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Utah Graces

In ancient times, Aglaia, Thalia and Euphrosyne, the three Graces, were believed to have inspired artists. Today, Edith, Peggy and Bonnie, three inspired artists, are exhibiting new works at Phillips Gallery, and the result is truly illuminating.

Edith Carlson, Peggy Moore and Bonnie Phillips are a talented, sophisticated trio whose individual works encouraged Phillips' director Meri Ploetz to create this invigorating exhibit."It was kind of a gut feeling for me," Ploetz said during an interview. "I knew from seeing Edith's show at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts that her work was very clean and sparse and that it would really compliment Peggy's and Bonnie's work. I think the main thing that ties these three artists together is their extremely detailed, intricate work."

On the surface, Carlson's minimalist, color-field drawings titled "Lines of Light," appear to have nothing in common with Phillips' color/line/word mixed media paintings and Moore's intricately woven wrapped forms. But on closer inspection, Carlson's work embraces the same obsessive-compulsive, complex handiwork of her associates.

Carlson's "less-is-more" geometric forms, rendered in color pencil, Conte crayon and graphite, are similar to what the artist had in her UMFA 1996 exhibit, "Color x Light =Infinity." Here again Carlson works up variations on a theme, resulting in the "Series," a trademark of Carlson. She works from all sides of a drawing, bringing light and color together to dissolve lines, edges and shapes. The outcome is a luminous vibration of hue.

"Edith's work is maybe just a little too sophisticated for the average viewer," Ploetz said. "They just see color; they don't see what they're really all about."

In the 1996 exhibit, Carlson allowed her drawings to be viewed without the customary protective glass. It offered viewers a chance to fully scrutinize and appreciate the hand burnishing of the muted colors and the rich texture of the paper. Unfortunately, for the finished art's protection, Phillips has covered Carlson's drawings with glass. However, each drawing still pulses with the vagaries of light and color.

When first encountering Moore's woven pieces, the viewer might well equate them with primeval sea creatures. The artist employs a Styrofoam form that she then - with amazing dexterity - wraps with waxed, impregnated linen. Each work is Zen-like, expertly crafted and appealing to the senses.

It takes the artist two to three months to do each piece. The finished work is small enough to fit in one's hand. Her pieces "Carrot Top," "Cucumber" and "Enoki" spill over into the humorous, almost entering Pop Art territory.

Phillips Gallery has represented Moore for over four years. "She was a customer here," said Ploetz. She'd come in and look around. One day she brought some weavings in to show the previous gallery director, just to see what she thought about them. The director fell in love with the pieces and told Moore that she should get her work and bring it back to the gallery. "I don't think Peggy brought them in intending that the gallery would take her on," said Ploetz. But they did.

Phillips hasn't had an organized showing of her own work in her gallery for 15 years. "It's too self-serving," she said. Yet after studying one of her mixed media paintings one has to wonder if she shouldn't be more egotistical.

Phillips is a voracious reader - as are the other two artists in the exhibit - and she incorporates into her work words and phrases that have personal meaning for her. In "Who Are You? Homage to Tich Nhat Hahn," she includes a phrase by the Buddhist monk, weaving it through and around the patterns on the canvas.

"Pattern and verbiage together help me relate to things," said Phillips. As a young girl, she would diagram her sentences in English class with colored lines and patterns. This predilection remains with her today.

Her tendency to use writing in her art comes from Phillips' pursuit of truth. She finds it in many writings, and it shows in her work through subliminal Judeo-Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Taoist, etc. imagery.

The show by Carlson, Moore and Phillips, on exhibit through June 12, will require some patience on the part of viewers, but if one is willing to take the time, there are gems to be discovered.

The gallery also is exhibiting black-and-white photographs by Tillman Crane, along with a selection of photographs by students of Waterford School. These works are in the downstairs Dibble gallery and are a must-see.