Mormon’s Family Album: Pollock, Reagan, Steve Young

In recent years, Deitch Project, a gallery in SoHo, has made a specialty of exhibiting the we-are-the-world style of art that’s become known as “globalism.” The gallery has shown artists from 20 different nations, bragged gallery owner Jeffrey Deitch, ranging from Y.Z. Kami, an Iranian, to Shahzia Sikander, a Muslim from Pakistan, to Mariko Mori, a Buddhist from Japan. On Sept. 9, the gallery will introduce Lane Twitchell, a Mormon from Utah who creates entangled, almost scientific collages composed of references to Mormonism and contemporary America-professional football players, abstract artists, politicians, casinos-and Mr. Twitchell’s own numerology.

“His work comes out of the very American Western heritage. In some ways he is more exotic than Mariko Mori,” Mr. Deitch said. “It is a fascinating irony. He has positioned himself squarely in the middle of the American middle class.”

The 31-year-old artist’s exhibit is called State of the Union and will feature five or six of his storytelling works made out of hand-cut paper resembling lace, which he created in his studio in the Clocktower Gallery in TriBeCa. “I don’t mind being asked to represent Mormonism in the context of the New York art world,” said Mr. Twitchell with a somebody-has-to shrug. But his Mormon family and friends would probably be offended by some of the art being made and shown there, he said.

Mr. Twitchell moved East to study art at the School of Visual Arts in 1993. He lives with his wife, Adriana Velez, who is also a practicing Mormon, in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He dresses like a 60’s suburban kid, in clothes like a polo shirt with a penguin on the pocket, and has a wholesome, ingenuous quality that probably made him an effective advocate during his two-year term on a bicycle as a Mormon missionary. He speaks in a soft, lyric, Western accent that makes him sound like Roy Rogers. Mr. Twitchell likes to talk about his work as much as he likes to talk about God. He can jump from a rant on abstract art in the 1950’s to a discussion of the Bible in a nanosecond, reciting James 1:5 from memory as if it were his e-mail address.

At his studio, in late August, he pointed to a large, mandala-shaped collage with a circle of pennies in the center and a great deal of information embedded in its paper folds and cuts. “This painting is called Pluribus State 31, 1999 , and it is a response to Jackson Pollock’s painting, Number 31, 1950 ,” Mr. Twitchell said. “The piece is divided into three sections: Utah in the center, Nevada in the outside and California in the middle.… Copper for Utah, silver for Nevada and gold for California.

“For one, Pollock was from California,” he continued, gesturing to the California section where a U.S. postage stamp of Pollock pouring paint over one of his creations was stuck on the collage. “Here is a Lincoln Continental containing Nancy and Ronald Reagan, über -Californians, elected in 1980, on a freeway, and when the freeways spin around it creates a Pollock drip.”

Mr. Twitchell uses many numerical references to tie his themes together, although he rejects the label of mystic because he said that might make people think his work comes to him in a trance state. His work is more like that of a jazz musician, creating riffs out of riffs out of riffs. “California was the 31st state in the nation. The name of Pollock’s painting is Number 31, 1950 . I am 31 years old this year. Thirty one and 49 are the significant numbers in the painting.” California is 149 years old this year.

He pointed to a landmark pyramid-shaped building in the California portion. “Here is the Trans-America building,” he said, “which is a reference to a pyramid, and further in we see a Mormon polygamist standing beneath the pyramids, which is a reference to the Luxor casino in Las Vegas but also more specifically a reference to the … covenant, when Abraham, in Genesis, was promised that he would be the father of a nation and that his descendants would outnumber the sands of the seashore or the stars of the heavens-that was the foundation of Mormon polygamy.

“My great-great-great-great-grandfather had 44 children,” Mr. Twitchell revealed proudly. “If you were going to settle a new nation in the American West, polygamy was a very effective means, as shown in the Old Testament, for jump-starting the birthrates. In the Nevada sections, the main motifs are these two casinos: the Dunes for the sands of the seashores and the Stardust for the stars of the heavens … Las Vegas was founded as a Mormon colony in 1855 by William Bringhurst under the direction of Brigham Young,” the artist explained.

What explains the small photograph of Steve Young? “He is the great-great-great-grandson of Brigham Young and plays for the San Francisco 49ers.

“I had other things to go in there, but it got too shrill,” Mr. Twitchell said.

Near the end of the interview, he revealed that he was celebrating the sixth anniversary of his move to New York from Utah. Then he went over to a box of invitations for the opening, picked one up and handed it over.

“Note the date: 9/9/99,” Mr. Twitchell said. “That’s very important. That’s the date that California became a state … Sept. 9, 1850.”