what the artists had done." For Linn, the actual artist's sites were too much a part of the everyday world. By painting the "idea" of a site it places it in another context, giving them a power not encountered in the real world.
"When we view two-dimensional art, our minds make a perceptual shift that doesn't occur when we view three dimensions," he says. That gives power to whatever image we're looking at because our minds use other faculties not normally used (in everyday perception).
Linn was born, raised, and spent most of his life in the Bay area. In his 20's, he began taking long driving trips. "What was once one of my least favorite experiences as a child, going on vacation and having to go through Nevada and complaining 'are we there yet?' has become what I love most of all."
The trip back and forth between California and Utah takes Linn through places one sees in some of his paintings. "I don't have a radio in my car," he says. I'm by myself, completely enveloped in thought. There's no distraction other than the passing scenery and the reassuring hum of my car's engine."
Linn says his work is driven by spiritual concepts. "I articulate those concepts by linking them to things I've experienced and places I've been." He lets all these filter in and become part of his vocabulary. "Since you can't paint a spiritual experience, you can only allude to principles which lead to those things."
In "Interrupted Span" (oil on panel, 60 x 72 inches), Linn says the drapery is actually part of a great circle. The knot that ties the drapery together is an event, a trial, or some impediment in mortality. There are many layers of interpretation. "I don't push myself to discover the complete meaning of my paintings," he says. If Linn does come to a complete understanding of a painting it dies for him. "I like to keep it alive by maintaining an element of mystery in the interpretation. For example, the cloud (in the painting) is for me a symbol of divine presence. You know, God is there. But the cloud could also be a veil. There's a brooding element to clouds, but there is something shining behind them that's slightly obscured."
All of Linn's paintings create a "wandering in the wilderness" experience for the viewer, consistent with the artist's personal experience. the paintings generate feelings of loneliness and quasi-desolation but also hint at salvation. And while the paintings are uninhabited and sometimes bleak, they are never negative like many of the politically correct work of the '90s.
"The statements that I could make, that might be political, seem really transitory," Linn says. "The issues that those statements concern themselves with will soon be gone. Art that is politically driven is dated in many ways. What drives my work is something that's really at the deepest core of my being."
Linn's landscapes are a visual and spiritual reservoir of enlightened imagery and craftsmanship. And like the hawk, they soar to heights known only to those who see with keen eyes.