The Big Idea
September 23 - December 31, 2020
The origin of Idaho’s nickname as the Gem State is murky, but it likely alludes to the state’s abundant mineral resources, from silver and lead to semiprecious and precious stones, including the state stone—the star garnet. Idaho, like other parts of the American West, is rich not only in minerals but also in mountain scenery. The state’s history is written across its topography. The jagged, vertical peaks of mountains in the Sawtooth range tell the story of their relatively recent emergence from the earth’s crust, whereas older ranges, such as the White Clouds, have been softened by the erosive forces of time. And while the history that these mountains carry in their appearance is one that spans millions of years, Idaho’s geology is also a place where human history has been written. Narrow roads carved into mountainsides lead to the mines that once drew adventurers seeking their fortune, their work inside Idaho’s mountains driving its economy for more than half a century. Humans have also used Idaho’s geological formations as surfaces on which to record their stories, from petroglyphs made by the region’s first peoples to signatures painted onto boulders by emigrants headed west in the 19th century: evidence of their progress left for friends and family who followed behind.
Inspired by Idaho’s moniker, SVMoA’s BIG IDEA project Gem State considers geology—particularly the geology of Idaho and the American West—and uses it as a metaphor for the ideas of time, transformation and history. While the idea of time (both geologic and human) drives the project, so does the notion of transformation. Geological processes occur on a time scale that is difficult for us to comprehend. Over thousands or millions of years, minerals and organic matter accumulate in layers that become sedimentary rock; long-term exposure to pressure or heat transforms one type of rock into another—igneous (volcanic) rock or sedimentary rock becomes metamorphic rock. Inherent in geology is the promise of possibility.
Image: Brad Johnson, Blue Bierstadt, 2020, oil, acrylic, hide glue and gampi paper on archival pigment print, courtesy the artist
Gem State BIG IDEA project was made possible in part through generous support from The Dawson Family.
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The Gem State visual arts exhibition features work by four contemporary artists, all of whom are interested in the connections between geology, place and time. The exhibition includes newly commissioned work by artists Blane De St. Croix and Brad Johnson.
Northern California-based artist Mari Andrews works with natural materials, including stones and minerals, to create sculptures, two-dimensional works, and installations. Like much of her work, Andrews’s Coalgems, large pieces of anthracite that she carves and polishes, suggest the idea of transformation through time. Collected Topography, small lead aprons filled with soil collected from different sites around the world, reveals Andrews’s interest in the geology of place. The wide range in color of the different soil samples illustrates the diversity inherent in the earth’s surface.
Blane De St. Croix is well known for his large-scale sculptures and installations that recreate different kinds of geological and environmental sites of political or social importance, with a focus on the dramatic effects of climate change on the landscape. At SVMoA’s invitation, De St. Croix participated in a residency in the fall of 2019, visiting geological sites around southern Idaho. Inspired by the diversity of geological formations he encountered and the history of Sun Valley as a Union Pacific destination, De St. Croix has created a unique installation for the exhibition—a model Union Pacific train pulling cars that carry small sculptural models of the sites he visited during his residency.
The painter Cynthia Ona Innis has responded to geological sites throughout the American West for a number of years. Working with acrylic paint, ink and fabric, she creates striated, abstract artworks that suggest the collision of tectonic plates at fault lines, geothermal or volcanic activity, mountains and canyons. Innis made a number of pieces in this exhibition after a road trip through Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Others examine sites in her home state of California. Often her works invite the viewer to consider not just what they are able to see of a place, above ground, but the layers of geological history that lie unseen beneath the earth’s surface.
Based in Trout Lake, Washington, the multidisciplinary artist Brad Johnson has long been interested in the geology of the American West. SVMoA invited Johnson to create a new body of work for this exhibition with a focus on Idaho, and Johnson made several trips around the state, spending time at sites both well known (Hells Canyon and City of Rocks, for example) and obscure (abandoned quarries and remediated archaeological sites). Johnson uses photography and digital media to create works on paper that are sculptural in nature, using relief to evoke the textures and surfaces of the places he depicts. Johnson is particularly drawn to sites where human activity and geology intersect, and where he can illuminate the idea of time on both human and geological scale.