Friday, July 22, 2016

Creative Colloquy

South Sound’s premiere reading event
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 21, 2016
The Creative Colloquy team listening to a reading at B Sharp Coffee House from left: Jenni Prange Boran, Joshua Swainston, Melissa Thayer, William Turbyfil, Chris Casella and Jackie Fender. Photo by Lee Heath.
Created by Jackie Fender a little more than two years ago, Creative Colloquy has become the South Sound’s preeminent literary event. Creative Colloquy is an online magazine featuring short stories, novel excerpts, poetry and other literary work by mostly Tacoma and Olympia writers. Starting in March of 2014, CC started holding readings at B Sharp Coffee House once a month.
“That first event came along and I anticipated a room full of just our friends and family. Instead, 60 people came out, many complete strangers to everyone involved in that first reading, and it was clear from that day that CC was filling a void that many of us had felt,” Fender says.
The public readings featured, in the first hour, local authors reading the stuff they had published in the online CC publication, followed by an open mic in the second hour with brave local writers, some professional and some beginners, reading their stuff in public for the first time. It was a huge hit from the start.
When it comes down to it, I started CC at the prompting of my writer friends who daydreamed of a platform to share stories. The CC vision of contributing to the local literary culture has exceeded anything we could have hoped for. It's a lovely beast where established and novice writers of all genres can connect and share,” Fender says.
In celebration of their first year, CC published an anthology of local writers and held a Creative Crawl, a kind of literary arts walk with readings in many downtown Tacoma venues such as King’s Books, Sanford and Son, Embellish Multispace Salon and others. CC has now published its second anthology and is scheduled for a second Creative Crawl in October with readings at Zodiac Supper Club, Kings Books, Tacoma Cabana, Doyle’s Public House, Odd Otter, Harmon’s Tap Room, Destiny City Comics and B Sharp.
“We have returning community partners like Drunken Telegraph and UWT curating line-ups as well as some new faces producing storytelling hours like Beautiful Angle. The inaugural C3 was pretty amazing and boasted an impressive attendance and we are looking forward to making this year a larger and more astonishing production. Should be a lot of fun,” Fender said.
Among the regular readers at the monthly events are local favorites such as Christian Carvajal, Titus Burley, Marissa Meyer, William Turbyfil, Lucas Smiraldo, Melissa Thayer and Jennifer Chushcoff.
This year Olympia CC has started with readings at Traditions Café, which will move to Forrey’s Forza Banquet Room in Lacey in August.
“It’s amazing to see how much support Creative Colloquy has gotten,” said assistant director Joshua Swainston. “The witing talents for the South Sound seems to be an endless well. We never know who’s out there until we put out the call for submissions, and we are always surprised and delighted by what we get from the community in return.”
Creative Colloquy, every third Monday at 7 p.m., B Sharp Coffee House, 706 Opera Alley, Tacoma, and every first Monday at 6:30 pm, Forrey’s Forza Banquet Room,
130, Marvin Road Southeast, Lacey. Creative Crawl, Mon., Oct 5, 6-9 p.m., various locations in downtown Tacoma.

Other Desert Cities

 Published in The News Tribune, July 22, 2016

Bonnie Vandver as Silda, James T. Patrick as Lyman, Toni Murray as Polly, Cameron Wates as Trip, and Silva Goetz as Brooke. Photo by Toni C. Holm
Olympia Little Theatre quotes the New York Times’ description of Jon Robin Baitz’s Pulitzer Prize nominee “Other Desert Cities” as a “witty, deeply enjoyable family drama.” Such a description could easily mislead people into expecting a light comic-drama, and this play is anything but light comedy. There’s comedy, yes. Biting, witty, sarcastic word play between five family members whose sophisticated banter balances on the edge of outright warfare.

Lyman Wyeth (James T. Patrick) and his wife, Polly (Toni Murray) are the epitome of wealthy Americans wasting away past their prime in self-satisfied pseudo comfort. Both retired, he was a B-movie cowboy star famous for long death scenes, and she was a writer along with her cowriter sister Silda (Bonnie Vandver) of a long-running television series. The Wyeths are Republican party functionaries. Silda, a recovering alcoholic, is politically liberal, as are the Wyeth children, Brooke (Silva Goetz), a successful writer suffering from depression, and Trip (Cameron Waters), a reality TV producer.

It’s Christmas 2004, and Brooke has come home from the East Coast to visit her family. She has brought with her a manuscript of her soon-to-be-published book, an explosive memoir that reveals family secrets and threatens to destroy whatever family unity still remains.

