SPRINGVILLE — For an invigorating lesson in art appreciation, spend an hour or two at the Springville Museum of Art, studying the landscapes of Michael Ray Workman and the figure drawings of Robert T. Barrett. Both exhibits run through Feb. 4.
A highly skilled tonalist, Workman has created paintings that are characterized by soft, diffused light, muted tones and hazily outlined objects. Each completed work — a skillful fusion of style and substance — is ambrosial.
Born and raised in Highland, Utah, Workman developed an early love of the land. After graduating from Brigham Young University with a degree in drawing and painting, he worked as an architectural illustrator. Later, returning to BYU, he received his MFA.
In the exhibit, Workman's "Yellow Winter, Tennessee" (oil on canvas mounted on board, 30 by 60 inches, 2002) offers a matchless glimpse of his trademark muted colors. The painting depicts rolling knolls of dusty olive green, a lone house embellished by intermittent trees rendered in ochre, a high horizon line with dimming sky that impels viewers to return to the hills. There are no caterwauling brushstrokes here, no haphazard design, no belligerent line, only whispers encouraging viewers to stop, rest and relish the overall harmony of the piece.
With "Tennessee Farm" (oil on canvas mounted on board, 42 by 48 inches, 2002) it's as if one had parked the car along the side of the road, gotten out and gazed down into a lush, bovine-littered valley surrounded by forested hills. It is a late summer afternoon, and sunlight has set fire to the pines along the rim: It is a compelling, ravishing work.
Each of Workman's 17 exhibition paintings is rendered with the confidence and skill of an artist working at the top of his form; each is a testament to the beauty and richness of the land. They are to be savored.
Every student of the figure, indeed, every artist who employs the figure in his work, should hurry to see Barrett's charcoal and nupastel figure drawings — each is a beautifully rendered, dead-on accurate example of perspective and foreshortening. All museum visitors will be delighted with the quality and honesty of these drawings.
In his exhibition statement, Barrett discusses the importance of rendering the human form correctly, and how such a rendering is a yardstick for measuring an artist's skill. While there are those who would take issue with Barrett's assessment, especially those of the "anybody-who-thinks-they're-an-artist-is" school, it's difficult to maintain such an argument after studying the completed drawings.
"The human form is a marvel of creation capable of exhibiting form, structure, proportion, contrast, action and emotion," writes Barrett. "When coupled with drapery and costume, it is also capable of communicating narrative content as well."
A professor in the department of visual arts at Brigham Young University — he is also well-known for his paintings, murals and illustrations — Barrett has only recently begun exhibiting his drawings. However, the 49 pieces in the Springville show reveal an artist who knows his subject and renders such with complete authenticity and soul.
Barrett employs traditional drawing procedures that have existed since the Renaissance, which include measuring, gridding and looking for angles and landmarks. "I believe that drawing is the beginning of personal vision and one of the most efficient ways to record visual ideas. I believe it to be the basis of all the visual arts."
The figure drawings are marvelous interpretations of the human form, and Barrett deserves praise for bringing them out for the public.
(Interested readers may also find a feature article on Barrett in the February issue of Southwest Art magazine. In April, he will have a six-page "A Painterly Approach to Drawing" in American Artist magazine.)
Workman is represented by Meyer Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., and in Scottsdale, Ariz. Barrett is represented by Williams Fine Art in Salt Lake City.