At Play in the Fields of Fat Boy: Three Wyoming Artists at CLUI Wendover

Wendover, Utah is a town on US 80, on the state line between Utah and Nevada, situated in the salt-flats and desert of the Great Salt Lake. Before the Center for Land Use Interpretation acquired property for an artist’s residence it runs in Wendover, Wendover’s assets included an airfield where training for the atomic bombing missions on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, took place. The Bonneville Salt Flats, also in Wendover, were where British race-car driver Sir Malcolm Campbell set a land-speed record in 1935. (Race-car driving began at Bonneville in the teens. The latest record-holder, Andy Green, achieved a speed of 350.092 mph (563.418 km/h) on 23 August 2006.)

It was 2011, when three University of Wyoming art department colleagues —  Patrick Kikut, David Jones and Shelby Shadwell  — were having Thursday “studio night”  in Laramie, and dreamed up how they could take their shared interests in land-use, into a new context of Wendover. [The three have exhibited what could be called intra-referential work, in Santa Fe, including paintings of signs along Wyoming roadways (Kikut);  enormous trucks rendered as margin-grabbing charcoal monoliths (Shadwell); bell-jar-scaled sculptures of mining gear (Jones).]  Idea generated action. Working together and apart, the three spent six weeks in summer 2011, at CLUI Wendover, responding to land-use and the spirit of place. That culminated in GOLDMINES, their joint exhibit that  opened July 14th and remains on view through October.  (A blog devoted to it can be found at this link.)

The three artists did perhaps as one likes to imagine some Air Force grunts may have done in their barracks 65-plus years ago; they made a horseshoe pit and a cold plunge; they set out to dry jerky on makeshift drying screens in the punishing heat and 60-mph winds.  Not merely “homesteading” but envisioning a relationship to place that includes its history and its contemporary status, their work in aggregate dealt in pioneering and in nomadism; on an individual level, the artists engaged real attempts to see afresh into a place that Kikut described as “the most schizophrenic town in the US,” situated both in Utah and Nevada- a culturally charged line. For, in addition to being home to car commercials subtitled “Professional driver-closed course,” Wendover is a truckstop, a place of grifters. A real not a symbolic divide marks off Mormons in Utah from libertarian gamblers in Nevada. And the military-installation history, just across the fence; co-exists with a history of the spot’s “discovery” by land artists

Thomas Moran Field Sketch, 1871

including Nancy Holt whose Sun Tunnels, seen this year in a traveling retrospective, are near Wendover.

Far before 1971, indeed a century (and more) before, the pioneer American painter Thomas Moran  made “Field Sketches” of Yellowstone Canyon and other previously undiscovered loci in his journeys west, before the train. Encountering Wendover therefore, for Kikut, Shadwell and Jones, manifested an encounter with geologic, social and art histories, and also an opportunity to make new. “It seemed like  a new western landscape to me,” Kikut offered. And his travels took him afield as well, to the Twin Creek Gold Mine, in northern Nevada, to places where “marks of human habitation” enabled his 21st-century field drawing.

Kikut also created “survival boxes” that he made, as the name implies, to hold specific objects — a candle, matches, a map of the Great Basin, homemade jerky and pumpkin seeds — that could help a person lost. He walked out to install these boxes in crotches of trees.  Shelby Shadwell made a video of Kikut taking one of his survival boxes out into the landscape, and also created a mountainscape installation with matchbooks, and a sculpture of the salt-flats replete with cockroaches and baking soda. David Jones created a movie-set silhouette and, on the backside of it, a transient camp, that hosts the detritus of anonymous inhabitants and some local graffiti, from Wendover.
For those who cannot travel there for the show, a virtual look-see appears below.

Blue Lakes Salt Flats, Patrick Kikut

Gold Mine Fill Pit, Patrick Kikut

Ramp State Line, Patrick Kikut

The CLUI Wendover Exhibition Hall

David Jones’s installation detail

Shelby Shadwell, “I Decorate My Room,” thousands of matchbooks – and an undisclosed object

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