Friday, September 22, 2017

Witness to Wartime

The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 21, 2017
"High School Girl," by Takuichi Fujii, oil on canvas, Wing Luke Museum collection, photo by Richard Nicol, courtesy Washington State History Museum.
Washington State History Museum offers a rare opportunity to see the visual diary, drawings and watercolor paintings of a Japanese-American held in the relocation center in Puyallup and the internment camp at Minidoka, Idaho.
Takuichi Fujii was a small businessman and well-known local artist in Seattle at the beginning of World War II. Swept up along with his wife and two daughters, as was almost every Japanese-American on the West Coast, he was confined in the relocation center in Puyallup from May to August 1942, and then to Minidoka, where he and his family were held until October 1945. A prolific artist, Fujii documented the scenes and the life at both camps in a personal diary and in watercolors and ink drawings. About 70 artworks from this time period and including later works from when he lived in Chicago after the war, are on display in two galleries at WSHM. The galleries are small, and the paintings can be seen in a short visit, but visitors should linger long and attentively over each work because they illustration a life lived during one of the most horrendous events in American history, and because Fujii was an excellent artist whose works demand attention.
In the smaller of the two galleries we are given an overview glimpse into his art before and after his wartime experiences. The earlier works are realistic and simplified. In the later years he moved into more abstract work with his final paintings being strong black-and-white abstract paintings in a style similar to that of Franz Kline.
The larger of the two galleries is dedicated to his wartime art, which was unknown until they were rediscovered after his death by his grandson, Sandy Kita. These drawings and paintings have never been shown publicly.
The diary he began in the relocation camp at Puyallup is displayed in a closed case but all of the nearly 400 pages can be viewed digitally.
Work done before the war include self-portraits, pictures of downtown Seattle. There is a portrait of his daughter titled “High School Girl” (1934-35) that shows a strong influence of such painters as Cezanne and Braque and other forerunners of cubism. The Seattle scenes and a painting of the Rock Island Dam on the Columbia River. There are paintings from the beginning of the war showing American citizens of Japanese descent reading the signs tacked to light poles and fences announcing that they must report to the relocation center, essentially that your life, your home and your business are over.
The pictures from Puyallup and Minidoka are stark and simple. More of them picture the camp buildings and the desert than the people. There are pictures of the barracks and the latrines, the crowded train that took them to Minidoka, and incident where they saw a rattlesnake I the desert.
“The exhibition tells the story of Fujii’s individual will to persist, both as an artist and a citizen, and provides a rare glimpse into exactly what that experience was like,” said the museum’s director of audience engagement, Mary Mikel Stump, who summed up the exhibition saying it is all about Fujii’s individual experience. This critic would add that it is also about the talent and dedication of an artist whose work parallels trends in art history from the 1920s and ‘30s through the 1950s.

Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tue.-Sat, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. third Thursday, through Jan. 1, $5-$12, Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, 888.238.4373
Review: Rumors
By Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune
Mark Peterson, left, and Jess Allan, photo courtesy Tacoma Little Theatre
Neil Simon’s “Rumors” at Tacoma Little Theatre is loud, raucous, fast-paced, witty and pretty much over the top from curtain to curtain, and the laughter of the opening night crowd was just as loud as the gesticulating and shouting actors on stage. There is little subtlety or nuance in this comedy. But where there is subtlety, it is golden — as when the overly nervous Chris Gorman (sharply portrayed by Jess Allan) gets mad at one of the other guests and hisses like a cat. It’s an action that takes no more than two seconds, but it is perfectly played and brings down the house.
The action takes place in the Manhattan apartment of the Deputy Mayor of New York and his wife, neither of whom ever appear on stage. It is their 10th anniversary and they’re throwing a party, but when the guests arrive, Charlie, the Deputy Mayor, has attempted suicide and missed, just shooting his ear lobe. He is shut up on an upstairs bedroom and his wife has left. Nobody knows where she has gone.
The beauty of setting the play in a single apartment on a single evening is that no set or costume changes are required — except when Lenny (Matt Garry) comes downstairs wearing a bathrobe and sporting a bandaged ear, pretending to be the Deputy Mayor and giving a couple of incredulous cops a long and absurd explanation of why gunshots were reported and why all the obviously well-heeled guests are acting so strange.
A lawyer named Ken (Mark Peterson) and his wife, Chris (Allan), are the first guests to arrive, and Ken decides nobody can know that Charlie shot himself. When the next guests arrive, Lenny and his wife, Claire (Jill Heinecke), they make up stupid excuses about why Charlie and his wife aren’t there, excuses that keep getting more and more implausible because their stories are too wild to be believed. The plot thickens when a psychiatrist named Ernie (Jefferry Swiney-Weaver) and his wife, Cookie (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson) show up. Cookie, who stars in a cooking show on TV and who periodically screams and contorts her body with severe back spasms, volunteers to cook dinner because the servants are mysteriously missing. Into this chaotic mixture come Glenn Cooper (Houston White), who is running for state senator, and his wife, Cassie (Kristen Blegen Bouyer), a new-agey vamp who keeps rubbing herself with a crystal and accusing her husband or infidelity. There are a lot of whispered rumors of infidelity involving various characters, thus the title, “Rumors.”
The cast is comprised of experienced actors who not only play their parts well but are clearly having fun doing it. They are every one deserving of special mention, but two in particular stand out. They are Peterson and Garry. Peterson, who has a booming, guttural voice and a demanding stage presence is sometimes overwhelming, but in this role shouting and over acting is called for, and he does it magnificently. And Garry is physically and verbally spot-on. In this role he reminds me of classical comedians like Sid Caesar and Jackie Gleeson.
Finally, I must say the set by Blake York is wonderful. The entire apartment with its staircase and floor-to-ceiling windows is patterned after a Piet Mondrian painting with everything but the diagonal of the staircase being rectangles and squares in primary red, yellow, white and blue with black lines. It’s all a bit retro for being set in 1989, but absolutely gorgeous.
If you like a good farce, this one is one of the best, cleverly written and performed by great actors. Warning: there is a liberal sprinkling of language that might be offensive to some.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 1
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 North I Street, Tacoma
TICKETS: $20-$24
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

