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Totemic images link past and future

ROOTED IN ANCIENT culture, totemic images are suggestive of human form and kinship, linking our primitive past to our future through empowering symbols. Through Feb. 20, Art Access presents the "Totemic Images" of five artists: Jeff Juhlin, Ray Jonas, Cordell Taylor, Phillip Richardson and James Baker.

In his latest work, Juhlin didn't consciously have the idea of totems or totem-like imagery in mind. "I did, however, find myself putting together these various found steel components in a way that related to human form and scale," writes Juhlin in the gallery's notes. "As these pieces progressed, they evolved quite mysteriously into a more complex imagery that appeared to function on a symbolic, emblematic and totemic level." The three steel pieces in the exhibit, "Guardian IV," "V" and "VI" are large and very much examples of totems.For many years Jonas has been fascinated by the wood carvings of Pacific Northwest cultures, especially their totem poles. Having used wood to make sculpture and furniture, he has an affinity for other wood workers, their craft and the objects. He writes, "I think for me, the appeal of totems is the vertical configuration of the pole, the stylized animal motifs and the tooled surface of the cedar along with the colored stains on some parts of the pole. These things are beautiful. While my own work does not take this traditional approach to carving, I have in these sculptures used non-objective forms and different materials to create the totemic image." Jonas' use of brass with various woods, such as honey locust and box elder, makes for pieces that border on the spiritual.

Taylor's works deal with the inner conflicts and the psychological and emotional tides one rides while making life's laborious decisions. "I seek nothing less than to tell the story," he writes. "These are the stories of waking dreams. They haunt me in my consciousness and even as I lie there sleeping. These are the products of my mortal sentence. His "Anvil" is puzzling yet powerful in its austerity and is the largest work in the exhibit.

Richardson's 8 to 5 job is that of a civil engineer. He is involved with precise detailed drawings and engineering calculations. He writes, "My art conversely pursues primitive, raw and perhaps rugged symbolism largely based on African influence and totemic imagery." While rummaging through scrap heaps, production facilities and building job sites - looking for raw material - Richardson often discovers additional steel shapes that he connects, creating objects that are both playful and serious. His three "Nail Talismans" are by far the most visually playful pieces in the show.

While Baker is primarily a printmaker, his work is still totemic. "My images are concerned with the unseen elements of life," he writes. "Totems and symbols are free of projected consciousness and exist in an almost subconscious and unmediated way." His piece "Fetus Box" (mixed media) was created when he was in high school. His recent intaglio print "Hide My Bones in the Train Yard" still carries much of the same symbolism the artist discovered in his youth. Baker hopes that by using a totem to represent the human soul he'll enable viewers to project themselves into the landscape of the image and thus "strengthen the link between themselves and the image."

The Art Access Gallery is located at 339 W. Pierpont Avenue in Salt Lake City. Its hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.