John Sproul, a prominent local artist and owner of Nox Contemporary, will close the gallery following the end of Jared Steffensen’s exhibition Idem, Norms, Dorms Mine on November 4, 2022.
SALT LAKE CITY—John Sproul is well known to many in the Utah arts community. A gregarious, if soft-spoken figure, Sproul crafts textured paintings that encase human figures in layers of pigment, inviting a rumination on both the formal qualities of his artmaking and the psychology of his subjects alike.
Until November of this year, Sproul also owned and operated Nox Contemporary, one of Salt Lake City’s foremost art spaces. Just as its emergence on the scene in 2010 came during a period of artistic possibility, many lament Nox’s impending closure at a time when enthusiasm in Utah’s artistic landscape is once again accelerating.
Utah has been here before. In the years after the Great Recession, excitement for the arts expanded, leading to the creation of new or relocated contemporary art spaces such as Nox, Modern West Fine Art, Garfo, and Cuac. Nox first opened in December 2010 before closing in July 2013. Sproul resurrected the gallery in November 2015 ahead of its eventual sunset in fall 2022.
Sproul’s desire to support the local art scene remained steadfast despite Nox’s period of inactivity. He acknowledges that he was uniquely situated to run the experimental space near 400 West and University Boulevard.
“I opened it in 2010 because I was in a position where I wouldn’t need to draw income from the gallery so I could do whatever I want,” says Sproul, who operates an ecommerce company that supported the gallery and allowed creative freedom to select artists he was eager to work with.
“A lot of the artists I’d found at the time, the ones I thought were the strongest, weren’t really being shown in Salt Lake City, so I thought they needed an opportunity,” he adds. “I wanted to see what they’d do if they had no creative restrictions. A lot of amazing things have come from that.”
Indeed, in the past year alone, Sproul has hosted esteemed figures in the Salt Lake art world, giving each a more experimental outlet that may not fit as cleanly within university-gallery spaces or the state’s two flagship museums, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. Nox’s last show features UMOCA chief curator Jared Steffensen’s second solo exhibition at the gallery, a sentimental milestone.
“Back in 2011, [Sproul] was the first gallery to offer me a solo show and the freedom to fill his space with whatever I thought needed to be there. He completely supported my overall vision—something I hadn’t ever previously experienced,” says Steffensen, whose praise for Sproul is effusive.
Sproul has also featured the experimental works of artists Jerrin Wagstaff and Frank McEntire in the gallery’s recent roster. The artists who have worked with Sproul offer resoundingly positive sentiments on all that he contributed to Salt Lake’s art scene.
“With Nox Contemporary, John provided a unique experimental art space in Salt Lake City. It was a place for artists to explore challenging concepts that were familiar and different to their usual art practice,” according to artist and University of Utah associate professor Lewis Crawford. “Nox Contemporary will be missed. It provided Salt Lake City and the Utah arts community a model of what a contemporary art space should be in a growing urban environment.”
“John has done so much legwork to get great art out in our community,” echoes artist Colour Maisch.
As Nox prepares to close, which will allow Sproul to focus on his art practice, the artist has been steadfast with his own projects. He’s spent the majority of 2022 prepping for his UMOCA exhibition (Here Between There ran from August to October 2022) as well as smaller-scale pieces for upcoming solo exhibitions for the new Salt Lake City gallery Current Work and at the gallery at Library Square. Current Work’s director Tiffini Porter, a longtime friend of Sproul’s, cites him among the reasons she felt at home in the local art scene.
“John has been a tireless advocate for the visual arts for years,” Porter says. “From opening his home for gatherings of artists and art advocates to coordinating a citywide foster art program, to running his own gallery, to serving on nonprofit committees, to creating and sharing his own studio practice, he is always looking for ways to build community.”
Sproul considers Porter’s efforts to be a continuation of the enthusiasm he hoped to amass at Nox. And while the progression of Salt Lake City as an arts hub has its ups and downs, Sproul is optimistic about where things are headed.
“There’s a lot of potential here and a lot more artists now than twelve years ago,” he says. “I think it’s a slow uphill process.”
He looks forward to continuing his crusade to foster creativity in Salt Lake City’s art scene in the years ahead.
“My main perspective coming out of all of this is that we all need to embrace an attitude of generosity, not of scarcity. This is ultimately what has been holding Salt Lake City back.