Though many artists take inspiration from Utah’s unique landscapes; one Utah artist, Cody Chamberlain, hopes that his work will encourage viewers to think more about their role in the environment.
Chamberlain describes the deserts of the west as a harsh, yet gentle land that is the foundation of his work. Last week, he and other artists from around the state showed their work at 39th Annual Statewide art competition at the Eccles Community Art Center in Ogden.
The competition featured paintings of people, nature, and the abstract, glazed and carved pottery, and three dimensional multimedia pieces. Chamberlain’s multimedia piece—titled “Desert Wake”—was perhaps the largest and most complex piece entered in the competition.
Chamberlain’s piece is complex. The base is nearly 8 feet long and is made of salvaged wood.
“I found a large pile of lumber that was half decayed and I fell in love with it,” Chamberlain explained.
A long, narrow, wooden box that was purchased at an antique store sits atop the salvaged wood platform and is decorated with a charcoal drawing of a juniper tree. The inside of the box is painted black and is lined with clay sculptures of bird sculls and other more abstract pieces, which Chamberlain said he stained with teas and dyes to make them appear like scavenged bone from the desert.
Chamberlain said that the title of the piece has multiple meanings.
“The title, Desert Wake…there’s a lot of different meanings in each of those words,” Chamberlain said.
“Wake” means that he hopes piece will “wake” people up to how they interact with the environment. Chamberlain said it could also refer to a “wake” at funeral—referring to what may happen to the environment if people don’t start taking care of it.
“It’s very heavy on the life and death themes,” Chamberlain said.
These ideas aren’t unusual for Chamberlain’s work, which tends to center around the desert and humanity’s interaction with it.
“Well, our being in Utah is centered around the desert or at least it is centered around us. It’s kind of a theme [of my work],” said Chamberlain. “I’m from Utah, I love the outdoors. I think it’s central to my soul and everybody’s soul—the desert. It’s a beautiful landscape and I draw a lot from it. Death is beautifully illustrated in the desert, everywhere you look, just because of the age and the scars and the land.”
In painting, drawing, and sculpture, Chamberlain tries to depict the beauty he sees in the desert in a way that he hopes will inspire people to further explore how they think about the outdoors.
“I want my work to be mostly about the message,” explained Chamberlain.
Chamberlain said that he hopes that his art will help people to realize how important the landscape is to their lives.
“I really hope to bring…magic to people a little bit, try to help them fall in love with [the environment] instead of telling or spelling out to somebody what I think should be done with the environment. Maybe they can capture something in one of my pieces and personalize it and carry that on. The message is the most important part, to bring something like that away and to have them find something special in a piece,” Chamberlain said.
“Desert Wake” will be featured at the Eccles Art Center through the end of August.
To see pictures of “Desert Wake” and other pieces by Cody Chamberlain, visit desertwake.tumblr.com.