The immediacy of painting makes it one of the most relatable forms of expression. Most of us have a memory of using paint to create something that expressed a memory or thought about something personal, like a portrait of our family, our home or a beloved pet.

Indeed, when we purchase items for our children to explore art, we often first look for painting materials. Most of these types of items are easily found at area stores, and this accessibility makes the medium immediate and relatable.

What artists can do with this type of readily available material is what sets them apart. Too often, we think we need to reach for something exotic or expensive to create innovative techniques and unique forms of expression, to highlight surface, form, skill and even emotion in art-making, when in fact the opposite is most often true.

"Falling From the Sky of Now" is an exhibition at the Hedge Gallery in Cleveland honoring Douglas Max Utter, one of the area's most influential artists and art critics. On display are works that span over 50 years from as far back as his childhood: oil paintings, mixed media pieces, works on paper and monoprints as well as recent works that highlight not only a life in visual art, but also a deep commitment to artistic research and expression.

Often using mundane materials like tar, enamel, latex house paint and spray paint, Utter has found ways to create visually striking images. They feel familiar, serious, emotive and often haunting. To see such a large collection of them spanning many decades in one space is a special experience that art lovers should make the commitment to see.

"Drive-In" is a 2018 acrylic on canvas that shows two people from the viewpoint of a person looking out the window of a car. There is a dream-like quality to the work, as dry brushstrokes form the subjects' faces and richer colors make up their clothing and other cars ancillary to the composition. It has the feeling of a memory, as a handle appears at the bottom corner and it's been some time since cars have had this type of handle for doors or windows.

The other cars shown run perpendicular to the car from which the painting is made. This twist on reality, and the colors of the subjects' skin and the heavy dark patches of the composition relate the qualities of an outdoor movie theater.

This work also highlights some of the style that persists throughout Utter’s work, including the depth of the visual structure, a deeply felt subject and an expressive hand or mark that is special to this artist.

"The Long Touch" is a 2002 painting that was made with latex, asphaltum, tar and pastel on canvas. In this large work, Utter shows an adult subject on the extreme left of the canvas reaching out with a surreal elongated arm to touch or hold a baby on the extreme opposite end of the canvas.

The two people are painted in a somewhat blurry and expressive style, and the top half of the work above the adult's arm is baby blue in color, while everything below the arm is mostly black dripping to burnt umber or gray. The artist writes about this point of his career in text featured next to this work and expresses that his use of material like roofing tar carried “weight and allusive physical emotional content.”

"The Long Touch" features asphaltum, traditionally used to coat driveways. “I’d like to think that that particular material and the long sweep and spread that are part of its functioning are present in the underlying physique of this painting, in the arching arm and the distance between love and its object,” writes Utter. It’s a work that subtly grabs your attention in its subject matter and its visual impact.

The other works run from the very large (over 8 by 7 feet) to the fairly small. The sizes and the techniques make this an emotional ride of a show that takes you along the path of the person who made all of this art and his life so far. It’s exciting, expressive and invigorating to look at, thanks to Utter’s ability to create relatable subjects and visually engrossing works.

 

Contact Anderson Turner at haturner3@gmail.com.