Friday, January 12, 2018

Brain Appeal

Michael E. Taylor Traversing Parallels at Museum of Glass
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 11, 2018
“Artificial Intelligence Codes/Rosetta Stone,” glass and wood by Michael E. Tylor, photo courtesy of the artist.
There are two large exhibitions at Museum of Glass that seem to have been chosen as companion shows which contrast and complement one another interestingly. Albert Paley’s glass and steel sculptures, reviewed last week in this column, are visually impressive, while Michael E. Taylor’s Artificial Intelligence Codes/Rosetta Stone appeals more to the intellect. This is not to say that Taylor’s work is not also visually appealing. It is simply not as strong aesthetically as Paley’s work. Instead, it is conceptually fascinating. It appeals to the brain and makes the brain work while still being nice to look at.
Taylor is an analytical artist. His work reflects on and responds to science, art history, philosophy and current events. According to a museum press release, “Whether inspired by formal quality of geometry, the Higgs boson particle, or the moral implications of artificial intelligence, Taylor’s work is ultimately about investigation.” The statement goes on to say, “Taylor is widely-renowned for his cut and laminated glass works, geometric constructions inspired by everything from subatomic particles to music.”
As an artist and critic thoroughly grounded in aesthetic formalism, I confess that I might not get everything he is saying in his work from a mathematical, scientific or philosophical point of view. In terms of the formal elements of color and form, his work is classical and pleasing to the eye. He works a lot with stacked or side-by-side geometric shapes and a lot of repetition with predominantly rectangular blocks of laminated glass that are either colorless and clear or filled with rainbow colors. They are prismatic, and the forms and colors change as the viewer walks around them to view them from different angles.
One of the more fascinating and humorous pieces in this show is called “Cultural Crisis Cabinet for the Critically Misinformed.” It is a clear glass cabinet with a number of shelves inside. On each shelf stands an army of clear glass bottles filled with variously colored liquids. It could conceivably be water with food coloring, but a wall label explains that the bottles are filled with such fluids as antifreeze, brake fluid, cleaning solutions and other chemicals. Floating in the liquid like scientific specimens are such things as tiny doll hands, flowers, starfish and flowers. And each jar is labeled: “cynicism,” “objectivity,” “scientific method,” “theology,” “existence,” and so forth. It is not clear whether these labels signify the cultural crises of the title or if they are the cure for such cultural crises.
Along one wall is a complex and seemingly random montage of notes, drawings, photographs and clippings from magazines —the stuff of Taylor’s studio, which cascades off the wall and onto the floor, and which lends clues as the artist’s way of thinking and working. Yes, this is a thinking person’s art exhibition.
Michael E. Taylor Traversing Parallels, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., through May 12, 2018, $5-$15, free to members, free Third Thursday, Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St. Tacoma, (866) 468-7386] 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Glass and steel fused together

The sculptures of Albert Paley at Museum of Glass
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 4, 2018
“Horizontal Passage,” steel and glass by Albert Paley, courtesy Museum of Glass
I was truly impressed by Complementary Contrasts: The Glass and Steel Sculptures of Albert Paley at Museum of Glass, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Prior to visiting this show, I had seen only photographs of Paley’s work, which is much more powerful when seen in person. Photographs do not come close to capturing the scale, color nuances and textures of his steel and glass sculptures. When two of the largest galleries at MOG are filled with his massive sculptures, it can be overwhelming, so I advise viewers to give themselves plenty of time to study each piece up close and to take in the large group as a beautiful world of form and color.
Paley’s sculptures are large, but not gigantic, averaging around three-by-four-by-five feet in dimension but looking much more massive than their actual size. They create the feel, if not the actual appearance, of huge metal and glass machines such as locomotives barreling down the tracks, or of animals or humans wrestling with one another. There is a tremendous sense of movement —unrelenting, fast movement such as in the art of the Italian futurism movement of the early 20th century combined with the massiveness of John Chamberlain’s sculptures created from wrecked cars.
The term “complementary contrasts” in the show’s title perfectly describes the major emphasis of Paley’s sculpture. "Glass pairs beautifully with steel because it creates a dialogue of opposites. The contour, clarity and color of glass — metal responds to that. I want to literally fuse them together. I have always like that idea: yin and yang, a sense of unity," Paley wrote.
As an artist and a critic, I have always held that unity within variety or the balance or blending of opposites is a hallmark of great art, and these principles are at the heart of Paley’s art. Glass is clear, transparent, fragile; steel is hard, opaque, unbreakable. Opposites in every way. In Paley’s sculpture these opposites clash like warriors in battle, and yet they become indistinguishable in places. The glass is not always and everywhere transparent and fragile in appearance; in some of these works the glass is as opaque and solid in appearance as the steel, which in some places appears as pliable as slabs of leather. The first piece to greet the eye when entering the gallery is “Divide,” a piece that epitomizes the duality and contrasts of all the works. It is broken into two halves with abstract, tubular forms on each side that look like some kind of steampunk machine being carried on a flat-bed rail car which also looks like a skateboard made of a flat slab of steel resting on cylindrical rollers.
Also remindful of a flat-bed rail car is “Split Relationship,” twisted sheets of flat steel and rectangular glass blocks stacked in a V shape on the top. It can be seen as two forms or figures, similar but contrasting, as the forms in “Divide,” or as a single object or figure being split asunder by the V-shaped glass. The glass is clear but solid and heavy, while the steel is luminescent with sparkling red ochre and purple colors.
In addition to the many sculptures, the walls are filled with loose and energetic studies in pencil and graphite, showing that Paley is as competent with two dimensions as with three.
Also on display at MOG is a show of glass art by Michael E. Taylor which is conceptual and luminous and based in large part on science and math.
Complementary Contrasts: The Glass and Steel Sculptures of Albert Paley, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., through September 3, 2018, $5-$15, free to members, free Third Thursday, Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St. Tacoma, (866) 468-7386]

