An Innermost Journey:
The Art of Shauna Cook Clinger
October 29, 2008 - February
Excerpts from the exhibition catalogue essay "Shauna
Cook Clinger: Passages of Spirit, Passages of Paint," by art
historian Dr. Linda Jones Gibbs
- Shauna Cook Clinger is on a journey-not an external excursion
but an interior voyage that has taken her along the path of empowerment
and self-discovery. Her quest for deepened spiritual awareness has taken
form in a remarkable body of work that expands the meaning of self-portraiture
and figurative art and invites us to explore the many dimensions of our
- Portraiture has been part of Utah art history since the
Mormon pioneers first arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Shauna Cook
Clinger's paintings perpetuate a long standing tradition in Utah of artists
engaging in the visual discourse of their times. As one of the state's
most prolific and sought after portrait painters, Clinger's work holds
a significant place within this long standing visual tradition. During
the 1980s alone, the artist completed over one hundred and fifty commissioned
portraits. A major distinguishing factor of Clinger's work is not only
her remarkable facility in rendering likeness but her sensitivity to subtle
aspects of personality.
- This probing for depth of character took a significant
turn when, in the late 1980s, Clinger experienced a deep-seated shift of
sensibility that altered her artistic terrain. Publicly, she maintained
her external focus with a rigorous schedule of commissioned portraiture.
Privately, she began to direct her lens increasingly inward, painting highly
personal symbolic self-portraits. The result has been a remarkable group
of paintings that are riveting in their degree of emotional honesty. These
paintings visually document a highly personal examination of the artist's
inner being, a process involving spiritual struggle, exploration, transformation,
and ultimately rebirth. Rather than focusing on physical appearance, Clinger
uses the image of her own body to probe the complex coexistence of mind
and spirit within the human form, the inseparability of the soul from the
- Clinger's work since the later 1980s can be placed within
the rubric of feminist discourse. Feminist art history was coming of age
in the 1970s, around the same time Clinger began to develop as an artist.
Prioritizing experience and meaning over form and style, feminism brought
a resurgence of figurative imagery and portraiture in the visual arts.
In using her own image as metaphor, Clinger's art is an act of self-empowerment.
In her self-portraiture, she actively presides within her
own body, thus reclaiming the female figure by utilizing it for her own
- Just as the feminist movement is ultimately about the
universality of human experience, Clinger's images are ultimately egalitarian
and speak to the humanness of all people, male as well as female. Her art
is both private and universal, transcending the personal to become transpersonal.
While charting her own individual journey, Clinger addresses the feminine
in the human psyche, the female forces of the Universal present in all
people, and the interconnectedness of spirit and matter in all living beings.
The images in Clinger's works have the potential to speak to all viewers,
regardless of age or gender.
- In Clinger's paintings, this process of becoming unfolds
before our eyes. Figures emerge cocoon-like from their cloth chrysalis;
another awaits awakening from soul slumber in an underground womb; and
still another powerfully creates her own rebirth.
- Clinger's self-portraiture has helped define the role
art can play in the reconciliation of art and spirituality. This, in turn,
serves as a balm to individuals and cultures fragmented by a world marked
by self-consciousness and cynicism. Her bold engagement of themes of transformation,
renewal, and the search for the divine within us helps fill the need for
the creation of what cultural philosopher Marc C. Taylor has termed a "theoesthetic,"
the reemergence of a theological dimension in contemporary discourse. With
its images of deep blue night, celestial white, encircling starlight, internal
might, and sacred sight, Clinger's art provides visual signposts toward
a much-needed spiritual discourse amid the temporal concerns of twenty-first
- Linda Jones Gibbs, Ph.D.
- Art Historian
- Mamaroneck, New York
About the author
Linda Jones Gibbs has a Ph.D. in art history with a specialty
in American art from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Formerly a curator at the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt
Lake City, she more recently was senior curator at the Museum of Art at
Brigham Young University, where she was responsible for the exhibition of
the permanent collection "150 Years of American Painting, 1794-1944"
and "Escape to Reality, The Western World of Maynard Dixon." She
is author of Escape to Reality - The Western World of Maynard Dixon,
Harvesting the Light, The Paris Art Mission and Beginnings of Utah
Impressionism, 150 Years of American Painting - 1794-1944, and First
in the Nation: A History of the Utah Arts Council, an in-depth study
of the Utah State Collection.
The exhibition An Innermost Journey: The Art of Shauna
Cook Clinger is accompanied by a beautifully illustrated 52 page, full
color exhibition catalogue published with the support of the Utah Museum
of Fine Arts and the Salt Lake City Arts Council. The book catalogues Clinger's
vibrant paintings featured in the current Utah Museum of Fine Arts exhibition
and includes insightful essays by nationally acclaimed author Terry Tempest
Williams and art historian Dr. Linda Jones Gibbs. The exhibition
catalogue is available in The Museum Store at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.
ISBN: 978-0-615-21016-2 (right: front cover of An Innermost Journey:
The Art of Shauna Cook Clinger. Image courtesy of Utah Museum of Fine
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