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Artist Halldor Hjalmarson Remembers Wandering the Sonoran Desert

Best of Phoenix hit newsstands Sept. 26. In conjunction with this year's Vintage Phoenix theme, New Times is collaborating with R. Pela Contemporary Art to present "Hot Plate!" It's an exhibition of one-of-a-kind, Phoenix-inspired commemorative plates made by local artists. Leading up to the show's Oct. 4 opening, we're profiling each of the contributing artists and visiting their studios. Today: Halldor Hjalmarson.

Artist Halldor Hjalmarson was born in Phoenix in 1938. He remembers when the population was only 60,000 people and when driving to Tempe or Glendale would take you through some pretty desolate areas.

See also: Hot Plate! Best of Phoenix Commemorative Collaboration Opens Oct. 4 at R. Pela Gallery

Hjalmarson says he remembers his mother making sure they had enough gasoline ration stamps to visit family in Litchfield Park. He used to scrape money together to get by during his childhood while his father was off in Iceland serving for the U.S. Army during World War II.

Because money was tight back then, Hjalmarson says he remembers spending much of his time wandering in the desert. Watching the city take over the desert his had an impact on his art.

What's your earliest memory of Phoenix? Of course I remember my home on Willetta Street in central Phoenix; but I also vividly recall my mother taking me for a ride on a streetcar the last day they ran. It also was a challenge to scrape together a nickel or dime to swim at University Park Pool or see a movie at the Strand or Rialto.

What inspired your plate for this show? I spent much of my teenage years roaming around the Sonoran Desert. I could take you to places where every step you took, you would be walking on shards of Indian pottery... and you would not know it. Of course, I was keenly aware of native animals and plants. I have watched the growth of Phoenix and the encroachment on our desert. I think of Gerard Hopkins poems about the negative consequence of human domination over nature... along with his belief and hope that nature would prevail. Although with some of our new man-made destructive powers... I doubt if he would have been so positive. I am trying to make a statement with my plate to show man's footprint. I chose to show remains of a souvenir tourist plate scattered among a micro landscape of our desert. These plates not only depicted grand scenes from nature, but also innocently promoted the destructive forces of open pit mines, dams, and smelters.

Phoenix needs more... We need more opportunity for young people to live productive and healthy lives. One example: When I went to ASU I worked full time at $1.73 an hour, and only had to work about 40 hours to pay tuition. Today, at minimum wage, a person has to work for months to do the same.

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Phoenix needs less... Traffic, asphalt and heat.

Whats on your plate this fall? My work has always slowly changed, and I am now working to enhance the relationships and conflicts found between animals and plants of our desert. My work is moving away from "low relief sculpture" on the surface of vessels, and I am finding more excitement in creating 3d depictions. I am becoming more aware of texture and pattern and am exploring ways to "frame the imagery". I am finding new excitement.

See Hjalmarson's work when "Hot Plate!" opens tonight at R. Pela Contemporary Art.

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