The setting is a suitably beige, ultra-modern desert home beautifully designed by Christopher Valcho that highlights the false comfort and respectability of the elder Wyeths and contrasts with the internecine family dynamics.

The writing is intelligent, and the story structure is classic, building steadily toward an unexpected and totally satisfying twist at the end.

The ensemble cast is solid. Patrick plays the family patriarch as a calm and reasonable peace-maker who quietly seethes with anger. Murray plays Polly as proud and sure of herself but more willing to let her anger show than is her husband. Waters plays Trip as laid-back, humorous, and wise beyond his years. Vandver is outlandish and wonderful as the outspoken Silda, who is disdainful of her sister and brother-in-law, and who is one-hundred percent on Brooke’s side and encourages her to not back down on publishing her memoir – which her parents desperately want her not to do. And this brings us to Brooke, the catalyst of all the drama. Goetz plays her as a mass of nervous ticks, quickly going from throwing witty barbs to tossing lethal bombs. She is smart, angry, mistrustful and filled with self-doubt, all of which she displays with powerful physical acting that crowds up to the edge of over acting without crossing the line.

“Other Desert Cities” is not an easy play to watch. It starts out as a sophisticated comedy and quickly becomes weighty. There is a quietly intense scene near the end that had audience members the night I saw it holding their breath in anxious anticipation. That’s good writing, good acting, and good direction from Toni C. Holm. At approximately two-and-a-half hours, it is a bit wearying, but worth sitting through. The one major fault is that the actors do not always project clearly, making some of the dialogue hard to hear. The theater does have hearing aids available for audience members to check out, but it would help if the actors wore microphones.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 1:55 p.m., through July 24
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia TICKETS: $11-$15, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, 360.786.9484
INFORMATION: (360)786-9484,

2016 Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition

Regional artists shine at SPSCC

Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 21, 2016

“21st Century Oxpecker” painting by Jason Sobottka, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College
Upon entering the 2016 Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition at South Puget Sound Community College, my eyes were immediately drawn to Bernie Bleha’s sculpture, “Minaret,” acrylic on wood, a colorful tower topped by a playful spire that looks like a tinker toy construction. From there, my gaze went to Carla Louise Paine’s painting, “I Died for Beauty,” an oil portrait of a contemporary woman in a flower-strewn interior painted in a style reminiscent of Rococo portraiture yet in a clearly modern setting. Both the Bleha sculpture and Paine’s painting are Merit Award selections from juror Esther Luttikhuizen.

“I Died for Beauty,” oil on canvas by Carla Louise Paine, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College
SPSCC has earned a reputation for cutting-edge shows like New York artist Benjamin Enterner’s installation of monstrous blow-up vinyl sculptures and Amanda McCavour's Embroadered Spaces, and for fun local shows such as their annual postcard exhibition. Compared to those, this exhibition is staid and safe. There is very little that is challenging, but there surely is a lot of good, solid artwork on display, not a badly executed piece in the show. Paintings dominate. There is not much sculpture, ceramics or photography. I’ll mention here just a few of my favorite pieces.

Olympia artist Gail Ramsey Wharton has her weird sense of humor on display with a couple of mixed-media collages: “Modern Family” and “Department of Humor Analysis.” The former is like Picasso’s “Family of Saltimbanques” moved to a modern-day beach with a frolicking family with weird faces that don’t match bodies; the latter is purportedly a graph showing the funniest places to hit a baby with a ball. Wharton’s collages are bizarre and skillfully executed.

Next to “Modern Family” are two more beach scenes, these from Marianne Partlow’s “Boys on the Beach” series, soft and simplified bodies in glowing pastel colors.
David Noah Giles, a recent transplant to Tumwater from Seattle, is showing a large abstract painting called “Times Square.” Filled with repetitive, similar but not identical shapes that dance across the surface in energetic movement, this painting is like an abstract expressionist version of Mondrian’s abstract city scene with the usual AE drips and splatters and collage elements that create a rugged surface. Had I been the judge, I would have picked this one for an award.

