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Mainstay has big night in Salt Lake City

Look around. His work isn’t hard to spot.

His fingerprints are on a female torso that poses in the rafters of Butcher’s Chophouse and Bar, contemporary décor that adorns Grand Summit Lodge, and even horse sculptures used in NBC’s broadcasting booth for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Tom A.J. Carlson’s work as a painter, jeweler and sculptor is pastoral and distinctly western for good reason. He has lived in Summit County for almost 30 years. Besides his public art, Carlson is known for painting expressionistic landscapes, flowers and horses on massive linen canvases.

This week, the longtime local opens an exhibit at Patrick Moore Gallery in Salt Lake City that features 50 of his paintings completed over the last year. The show opens Nov. 14 and runs until the end of the year.

Carlson, as if to put a modern twist on the prehistoric cave drawings at Lascaux, fills many of his figures with an almost iridescent light. "It goes way back to when I would lay on my back under parents table and draw with crayons," he explained Monday. "It has been in my program for a long time."

Carlson, 58, can’t explain why he is drawn to horses as a subject matter, except by way of Sigmund Freud. A horse shattered Carlson’s big toe when he was a teenager and left him afraid of the animals for much of his youth. "It freaked me out and destroyed my toe," he said circumspectly. "A lot of artists, a lot of people, have reactions to things they can’t begin to explain."

Another explanation has to do with composition. Horses have a metallic sheen, distinct musculature and they reflect light. "I’m really looking at the poetry of the light," he mused. "Painting can be to the viewers’ sentiments and feelings as a mirror can be to the ego. I’m not holding a mirror to the landscape. I want to hold a mirror to the sentiments of human beings."

Carlson primarily uses color to beckon emotion. His skies are often yellow, green and white, not blue. He started painting fulltime about 10 years ago, when he and his wife, Lisa, decided to close shop on a jewelry business. "Lisa and I designed small antique collages on bolo ties," he said. They would coat the bolo ties with patina, a bronze lacquer, antique buttons and colored glass.

During the day, Carlson would scribble notes to himself about what he wanted to paint in the evening, at 8 p.m. or so, when he could retire from his daily grind. He had no formal lessons or academic training in painting, but he was determined to train his eye and his hand.

Already self-sufficient in the jewelry business, Carlton and his wife eked out a week or two every summer to focus on painting. "We had to work 50 or 60 hours a week to keep ourselves afloat with bills and upkeep, by the time we were done, my brain was so cooked. The notes helped me remember what I wanted to do, and I’d follow them like instructions."

Today, the Carltons lives in an out-of-the-way house in Henefer, where they have been since 1981. They commute to town via snowmobile to run errands in the winter. "It feels incredibly desolate at times," he admitted, a fact that he says is conveyed on the canvas. But despite the relative inaccessibility of his home, the panorama that unfolds at his doorstep is alluring. At the end of every day, at around 6 in the evening, the Carlsons sit in their hot-tub and watch families of elk and deer bolt from one spot to another. Carlson said he takes the beauty around him as his mandate to paint.

Patrick Moore Gallery is at 2233 South 7th East in Salt Lake City. Tom Carlson’s reception is Nov. 14 from 6 until 9 p.m. For more pictures and information, visit http://www.thomascarlsonstudios.com.


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