Artist of the
Month - March 2006
By Annabelle Numaguchi
What is art? How does it differ from
craft? If a painter copies another’s work, is that plagiarism
or a creation in its own right? When is a piece finished? What
role does framing play?
These are a few of the questions that artists often ponder,
left eternally without a definite answer.
Eric Trenbeath is no exception, particularly since he is
involved in art from so many angles within the process. He
is primarily known in town as co-owner, with his wife, Michelle,
of the framing shop, Framed Image. In an extension of this
work, he produces graphic designs for Utah businesses, such
as the Moab Music Festival, the Utah Guide and Outfitters
and Canyon Springs Consulting.
Not surprisingly, Trenbeath also pursues art through his
own drawings and paintings.
Working primarily in watercolors and pastels, he has painted
subjects ranging from landscapes to animals, figures to abstracts.
Originally from Salt Lake City, he was attracted to Moab
because of its striking desert landscapes, which were his
primary inspiration. Trenbeath, who holds degrees in graphic
design and literature, found the fragile treasures of the
barren landscapes captivating. He immersed himself in “traveling
through them–almost obsessively and often, solo.”
Before he figured out how to blend
his passions into a viable living, he began as a paste-up artist
in his hometown. He spent a year and a half producing junk
mail advertising, while staring out the window thinking, “There’s
got to be a better way.”
And sure enough he found it.
The better life manifested itself into alternating between
being a ski bum in Alta and a river guide in Moab, which
lasted about eight years. Although art didn’t factor
in too heavily into this new lifestyle, he did find time
to realistically render the mountains into aesthetically
During this time, he met Michelle, who is fluent in Spanish,
and they decided to move down to Oaxaca, Mexico for one year.
This change of lifestyle and scenery resulted in new subject
matter for his paintings. Trenbeath produced colorful renditions
of the lively street scenes, such as the two women walking
down a cobbled street in the watercolor, “Tlayudas.”
He draws an interesting comparison
about what he finds inspiring in the landscapes and street
scenes he depicted in his early years of painting. What sparks
Trenbeath’s imagination (and motivates him on long hikes)
is wondering what lies over the next rise. This same desire
to discover what lies hidden from view surfaced in the little
towns of narrow streets in Mexico, where he found himself wondering
what existed around the next corner.
After Mexico, the couple decided to move to Moab permanently.
Trenbeath learned framing while studying art at the Salt
Lake Community College. Seeing a niche he could fill and
a way to stay in the art industry, he and Michelle opened
the only framing store in town, Framed Image.
Moab has been a good fit for Trenbeath as his business and
art are thriving.
His interest in art is ubiquitous, manifested in how many
ways he has become involved in the artist community here.
Inspired by the strong support he saw artists receive in
Mexico from the community and the government, who subsidized
streets and areas for artists to display and sell their work,
Trenbeath has become a cornerstone in the art community here.
In addition to the framing services and graphic design he
offers through Framed Image, he coordinates the Moab Art
Walk, a bi-monthly event that invites people to meet selected
artists and view their work displayed in over ten participating
shops, cafes and galleries (see box for details). Trenbeath
created the Art Walk logo depicting footprints and it seems
an appropriate symbol of the mark he is imprinting on the
local art scene.
He has also joined an informal group of professional artists
who gather weekly to hire a model and portray the human form.
Depicting the figure became as inspiring
a subject to Trenbeath as landscapes. Several large paintings
hang on his studio walls, reflecting his penchant for a hyper-detailed
Although his early paintings are detail-oriented realistic
representations, what he did not include in the painting
seems as important to him as what he did. This drive to discover
what remains hidden explains in part his eventual move into
abstracts. He explains what drives him as, “I see something
sensual and mysterious in nearly everything. I want to taste,
touch, experience, and/or merge with the essence of it all.”
In “Self Portrait,” Trenbeath has depicted a
lean male abdomen with so much accuracy that it forces the
viewer to do a double-take to ensure it is not actually a
photograph. What is particularly intriguing about this work
is its composition. He has captured the torso from neck to
just above the groin, but he creates an asymmetry by not
centering it. The right hand side of the figure is cut off,
leaving interesting negative space on the left. Despite his
desire to depict the figure under the harsh scrutiny of reality,
he chooses in his composition to leave much of the subject
hidden. Again, what is not there seems as important as what
is. Like many contemporary local artists, he is drawn to
the work of those who passed before–hundreds of years
Several of his works depict pictographs of haunting triangular
figures originally painted on sandstone by the Anasazi. Understandably,
the mysterious forms composed of strong lines and geometry
are a natural attraction for an artist fascinated with the
desert and shapes.
However, Trenbeath finds himself grappling
with another of those unanswerable questions when it comes
to using someone else’s art as the subject of your own.
Apart from raising some thought-provoking ideas, this pondering
is indicative of Trenbeath’s contemplative mind and interest
in the philosophy of art as well as its execution.
In addition to finding pictographs inspiring, he enjoys depicting
Navajo sandstone, whose rounded lines evince a woman’s
curves. Most recently, his work is taking abstract forms,
wherein he merges the elements that draw him to figures and
In “A Soft Place,” the flesh-colored walls of
a what appears to be a slot canyon mimic the lines of a woman’s
body. The elliptical abyss that appears around the middle
of the work creates a focal point which summons the viewer’s
eye and imagination-what lies within? A thick straight line
runs from the top of this spot to the top of the painting.
Its straightness stands in sharp contrast to the soft lines
and rounded depth of the walls, creating an equilibrium in
the work evocative of the balance between yin and yang.
As Trenbeath’s painting evolves, he’s finding
a more expressionist side in his abstract work. He gives
the impression of an artist whose previous work has been
building blocks to the brink on which he now finds himself.
His new abstract works speak of a recently found confidence
in his own ability as a painter and a willingness to further
explore the ethereal world to which art opens the door.
While Trenbeath may not have resolved the eternally probing
questions regarding what constitutes art, he has managed
to find a satisfying answer to the question of how to make
a living out of it. He has managed to frame his endeavors
of pursuing his own creativity while working within the industry