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Cutting a window into the trestle

Jeremy Mangan mural installed under trestle at Freighthouse Square
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 28, 2017
Crane installing one of a dozen mural panels, photo courtesy Jeremy Mangan

A large mural measuring 7½ by 48 feet by Tacoma Foundation of Art Award winner Jeremy Mangan was installed beneath the railroad trestle near Freighthouse Square last week and revealed in an installation celebration at the Amtrak Cascades Station on December 15.
Titled "The Wood Carving Beach," the mural depicts a beach where wood carvings have piled up along with driftwood. Mangan says the carvings could have washed up on the beach, or they could have been carved on site, or both.
Mangan made a 12-inch by 77-inch painting in oil on panel. Then, Winsor Fireform in Tumwater scanned the painting, converted the colors to multichannel/duotone, enlarged it, and printed the image onto 12 steel panels, each 7½-feet tall by 4-feet wide, using porcelain enamel pigments. These panels were then fired in kilns and sealed to create the finished mural. The artist says the scanned and enlarged image accurately reproduces the painting down to the detail of a single brush hair embedded in the paint.
Mangan is a well-known Tacoma artist. In addition to the Foundation of Art Award, he has been the recipient of a 2015 Tacoma Artists Initiative program grant and a 2013 Artist Trust fellowship. He was a Neddy Award finalist, and he won the People's Choice Award at the Tacoma Art Museum’s 10th Northwest Biennial.
Mangan says, “I wanted the mural to relate to the neighborhood and the area. I wasn’t looking for overt connections, but rather more subtle overlaps in form and content. Wood and lumber became a central theme, and I took my primary cues from the clapboard construction of Freighthouse square, the wooden dome of the Tacoma Dome, the history of logging and lumber transport in the area, the timbers of the old railroad trestle itself, Thea-Foss waterway, the beaches and driftwood that surround us, and the history of wood carving and shaping in the Dome District and the region — indigenous peoples to present.
“Given the mural’s location on a retaining wall underneath the trestle, I wanted to create space, light, distance. I wanted to ‘cut a window.’ I thought about people driving and walking by, so I aimed to create an image that would work well from a distance and up close. And given the public nature of the piece, I wanted it to be inviting, bright and whimsical (but still with the dose of mystery and strangeness which is typical of my work). I wanted it to interest both adults and children. Hopefully it’s an enjoyable image that invites the viewer to both visually explore and posit narratives. Why are all these wood carvings on this beach? Where did they come from? How long have they been there? Why would someone go to the trouble to create them? I hope the mural stirs the imagination and rewards multiple viewings.”

The Wood Carving Beach by Jeremy Mangan, underneath the railway trestle at the intersection of E 26th and E G Streets in Tacoma's Dome District.