Next to Giles’s painting is another large abstract-expressionist painting, “Through the Rain” by Debra Van Tuinen, a local artist of long standing in the community. It is a field of bright orange and gold slashes of paint that almost cover the entire surface of the canvas like sheets of wind and rain. This is a stunning painting that captures the emotional power of a storm without resorting to imitative depiction of the subject matter.
Another favorite is Jason Sobottka’s “21st Century Oxpecker.” I had to Google Oxpecker to find out it is a kind of bird. I don’t remember seeing a bird in this painting, and there’s no mention of a bird in the notes I took. What I do remember seeing is a rhinoceros all decked out and ready for interstellar war, with glitter and what the artist calls “googly-eyes.” This is a funny, inventive, and nicely painted image.

There are a lot of talented artists in Southwest Washington. This show offers ample proof of that.

South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. through Aug. 25, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Peacocks, houses and muses

"Modigliani's Muse" plaster, acrylic and crayon on board by Lynette Charters, all photos courtesy the artist

Recent paintings by Lynette Charters

Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 14, 2016

“Housing Boom” 
Lynette Charters’ paintings are unique, not just in her use of media — china marker over acrylic paint mixed with plaster — but in her way of painting. On wood panels, she creates fields of heavily textured globs of color that are almost if not completely non-objective, and then either draws on top of those fields of color with the markers or creates line drawings by scraping into the not-yet-dried plaster, or in the case of some of her “muses” series, she tapes off areas to create negative images of figures in unpainted wood. Typically, similar methods of painting are seldom effective, because they create a separation between figure and ground, and because the end result is a figurative drawing on top of an abstract painting, which in the hands of lesser artists becomes trite and tricky. Not so in most of Charters’’ paintings. Through skillful manipulation of paint, she integrates figure and ground and creates a delicate balance of harmony and contrast between the abstract and the figurative. Note: not every painting in this show manages to successfully pull this off, but most do, and they are stunning to see. 

Charters’ show fills all three levels of the Washington Center lobby. Each level represents a different series: peacocks, houses and muses. The peacocks are joyful, colorful and ironic, since they have to do with preening and pomp. The muses, where the bare wood comes into play, are symbolic of women’s body issues; they reference other works from art history (for instance, there is one with four skinny women based on Giacometti sculptures and another based on a painting by Magritte); and the houses represent urban chaos. 

"Magritte's Muse"

“The theme of this exhibition is primarily about public image. How image is used to manipulate a position in society, how we are swayed by it and how we can be ultimately enslaved by projected images, even the ones we project ourselves,” Charters says.
In “Modigliani’s Muse” there is a flat image of a women in unpainted wood almost completely obliterated by a similar female figure that covers it so that only the head, feet and raised hands of the underneath figure show. The inserted figure is pictured wearing a light blue dress that merges into the background. The off-the-shoulder dress exposes one breast, and the woman’s breast and eyes are unpainted knotholes in the bare wood. The jigsaw puzzle-like integration of upper and lower figures is masterful in its peekaboo effect and play between positive and negative shapes.
"Deep Pockets"

“Deep Pockets” is a creative explosion of color with a peacock outlined in red with blue dots on its tail feather floating off into the burning reds and oranges of the background. The peacock is standing on an oval of unpainted wood that is part of a dress pattern with instructions and measurements marked. It is funny and beautiful.

“Housing Boom” depicts childlike line drawings of houses stacked up and taking off into a stormy sky like rockets, a playful yet ominous commentary on the real estate market and the overcrowding and sameness of suburbia.

These are but three of many works in the show. I wish I had space to write about many more. It’s a large and impressive show. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Lynette Charters, noon to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and by appointment, through Aug. 28, reception July 16, 5-7:30 p.m., The Washington Center for Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, 360.753.8585

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Little Shop of Horrors at Harlequin

Photo – Seymour with the Doo-Wops, from left: Kristen Natalia, Brad Walker, Deshanna Brown and Amy Shephard. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions

Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 30. 2016
The Doo-Wops, from left: Kristen Natalia, Deshanna Brown and Amy Shephard. All photos courtesy Harlequin Productions
I don’t want to be caught gushing like a pre-teen meeting Justin Bieber, but I can think of nothing but high-decibel superlatives when trying to write about the performances of Gretchen Boyt, Rich Garrett, John Serembe and Brad Walker in Harlequin Production’s Little Shop of Horrors. I remember seeing it 10 years ago at Capital Playhouse, and of course I remember the two movie versions. I remember that it was funny, but not this funny. What I did not remember is just how much it rocks out — thanks in large part in this production to the great Harlequin band led by Bruce Whitney and to the fabulous Doo-Wop Girls, Deshanna Brown, Kristen Natalia and Amy Shephard, who are so much more than backup singers. Shephard is also the choreographer, and it is a treat to see how energetically she throws herself into her role. She dances with infectious joy and excitement.
Seynour (Brad Walker) top, Mr. Mushnik (John Serembe) with Amy Shephard and Deshanna Brown.

Mr. Mushnik and Semour

Seymour with Doo-Wops

Semour with Orin (Rich Garrett)

Seymour and Audrey (Gretchen Boyt)
Serembe, who may be best known for multiple roles in The 39 Steps at Harlequin and as the monster in Theater Artists Olympia’s The Head That Wouldn’t Die (possibly the funniest character ever to appear on South Sound stages), plays shop owner Mr. Mushnik in a natural and realistic manner. He is loveable in a grumpy kind of way and funny but not outlandishly so until he teams up with the nebbish Seymour (Brad Walker) on the song, “Mushnik and Son,” which brought tears of laughter to the eyes of the opening night audience. Serembe’s rubber-faced expressions and his marathon of breath-holding is a comic bit to rival the best ever seen at Harlequin (meaning Jason Haws’s classic death scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
Right up there with him on the top of the funny scale is Orin the motorcycle-riding dentist (Rich Garrett) who is like a combination Elvis and Marlon Brando in The Wild One singing “Dentist” with the Doo-Wops, followed soon by the outrageous “Now (It’s Just the Gas)” in a duet with Seymour aided by a fabulous contraption strapped to his back that feeds gas to a fish tank globe that encases his head (rented from the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle). Garrett has been absent from Olympia theater for a long time. It’s great to see him back on stage.
Boyt’s take on the sexy, ditsy Audrey is a spot-on riff on the classic Marilyn Monroe dumb blonde, and she has a great voice that comes across strongly even with a comic Brooklyn accent.
As far as the plot, suffice it to say that Seymour is in love with Audrey and he discovers a strange plant that he names Audrey II, whose plant food is human blood. Puppeteer Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe makes her come alive. 
The set designed by Jeannie Beirne is marvelous, and costume designer Darren Mills is right on the money with his 1950s clothing.
The best laughs and the best songs come in the first act. There is a little lull in the second act, and then it picks up with the rousing final musical numbers with the voice of Christian Doyle as Audrey II and the Pods, and the finale, “Little Shop of Horrors Medley” with the entire cast.
The show is popular enough that buying tickets early should be prudent. The house was almost sold out opening night.
Little Shop of Horrors, Thursday through Saturday, 8p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. through July 24, Harlequin Productions’ State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia, ticket prices vary, call for details, 360-786-0151;

Nathan Barnes and Barlow Palminteri at Tacoma Community College

Photo: “Frantic,” mixed-media painted assemblage by Nathan Barnes, courtesy Tacoma Community College
A monumental display of brilliance
Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 30, 2016
“Frantic,” mixed-media painted assemblage by Nathan Barnes, courtesy Tacoma Community College
I have followed the work of Barlow Palminteri and Nathan Barnes for quite some time, and have written laudatory reviews of each separately, but never have I seen their paintings shown together or in such a huge show as in the current exhibition at The Gallery at Tacoma Community College. To say this is an impressive show is a great understatement. It is a monumental display of brilliance.
Palminteri’s paintings of friends and neighbors in both interior and exterior settings, many in mural-size diptychs and triptychs, are in the tradition of a kind of realism somewhere between that of Philip Pearlstein and Edward Hopper. In his paintings of artists in the studio — many of which are self-portraits or recognizable portraits of well-known local artists such as Ron Hinson and Dale Witherow — he integrates the figure into the interior in a complex manner. Typically among the many variations on the same theme, the artist is shown standing in the studio in front of a self-portrait on an easel with the same figure depicted in similar paintings stacked around the wall so that the viewer sees images within images in a funhouse arrangement. M.C. Escher meets Pearlstein meets René Magritte.
In paintings with exterior settings Palminteri’s figures separate from the background in ways that at first are less satisfying than the integration of figure and settings in the interior scenes; they separate in ways that are oddly disorienting, but they grow on you. His soft-focus paint handling and burning orange and violet colors are simultaneously muted and intense. Individual leaves and blades of grass are painted with a halo effect.
The back wall of the gallery is dominated by a triptych titled “Tarzan and the Romans.” It is a mesmerizing monstrosity of comic book impressionism. In the central panel, Tarzan is fighting a lion. In the dead center of the composition the artist’s face appears within a circular inset, and his facial expression mimics Tarzan’s. Side panels depict battling Roman soldiers in intricate compositions including, in each, a circular inset of the artist painting a nude model.
How can any other artist hold his own next to these works? Well, it helps if the other artist is Nathan Barnes. His pop-surreal painted mixed-media constructions are nightmarishly inventive. Each includes portrait heads of family members or friends. These portrait faces are hyper-realistic, calling to mind the technique of pop artist James Rosenquist, but they have multiple eyes and gargantuan open mouths within which can be seen weird electrical contraptions with cut-out and assembled wood and other materials including such things as an actual electric cord that comes out of a red heart and dangles down with a plug on the end hanging next to one of the gallery’s electrical outlets; or an explosion of multicolored balls on the wall all around one portrait head-within-a-head.
There are 13 of these modestly-sized assemblages in the show, plus one long frieze that stretches a little over 19 feet across one wall (231 inches by 19 inches). Called “Moon Temple Frieze,” this painting has images of faces, folded cloth, hands with interlaced fingers, and sumo wrestlers in space. As with all of Barnes’ paintings, there are complicated symbols and personal references that the casual viewer may never figure out, but they are fascinating, disturbing or funny, depending on your mindset; technically marvelous; and beautiful.
This may very well be the best show I’ve seen this year.
The Gallery at Tacoma Community College, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through Aug. 11, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Naturalist

Exploring Abstract Landscapes at B2 Fine Art
Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 23, 2016
"Autumn landscape Golden Grove,” painting by Gerard Collins, all photos courtesy B2 Fine Art Gallery
For six years B2 Fine Art Gallery has offered Tacoma a smorgasbord of art from emerging locals to established international art stars. And now they offer up their final show before packing up and moving north to the Emerald City.
The current show, slightly misnamed an “exploration of abstract landscapes,” features Olympia painters Jeffree Stewart and Becky Knold with some of their better works to date, along with sculptures by Alan Newberg and paintings by Gerard Collins and Nina Mikhailenko (I say “slightly misnamed” because some of the paintings are not abstract in the least).
"Pond's Reflection" by Becky Knold
Gallery owner Gary Boone says nobody captures the Northwest light the way Knold does. I would say nobody captures the blues of clear water the way she does in her paintings “Pond’s Depth” and “Pond’s Reflection,” especially the former. Known for minimalist abstracts with very few delineated forms on fields of layered color, Knold shows more variety in this show than I’ve seen in any of her previous shows. “Pond’s Depth” has marvelous areas of cool aqua blues and greens with yellow accents and some surprising areas of flat, dull blue in three corners. I like the unexpectedness of the dull blue corners and the way they highlight the subtle changes in the rest of the painting. There is more complexity in “Pond’s Reflection” than in her usual, and a nice faceted glass-like surface.
"Hidden Zone Lahare" by Jeffree Stewart
Stewart’s paintings come as a surprise to me. Although they show some similarities to earlier works I have seen from him, they mostly represent new directions and are the best of his paintings I have seen to date. They are stylized and highly expressive landscapes painted with long strokes of intense color, often with swirling spirals and sweeps like those seen in Van Gogh’s famous “Starry Night.” There are two paintings in beeswax and gouache that are intense and have an air of mystery to them. One of these pictures a silhouetted figure in a boat in the ocean in front of a rocky shore. There is a lot of white in this that sparkles like sunlight, but it is a cold, cold white light.
Mikhailenko’s paintings are not abstract, but are traditional landscapes with softly blended paint application and a welcoming glow of muted color. The best of these is a painting of waterfalls that is like a blend of Monet and Whistler. Nicely done but derivative.
Newberg’s sculptures are imposing works in wood that exploit the natural properties of the material to great effect. Two of them are freestanding sculptures that stand seven or eight feet tall and have a monumental feel to them. A third is much smaller but is equally monumental in concept if not in scale.
Collins, whom I was told studied under the great Gerhard Richter, is showing a variety of paintings, most of which are abstract but clearly based on nature, and two of which are a Pollock-like overall pattern of black marks on white canvases. On the far back wall is a Collins painting of tangled limbs in a dense forest painted with overlapping staccato brushstrokes with a small band of sky showing across the top. In this sky are white clouds that look like areas where the canvas was left blank but which can be seen as painted upon a closer inspection. This painting brings to mind the latest works by Olympia painter Kathy Gore Fuss, but it has a rougher, rawer quality.
Tacoma will miss B2.
The Naturalist, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 9 p.m. Third Thursdays, through July 30, B2 Gallery, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065.