Pete Goldlust and Wayzgoose in the Woolworth Windows

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 21, 2017
Detail shot of part of Pete Goldlust’s installation in the Woodworth windows, photos courtesy Spaceworks Tacoma.

When artworks first began showing up in the windows of the old Woolworth building on 11th Street between Broadway and Commerce, there was little sense of installing work that was site specific. The walls were treated as gallery walls upon which paintings were hung, not as the three-dimensional space it is, with a long, narrow orientation and shallow depth more suitable for frieze-like installations that read left-to-right like a book or scroll. More recently artists have begun to utilize the space with much more awareness of its uniqueness as an exhibition space.
Pete Goldlust’s current installation turns the walls of the corner section on the Broadway side into a kind of backdrop for comic hieroglyphs. The wall that turns the corner is filled with cut-out figures on cardboard that are painted white with black outlines and lines and dots to indicate features such as comical eyes and noses. They are mounted so as to extend out from the wall to various degrees, and the raw, unpainted brown of the cardboard edges remain untouched. There are blimps, bicycles, plants, and strange undersea creatures drawn in a manner reminiscent of Dr. Suess and Keith Haring. Or perhaps even more reminiscent of the late paintings of Phillip Guston, especially the line quality and drawing style.
I strive to produce work that fosters a sense of wonder, joy, and play. I look to draw out these qualities, often dormant within the history of each site. The work is firmly rooted in pop-surrealist tradition, with plenty of influence from Dr. Seuss and independent comics,” Goldlust writes in a statement on the Spaceworks website.
The walls and floor are bright fuchsia, making for the strongest contrast imaginable between figures and background. These are joyful and playful works. I saw them in the daytime, but I can imagine them appearing as bright as the lights of Broadway when lighted at night — the other Broadway, the one of theatrical fame.
On the Commerce side, there is a display of prints from Wayzgoose that makes the windows look more like a collage of 1930s-style political posters and less like individual works displayed on a gallery wall. The reasons it doesn’t look like a typical display are first, because the prints are attached to the inside surface of the front windows instead of on the walls, and second, because there is no space between the individual prints.
For those who might not know, artists working with Wayzgoose create prints by laying the inked plates on the road and rolling over them with a steamroller. The production is done as an annual event, with a different theme each year. This year’s theme is “Unlucky Tacoma.”
I like seeing the entire window of prints as a single work, but I equally enjoy the individual prints. Ones that stand out in my mind are Katie Dean’s dreamy fantasy scene with mythological creatures in a riverside park, Audra Laymond’s “Against the Walls of Every Power BLOW the small trumpet of your defiance,” and one attributed to PLU called “Typhoon,” witch depicts a hurricane of wind-blown letters energetically flowing across a tropical island.
Woolworth Windows, 11th and Broadway and 11th and Commerce, seven days, 24 hours, through November.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Foundation of Art Award Winners at Spaceworks Gallery

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 14, 2017
“Undine,” ceramic by Heather Undine, photo by Kris Crews

