TRENT ALVEY, Emigration V, from "Off the Trail, On the Path" Series, 24 x 20," oil on panel, 2014

TRENT ALVEY, Emigration V, from “Off the Trail, On the Path” Series, 24 x 20,” oil on panel, 2014

What does it mean to be “off the trail, on the path?”  I guess in its simplest terms, this quote from Gary Snyder’s Practice of the Wild, refers to being a nonconformist and diverging from the well-traveled trail.  Yet, one can remain a nonconformist and still follow destiny– a unique path that leads toward self discovery.

TRENT ALVEY, Finch Lane 2, from "Off the Trail, On the Path" Series, 32 x 60," oil and collage on panel, 2014

TRENT ALVEY, Finch Lane 2, from “Off the Trail, On the Path” Series, 32 x 60,” oil and collage on panel, 2014

This concept of journey and discovery fascinates local artist, Trent Alvey.  It seems all her works represent an aspect of a journey, whether an image of her many travels to Africa or a representation of the ever-changing role of women.  Alvey’s latest paintings document the artist’s recent struggle with breast cancer and document her recovery by depicting her many walks in Emigration Canyon.  Alvey revealed her rebirth and the benefit of her walks among nature, fresh air, and changing weather.

The series “Off the Trail, On the Path,” initially started as non-representational but developed into landscapes.  What better way to depict a journey than through landscape, waiting to be traversed?  Landscape possesses a universality that can speak to us as viewers more so than portraits or multi-figured scenes.  As viewers, we can imagine our own journeys.  We can all relate to suffering, triumph, nature, beauty, power.  More importantly, Alvey’s series reminds us that no matter what attempts to set us back, we can find our way “off the trail, on the path.”

TRENT ALVEY, Emigration IV, from "Off the Trail, On the Path" Series, 24 x 20," oil on panel, 2014

TRENT ALVEY, Emigration IV, from “Off the Trail, On the Path” Series, 24 x 20,” oil on panel, 2014

More About Trent Alvey:

Trent Alvey exists as one of Utah’s most well-known and successful artists.  One of her works, Toaster Worship, even appears at the University of Utah in the Utah Museum of Fine Art’s permanent collection.  She serves as a trustee for the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and has received innumerable awards and grants, including the Mayor’s Award for Fine Art.  Teaching and traveling to Africa for humanitarian causes also occupies Alvey’s time.  To learn more about Alvey, please refer to her website at:

Within his prints and paperworks, local artist Bret Hanson creates a map of his experiences.  Diagrams, maps, architecture, and religion provide the inspiration for Hanson’s works.  By using various printing techniques, the artist creates a collage effect.  The result is a highly dynamic work that invites viewers to contemplate various dimensions and symbolic meanings and to experience his artistic journey.

BRET HANSON, PIranesi’s Dream, 2007, 25″x32″, Callograph and cyanotype, mounted on birch panel

Now is the opportunity to create a map of your own experience.  Consider using various media and/or techniques.  Include aspects of inspiration from your life.  Is there a particular person or place that has influenced you?  What other factors have contributed to your artistic development?

Tell us about your classroom experience with this project.  Leave a comment below.

TRENT ALVEY, Emigration V, from "Off the Trail, On the Path" Series, 24 x 20," oil on panel, 2014

TRENT ALVEY, Emigration V, from “Off the Trail, On the Path” Series, 24 x 20,” oil on panel, 2014

In looking out the window of your apartment or house, what strikes you most about the view? Is it comforting and familiar? Stark and distant? In any case, our sense of place often influences our mood and sense of self. Where we come from can define us in positive and negative ways. Are you as serene as the mountain scene, or stifled and ready to move along?

Local artist, Trent Alvey, explores this sense of place and its influence on our identity in her “Off the Trail, On the Path” Series. Scenes from this series started as nonrepresentational works and developed into landscapes of Emigration Canyon by the artist’s house. The title of the series proves significant and derives from Gary Snyder’s Practice of the Wild.  One of the works from this series, Emigration V, depicts a hillside.  Splashes of color and impacted strokes give movement and tangibility to the painting.

This series has special significance and represents Alvey’s journey and success toward recovery from breast cancer.  In talking with her, she revealed the liberation of living in the moment and revealed the importance of her canyon walks to restore her vitality.  These works show the power of place, particularly in the artist’s case, to restore and heal.

For Art History and Humanities Students:

1.  Landscapes offer a unique glimpse into artistic meaning.  Consider landscapes from various periods of art and be sure to research and understand their specific context.  What do the landscapes reveal about the artist and his/her time and place?  How do landscapes differ from other works of the time-period, including portraits and history paintings?  Do you think it easier or harder to creating meaning in landscape?

For Studio Art Students:

1.  Create a landscape with paints of your choice.  Be sure to choose a landscape that is familiar to you.  Attempt to paint a nonrepresentational scene without the strictures of portraying an exact view.  Share your work with a classmate.  Can he/she determine the landscape’s meaning to you?  Is it liberating or frustrating?  Calm or wild?

When we think of sculpture, we think of bronze or marble.  The word painting evinces images of canvas and globs of pigment.  Architecture suggests bricks and mortar.  Yet, what proves more modern than breaking preconceived expectations and creating a work with a nontraditional medium?  Contemporary artists push the envelope.  Consider the Dadaists at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Marcel Duchamp shocked viewers by modifying “readymades” into art objects, including a urinal that he dubbed, Fountain.  Jean Dubuffet created Art Brut by using chicken dung, asphalt, mud, and even banana peels on his canvases.

STEVE PLEWE, Critter, 1995

This modern interest in using unconventional media continues in the works of local artist Steve Plewe.  He loves to use driftwood and construction materials, particularly concrete.  Plewe’s creations breathe new life into such media and force us to question our expectations for art and tradition.  In looking at his works, how do your expectations for meaning change?  What does the use of construction materials add to your experience of his art?


Class Project:

As an individual or class, create a sculpture, painting, or model building with an unconventional medium or media.  Imagine what nontraditional materials you could use.  Do you envision a sculpture in paper cups?  A painting with stains of food?  A model building constructed in bottle caps?  What connotations does your medium inspire?  How does this complicate your expectations for a work of art?

Share images and your experiences with us!  Leave a comment below.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Carceri Series Plate XIV, 1745, etching

In the spirit of Halloween, it only seems fitting to present an etching by the master of ominous prison scenes– Piranesi.  Piranesi was born in Venice, and his diverse interests included archaeology, stage design, construction, architecture, and printmaking.  Antiquity and ruins fascinated him and often proved the subject of his works.  This image represents his focus in the 1740s, fantasy and prison interiors.  Such scenes became appealing to the Romantic movement of the late 18th century.  Does it remind you of any modern movie sets?

For Art History and Humanities Students:

Briefly research the 18th-century British philosopher, Edmund Burke, particularly his definition of the sublime.  In what way does Piranesi’s prison scene represent Burke’s view of the “sublime?”

For Visual Art Students:

Create a spooky setting without the use of figures.  Feel free to use any medium, including, but not limited to, paint, photography, architectural model, sculpture, etc.  Since there are no people, what elements render it frightening?  Use of shadow?  Color?  Architecture?

Welcome back from UEA weekend!  Hopefully, the long break resulted in numerous artistic ideas.  In keeping with our current exploration of Stomping Boot Studios and of expressionist, multimedia images, let’s consider our own interpretation.

For Studio Art Students:

1.  Think about how artist Nora Choquette suggests meaning in her portraits.  Consider her work, The Climb.  The woman appears among various windows and through swirls of color.  It metaphorically represents her climb either away from somewhere or to a destination.  Think how her use of formal elements like color, line, and symbolism affect the viewer’s perception of the figure.  How would you approach such a portrait?  Create a multimedia portrait that represents one of the following: dance, struggle, drive, sleep, create, or destroy.  Examples of possible media include collage, drawing, painting, graphic design, or sculpture.  Be sure to include at least two forms of media in your work.  After creating your project, be sure to share it with a classmate.  How does he/she respond?  Can he/she guess which subject you chose?  What elements contribute to meaning?

Feel free to share your work with us!

NORA CHOQUETTE of Stomping Boot Studio, Clutch and Release, Acrylic and multi-media on hanging canvas, 6" x 9", 2011, $900.00

NORA CHOQUETTE of Stomping Boot Studio, Clutch and Release, Acrylic and multi-media on hanging canvas, 6″ x 9″, 2011, $900.00

Dynamic color, texture, and meaning capture viewers when looking at the work of Nora Choquette and Stomping Boot Studios.  Such liveliness reflects the artist’s unique training in both graphic design and traditional media; her ingenuity in starting her own studio; and her strength in overcoming personal tragedies.

