An Innermost Journey: The Art of Shauna Cook Clinger


October 29, 2008 - February 15, 2009



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 layered lives.
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 body.
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 specific purposes.
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 century life.
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.


Exhibition Catalogue

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 Arts)

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