The Greater Tacoma Community 10th Foundation of Art Award is among the year’s biggest arts events. Purportedly, the exhibition represents the best of the best. Every year for 10 years jurors chosen from among Tacoma’s art professionals have nominated local artists for a major prize, and every year the nominees and the annual winner have been featured in an art exhibition. This year, since it is the 10th Foundation of Art Award, 10 winners were chosen, and each was given a greatly deserved $1,000 cash award. This year’s show held at the Spaceworks Gallery showcases works not only by this year’s winners but by winners from each the past nine years.
This year’s winners are: Mindy Barker, Heather Cornelius, Todd Jannausch, Janet Marcavage, Gillian Nordlund, Nicholas Nyland, Chandler O’Leary, Saiyare Refaei, Kenji Stoll, and Chandler Woodfin. Past winners included in the show are: Chris Sharp, Jeremy Mangan, Lisa Kinoshita, Jessica Spring, Oliver Doriss, Shaun Peterson, Elise Richman, Christopher Paul Jordan, and Sean Alexander. Each artist is represented by a single work.
The panel which chose this year’s winner included Amy McBride, and past winners Sean Alexander, Jeremy Mangan, Elise Richman, and Christopher Paul Jordan.
To write about all 19 artworks in the space allowed is not possible. Instead, I shall mention some of the highlights and encourage readers to visit the gallery and see them all.
Mandy Barker’s “Strata Discs” is a fascinating painting in acrylic, metal leaf, and ink on paper mounted on wood. Pictured are three circles of various sizes and varying distances from the wall, each decorated with ornate animal-themed painting in brilliant colors. It is a delightful and exciting piece that requires careful attention to suss out what all is pictured.
Glass artist Oliver Doriss’s “Blue Moon” is a small piece on a sculpture stand consisting of two small blocks of acrylic within which are crumbled and flattened aluminum foil. peering into the acrylic is like viewing bits of ancient rock or wood through a magnifying glass. Space and time seem condensed by art.
Speaking of time, Nicholas Nyland’s “Slab Basket” has the look of an ancient artifact dug up from an archeological site. It is a globe of overlapping slabs of stoneware with open space between the slabs fired with earthy tones of pink and purple. There is a majestic and timeless quality to this one.
Janet Marcavage’s screen print “Cools” is a study in illusion and perception. Curvilinear lines in various tones of blue and white are put together in six interlocking round shapes that have the quality of rhythmic movement seen as striped patterns of cloth blowing in the wind.
Heather Undine’s “Undine” is a ceramic bust of a woman emerging from a circular shell-like formation, or perhaps it is intended as floral leaves from which her head and shoulders appear. It reminds me of Botticelli’s “Venus” except that it depicts strength rather than the idealized beauty of the “Venus.” Judging from the title, my guess would be it is a self-portrait. If so, it is as unflinchingly unflattering as a Rembrandt self-portrait.
Other pieces I found to be particularly impressive are works by Lisa Kinoshita, Elise Richman and Sean Alexander.
All of Tacoma should turn out for the reception gala Thursday, Sept. 21.
Foundation of Art Award, 1-5 p.m., Monday-Friday and 1-9 p.m. Third Thursday, through Oct. 19, reception 5-9 p.m., Sept. 21, Spaceworks Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Clarissa Sligh: ‘Am I Safe’ and Fumiko Kimura: ‘One. Dot. Sumi’ at UPS

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 7, 2017
“Year of the Rooster,” sumi ink by Fumiko Kimura, courtesy Kittredge Gallery
More than 6,000 folded paper cranes by nationally known artist Clarissa Sligh hang from the ceilings and cling to the walls of Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound. Many of the cranes are made from the pages of white supremacist books, plus there are dramatic black-and-white photographs of people who are or might be the targets of white supremacist hate, and close-up, high-contrast photos of some of the individual cranes.
The show is called Am I Safe?
These works transform hate speech into artworks of calm contemplation, as stated in a press release that goes on to say, “Her artists’ books, photos, and prints examine personal identities and fears in an unequal world.” Some of the artists’ books are displayed in a companion show in Collins Memorial Library on the UPS campus.
Sligh’s work balances the conceptual and the aesthetic, the symbolic and the literal. In Japan, the crane is a mystical creature believed to live for a thousand years. In Japanese, Chinese and Korean cultures, cranes represent good fortune and longevity. Juxtaposing them with photos of hate-targeted people is the height of irony.
Four clusters of cranes of many colors hang from the ceiling in the middle of the gallery. They are black, white, silver and other colors, and are strung together with many colored beads. The black ones are dull, or matt. Others are shiny. Close examination reveals that the white ones are made from maps. Compositionally the various colors group together — whites together, blacks together, and so forth — in patterns that play off against each other within and against each hanging group like a kind of bizarre dance of different colored dancers.
Against one wall there is a lineup of black and white photographs of multicultural faces with the artist’s face near the center, and against another wall there is a line of photographs of people of color behind a scrim of hanging cranes in black, white and gold; the white ones in this group are made from pages of hate literature.
Against another wall there is a large offset lithograph and digital collage called “Women Bring the People.” It shows pictures of women in various configurations. The central figure is a naked woman collaged of images of possibly the same and possibly different women put together in such a way as to make it look like she’s been folded in half. I can’t begin to imagine the intended meaning of this image, but I can say it is disturbing at best and horrifying at worst.
Sligh’s installation fills the larger front gallery. The smaller back gallery presents a show of sumi drawings, paintings and collages by local artist Fumiko Kimura, founder of Puget Sound Sumi Artists. Kumura’s show is called One. Dot. Sumi. It includes lovely and delicate pictures of landscapes, flowers, birds and insects in a lyrical painting style based on the ancient art of calligraphy.