Choquette knew art was her passion but also tried to consider its economic viability.  ” I originally studied graphic design at Weber State University to gain a marketable skill as a single mom. I loved arranging text and images and had a fabulous professor, Larry Clarkson, who taught us how to recognize good design and work it. I didn’t like the limits of a computer though. Computers can’t be thrown in a passionate gesture to lend that energy to a piece of work. I couldn’t build up three-dimensional textures and squeeze the hell out of them with my hands or stomp on them in bare feet, if I was so inclined. And frankly, my graphic design projects always finished messy with a sense of incompletion. Graphic design requires precision and organization that I didn’t connect to very well. One day after class, Larry suggested that I follow my heart, rather than a paycheck and suggested that I trust the process. So, a bit later, I switched from graphic design to two-dimensional fine arts. I haven’t regretted it. I use text all the time in my paintings. Words are powerful. In poetic form, they are spiritual, and infusing them with colors and textures is heavenly to me.”

This training in various media influences her treatment, especially her portraits.  “Human beings in general are important to me these days. I wouldn’t say that I have been a well-adjusted, socially comfortable individual over the years. In fact, I was pretty mistrustful of the world most of my life. I had a crippling shyness that made me feel very awkward around people. I didn’t know how nor did I want to be a part of humanity. As I’ve grown closer to discovering who I really am and get some distance away from who I learned I am, I like humanity a lot more. I think portraits can honor humanity and its universal struggles and joys, because they can capture specific emotions. I’ll catch an image in a magazine that speaks to me or take photographs of friends and family and place them in an imaginary world meant to feel one certain way or another. Often, I use dream content in the settings. Expressions on a face can be telling. But what they tell, I believe, is different to every observer. I’ve had people describe one particular painting of mine of a woman in a stained glass window as pensive, sad, reflective, peaceful, longing, content, and hopeless—very different reads. It always intrigues me what people see in the faces I paint. I think it says more about what’s going on with the observer than what the painting itself is saying. I don’t always like to explain what a painting means to me or how I’ve arrived at a certain expression. If asked, I like to reflect the question back and ask what it means to them. Recently, I’ve actually tried to get away form portraits, but so far they keep showing up, so I’ll keep conducting them into reality until something new comes along.”

NORA CHOQUETTE of Stomping Boot Studio, Ice Cream for I Scream, Acrylic and multi-media on stretched canvas, 5' X 6', 2010, $650.00

NORA CHOQUETTE of Stomping Boot Studio, Ice Cream for I Scream, Acrylic and multi-media on stretched canvas, 5′ X 6′, 2010, $650.00

In incorporating such various elements, Choquette has a very distinct process.  “Process is everything in my work. Though I may have a general subject I want to describe, I try to stay away from planning the end result and allow it to happen as it will during the process of creation. Let me explain. Most of my work is multi-layered, not because that’s the plan to begin with (because not every piece contains many layers), but because as I work, I follow my impulses and spontaneous ideas. Sometimes the only impulse I feel is a color, so I add it until the feeling is satisfied. Sometimes I need to throw paint or other viscous material at the canvas. Sometimes I whack it with a huge brush full of paint, or slash it open with a blade, then sew parts up again. I’ve put a piece out in the rain and let the storm create random stains. I’ve poured paint from high on a balcony for an explosion and then worked with the shape. I’ve used duct tape, crepe paper, maps, sewing patterns, string, surgical masks, tubing, feathers, safety pins, lots of fabric and decoupage–anything that feels good in the moment.”

The artist continues, “It is not a quick process. In fact I get a bit daydreamy and move quite deliberately from one step to the next. I’m pretty critical of myself and will work on something until it looks and feels right.  Most of the time I never reach that point. I concur with Leonardo da Vinci’s assertion that, ‘Art is never finished, only abandoned.'”

The ingenuity evident in Choquette’s working process also led to her creation of Stomping Boot Studios.  “Right now, Stomping Boot Studios is in my home in Ogden, Utah. But the vision for Stomping Boot is to expand into a more public setting where other artists (or those who are curious about art making) can have a place to work.  A place not just to work, but to throw paint and make a fabulous mess! I am not an art therapist. and I don’t have the desire to go to grad school to become one at this point. But, I have profoundly benefited from making art, and if I could help someone else come alive by finding their own artistic expression, I would be jubilant. Over the years, I have taken notes while I create, including what kind of activities during the process really spoke to me and enlivened my soul; what things were painful, but in the end soothed and transmuted the pain; and what made me shriek with joy. I have them all documented with the intention of sharing them with others, as well as continuing to research what’s already out there. I welcome fellow artists who don’t have studio space to join me. But I am particularly interested in opening up these experiences to those who haven’t yet had a chance to find the joy and freedom of creating something with their own hands, minds, and hearts. It will be a safe place with absolutely free, unrestrained, uncensored expression, just like my studio is for me now. It is all coming together one step at a time. The vision is on paper. Now I’m looking for funding, ideas, and any support to find that bright open space and manifest it.”

NORA CHOQUETTE of Stomping Boot Studio, Kalevala, Acrylic and multi-media on hanging canvas, 8' X 11', 2014, $800.00

NORA CHOQUETTE of Stomping Boot Studio, Kalevala, Acrylic and multi-media on hanging canvas, 8′ X 11′, 2014, $800.00

Choquette’s passion led to creating this studio, but what challenges also exist for artists in this economy?  “The primary challenge I experience as an artist is that people don’t understand how much time you’ve put into a piece, especially when it contains a number of layers, so they get sticker shock. But in one large painting, for example, there might be up to seven paintings in it, orchestrated together layer by layer. That’s about a month’s worth of work. When I price it at $1000.00, people seem surprised. Well, that works out to be a touch more than $6.00 an hour working full-time.”

Choquette continues, “As an artist I tend to be introverted and can work alone for long periods of time. So another challenge is getting out there and promoting my work. Social media has been a pretty good outlet, but I believe I could market myself more than I do. I just don’t enjoy it; I’d rather be painting. The answer is to do it anyway, which is what lead me to the Urban Arts Festival, among others. If I want to sell something in order to build overhead to keep working and sharing, I must discipline myself to do things that aren’t always comfortable.”

How does the artist deal with such challenges?  “I strongly believe in perseverance, patience, and trusting one’s passion. If the soul is meant to BE an artist, things will come together toward that end. Many times, I’ve lost faith in my passion. I even put my entire studio into storage for a year and took an office job. That almost killed me! If I must work part-time outside of the studio for a moderate, consistent income, I must also continue to progress in my creative endeavors to stay balanced. Baby steps, one day at a time, little by little builds the dream, even as I have other responsibilities in the interim.”

Choquette’s passion for art always existed, but she’s overcome numerous obstacles to realize that passion.  “As a kid, I drew pictures to cheer up the people around me. But as life went on, I lost the belief that I was or could be an artist. I had terrible self-esteem and carried a great deal of guilt, shame, and shyness within me. Many years down the road, a therapist put paint and paper in front of me in the hospital after a suicide attempt. Lines and colors and ideas just started coming out, and that began the most important learning about art-making–let the images and ideas come out the way they want to. It was still many years later that I went back to school at Weber State University and fully learned to be unafraid to express anything that needed to come into being. My interest in art became a single-minded focus at this point, because as I let the ideas out onto canvas, I grew as a person. I healed (and continue to do so) from all kinds of rage, trauma, pain, shame and despair. And I continuously find joy.”

NORA CHOQUETTE of Stomping Boot Studios, The Climb, Acrylic and multi-media on masonite, 4' X 4', 2012, Private Collection.

NORA CHOQUETTE of Stomping Boot Studios, The Climb, Acrylic and multi-media on masonite, 4′ X 4′, 2012, Private Collection.

The process of creating art proves important to Choquette’s journey as a person.  “The process is important because I can express myself without reservation. I’ve expressed a great deal of anger and sorrow in my work, and it has turned into something interesting or even beautiful. This is why I heal making art.”

Art proves cathartic to the artist and deals with life traumas, including overcoming the death of a perpetrator who escaped justice by leaving the state.  “I lit a match for every year that had passed, and as the smoke rose into the sky, I let him go. I let the indignation and hurt swirl away into the night sky. Then, I glued the burnt matches to the canvas, symbolically immortalizing the concept of forgiveness. In a sense, it transmuted the so-called justifiable anger into peace. I can honestly say that I am peaceful to this day about that life event.  But don’t get me wrong. Not all of my work carries pain and catharsis. Sometimes it’s celebratory, free-spirited, and pleasurable, like my motorcycle paintings. And right now, I’m working on illustrating my favorite Scandinavian fairy tales because books were like little friends to me while growing up, and I want them venerated. Often, I vacillate between several paintings at once. It helps me not get blocked or bored or emotionally overwhelmed with any one piece.”

Considering her brave overcoming of obstacles, what advice does the artist have for burgeoning artists?  “Don’t listen to the critics, and keep on keepin’ on. I’ve encountered so many people who think you can’t make a living being an artist. It’s discouraging, because if you’re really an artist, you MUST make art. So, there better be a way to make a living doing it! I don’t believe we have to kick the bucket before our work means something to someone and is valuable. There are countless living artists who are doing well right now. If you love to create, no matter the art form, then be willing to go to any lengths to do it, to live and breathe and BE it. And I will be right there with you listening to these words that I’m writing—words that someone else told me at one time; and together, if we keep on going, we will bring our very hearts into this world, through our work, one piece at a time. And anything from the heart is bound to impact humanity in a positive way. Artists hold a lot of power, and if you’re one of them, go light up the world with YOU.”