Shon Frostad’s maritime paintings at the Seaport Museum

Reviewed by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 28, 2017
 “47° North, 122° West, Turquois,” mixed-media painting by Shon Frostad, photo courtesy the artist
When I walked into the Seaport Museum to see Shon Frostad’s painting exhibition, there was a moment when I could not recognize the paintings as paintings, because the museum is filled with boats, anchors, charts, bones of whales, and other memorabilia of sea life, and I thought the paintings I saw on a wall to my left were sections of old ship hulls. As it turned out, they were paintings of sections of ship hulls —so realistic that they become almost surreal. Like Andy Warhol’s replicas of Brillo boxes, they are indistinguishable from what they are paintings of, yet clearly not the real thing. There’s something eerie about that, especially in such a setting as a seaport museum.
The title of the show comes from the symbols seen on the sides of commercial vessels.
The symbols on the ship's hull indicate such things as a vessel's 'draft', or depth in the water, what the allowable draft is for that vessel depending on the season, and even the particular ocean the ship may be traveling in,” says Frostad. “One circular symbol indicates the insurer of the vessel; another where a tugboat may or may not contact the ship's hull. Yet others show where a ship's inner bulkheads or compartments are.”
The tile of this show, 47 º North, 122 º Westrefers to the geographic coordinates for Tacoma.
Frostad’s paintings on wood panels vary in sizes up to 4-by-8 feet. Some of the lettering, as well as such painted details as brads and welded seams, are built up to a quarter inch above the surface, either through the use of thick paint or with some kind of gel or other media.
What stands out is the stark simplicity and straightforwardness of the images, the color combinations, and most of all the incredible textures that lend the works the look of rust, scratches, worn and peeling paint. The only thing separating them from actual sections of ship hulls is none of them are literally bent or scratched. It is all illusory trompe le’oeil painting.
In addition to these paintings, Frostad has included two more traditional modernist figure paintings, both of surfers. One, called “Hang Ten” is a close-up, realistic painting of feet with toes hanging off the front edge of a surfboard. The other one, “Surfers,” shows a line of surfers with tan bodies and swimsuits standing on a beach holding their upright surfboards. The figures are painted flat, with what appears to be pencil or graphite outlining their bodies. Both are nicely executed but do not have the visual impact of the paintings of ship hulls.
This is a show that is guaranteed to be enjoyable, and the museum itself is filled with fascinating memorabilia of a working seaport.

47° North, 122° West by Shon Frostad, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 19, admission $6-$10, free to members and children under 5, 705 Dock Street, Tacoma,

Friday, December 15, 2017

Codependent Menageries

Katlyn Hubner at Feast Art Center
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 14, 2017

 “Undertow” painting by Kate Hubner, courtesy Feast Art Center
In an artist’s statement, painter Kate Huber quotes a dictionary definition of the words in the title of her show at Feast Art Center.Codependent : a codependent person is one who has let another person's behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behavior. Menagerie: A collection of wild animals kept in captivity for exhibition.”
She goes on to define the state of mind depicted by the paintings. “As I have been trying to find myself again for the first time in years, I have been exploring my bad habits of how toxic it can be to make someone else’s ‘problems’ my own. The pretty pain of being engulfed by a cunning and quiet lack of boundaries. That eventually, you begin to lose or confuse your own thoughts, becoming entangled with another. A self-imposed identity crisis.”
There are only five paintings in this exhibition, all in the five-by-six-foot range. If I might go out on a limb with a potentially ludicrous statement, these five paintings might be the best figure paintings I have ever seen outside a major museum, the best by a local or regional artist. Each painting is of a naked human figure or group of figures. Some of the figures are realistic, while some are of ambiguous gender and others devolve into unrecognizable, animal-like shapes —or grow out of such shapes or are wrestling with them. The colors are sizzling with hot reds, pinks and purples, contrasting with a variety of blue tones in the cerulean-teal family. There are harsh and uncomfortable angles of bodies and limbs. Arms ending in clutching hands appear out of unrecognizable animal forms. In many instances, background shapes created by the spaces where body parts meet become positive shapes. The artist explains, “In hopes of making complicated compositions with the form, I want the lines and the triangles of the limbs and reflections to bring a controlled anxiety to being. When you can't tell just how many people are involved; Using colors to bring a slight euphoria to the dark matter.”
Hubner’s painting style is like a marriage of the realism of Phillip Pearlstein and the lushness of Wayne Thibeaud, with the drama of Alfred Leslie or Jack Beal  — that’s like a catalog of the best modern figure painters all combined in the work of one woman from Seattle.
Kate Hubner’s Codependent Menageries, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, and by appointment, through Jan. 7, Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Evolution of a Painting

“Fun in the Sun” oil stick on board 13” x 47.5”
I did the painting "Fun in the Sun" sometime around 1990. It was a painting of a group of men and women at the beach sitting on folding chairs. Friends at the time were convinced that the figure on the far left was a self-portrait and the far right was my wife, Gabi. I can't remember if that was intentional or not, but they do look something like us at the time.

Starting a little more than a decade later, I made a few other paintings based on it. Sometime around 2004 I did a large series of digital art works done by scanning photos of my earlier paintings and then manipulating them with Paint Shop Pro. "Digital Triplets" was one of those. It was based on the figure third from the left in "Fun in the Sun." I changed him into a woman and copied and pasted the figure twice, and digitally drew into it. I thought of the center figure as breaking into molecules like people from "Star Trek" being transported.

“Digital Triplets” scanned and manipulated photo

Next came "Doublemint Gerbils." It is the man on the left in the first painting again and the woman in the yellow bikini doubled.

“Doublemint Gerbils” Oil stick on paper, 10” x 13” 

With “Parents of Narnia,” done in 2006, I began to abstract the figures more.

“Parents of Narnia” oil on canvas, 21” x 25”

Finally, I made one of my favorite paintings, “Champagne Summer,” in October 2006. With this one I think I pushed the abstraction as far as I could and still be recognizable as figures. I thought of it as celebratory, champagne bubbles. Thus the title.

“Champagne Summer” oil on canvas, 48” x 60”

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review: Once Upon a Mattress at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

by Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 8, 2017
Emma Deloye as Princess Winnifred the Woebegone and Jeremy Lynch as Prince Dauntless the Drab, photo by Kat Dollarhide
It is rare for me to Google a play before reviewing it, but I Googled “Once Upon a Mattress” to see if my suspicions about the 1959 Broadway production were true, and I found this on Wikipedia: “Initial reviews of the play were mixed, but critics and actors alike were surprised by the show's enduring popularity.” I suspect it’s popularity was due to one thing, the star power of Carol Burnett. Minus a lead actor with Burnett’s magnetism, it is a run-of-the-mill musical, entertaining but not extraordinary.
The Tacoma Musical Playhouse production might not have Carol Burnett, but it does have Emma Deloye as Princess Winnifred the Woebegone and Jeremy Lynch as Prince Dauntless the Drab, and there is a lot of star power between those two. I might also point out that the cleverness of those names, plus others such as King Sextimus the Silent (Joe Woodland) and the absurdity of Princess Winnifred wanting to be called Fred, are evidence of the kind of sneaky little comic touches writers Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer slipped in to elevate “Mattress” a step or two above the mundane.
Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea,” Prince Dauntless is dying to find a bride, but his mother, the thoroughly despicable Queen Aggravain (Deanna Martinez) insists he can marry only a woman who is a true princess meaning she must not only be of royal blood but must also be of princess quality. And to prove she is of princess quality, she must pass tests devised by the queen and her minion, Wizard (John Miller) – tests that are impossible to pass. Surely telling what the test is Princess Winnifred must past will not be a spoiler. It is a test of sensitivity, to see if she can feel a single pea place under the bottom mattress of a stack of 20 mattresses.
Minstrel (Tony Williams) sets the personal and fairy-tale mood of the play by opening it with a sweet song as he plays both the narrator and a character in the story. Then the curtain opens on an elaborate castle set designed by Bruce Haasl as the prince and Lady Larken (Ashley Koon) and the ensemble sing the comical “An Opening for a Princess,” which basically announces that the kingdom is advertising for potential princesses to audition for the right to marry Prince Dauntless, followed by a romantic love song, “In a Little While,” between Lady Larken and Sir Harry (Josh Wingerter).
All the principle actors are strong in their roles. Minstrel, King Sextimus and Josh Anderman as Jester make for a fun comic trio plotting against the queen and for the prince and princess. Anderman performs some hilarious physical feats on a dance number, and the king, who has no voice, speaks delightfully via charades. Some of his facial expressions bring to mind Tim Conway. Deloye is funny and strong as the princess. Her rendition of “Shy” is one of the best things in the show, along with her ridiculous gyrations atop the stack of mattresses. Finally, Lynch wonderfully plays the prince as a hapless, dimwitted and lovable man-child.
Once Upon a Mattress” is a silly bit of comic fluff that might not be the best thing TMP has every done, but it is enjoyable and skillfully produced and acted; love is triumphant, and the evil doer gets her comeuppance.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m., through Dec. 17
WHERE: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $22-$31
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,