Clarissa Sligh: Am I Safe and Fumiko Kimura: One. Dot. Sumi, Kittredge Gallery, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., through Sept. 23, artist’s talk 5 p.m., Sept. 13, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Review: August: Osage County

Jason Haws and Ann Flannigan
Clockwise from left: Janette Oswald, Brian Pucheu, Jason Haws, Bill Johns,  Diane Goodknight. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions

The Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play August: Osage County by Tracy Letts is a play unlike any other. The story unfolds, or should we say erupts, over a few weeks in the rural Oklahoma home of Beverly and Violet Weston. It opens with Beverly, a crusty but kindly old drunk played by the inimitable Russ Holm, hiring Johnna, a young Cherokee woman (Mackenzie Platt), as a housekeeper. “My wife takes pills and I drink,” he tells her. Not long after, Beverly disappears and ...

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Troy Gua’s SMÖRGÅSBORD at Feast Art Center by

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 30, 2017
“Le Petit Prince,” video and book by Troy Gua, courtesy Feast Art Center
In the art of Troy Gua we see the reincarnation of the minds of Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp. His art is conceptual, brilliant, funny, and drawn/painted/built with exquisite craftsmanship.
He is famous regionally, and should be famous nationally and even internationally, for his pop hybrid portraits of celebrities and for his series of hand-made dolls, books and videos for the artist formerly and forever known as Prince.
The pop hybrid portraits are portraits of famous people painted in a pop art fashion much like Warhol’s famous portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and others. They are more precisely painted than Warhol’s and without his colors printed off-register. The unique character of Gua’s portraits is that he typically combines and overlaps two or more portraits in such a way that they might look like one of the subjects and then change in the viewer’s eye to the other. Sometimes figuring out who they are is a delectable puzzle.    Often he combines people who have things in common, be it a name or profession or other similarities, such as Martin Luther King and Elvis (the King of rock and roll), or computer pioneers Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. In reviewing his show at Fulcrum Gallery for this newspaper in 2013, I described his pop hybrids as “slick and polished as custom made cars and as clever as the most inspired work of a Madison Avenue ad writer." Now they are even more polished. The earlier ones were painted in acrylic on canvas; the new ones are sealed with a resin coating. 
There are two pop hybrids in this show, one of Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein called “The Brains and Beauty (First Try)” and one that is a self-portrait combined with Prince. Which brings us to “Le Petit Prince.”
 Gua clearly loves Prince. Over the years he has made countless little handmade dolls  of Prince and put them in many different settings and made movies and books about him. At one point the rock idol’s lawyers hit Gua with a cease-and-desist order.
There is a “Le Petit Prince” corner in the gallery with a video, a book and two Prince-like dolls of Gua and his wife on a couch watching the video. As the pop-hybrid portrait indicates, the Prince and Gua have become so thoroughly associated in his art that it becomes almost impossible to tell them apart.
In addition to these works, there is an intriguing memorial to 9/11 with two blank canvases standing in for the twin towers and a “paper airplane” made of folded canvas flying into one of the towers. There are also a number of pieces that make sly references to art galleries such as “Sold,” a red dot on the head of a pin in a white shadow box — referencing the reddots that are traditionally place next to artworks in galleries that have sold.
There is also a group of large commercial logos for imaginary companies that are cast in resin and make for stunningly beautiful abstract sculptures and similarly two sets of emojis set as hieroglyphics of the future.
The show is called SMÖRGÅSBORD because it is a mixture of many different works done over a ten-year period. Only a fraction of it is mentioned in this review, and even a smaller fraction is shown at Feast. I highly recommend that you visit the show to see the work in person, and then look the artist up online to see examples of the many varied works he has produced.

Troy Gua’s SMÖRGÅSBORD, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, and by appointment, through Aug. 11, Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma,