Monday, June 26, 2017

5 Lesbians Eating Quiche

Clockwise from left: Samantha Chandler, Heather Christopher, Meghan Goodman, Dana Winter and Katelyn Hoffmn, photo courtesy Theater Artists Olympia
Theater Artists Olympia’s 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche might be one of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever written, because I don’t want to give anything away, and this insanely funny romp is so full of surprises that I can hardly say anything without divulging something you should not know before going to see it.

What I can say without spoiling anything is that it is an all-female cast directed by Hannah Eklund, and that it takes place in 1956 in a strange room designed by Michael Christopher and Mariah Smith that is a combination community center and fallout shelter.

Read the complete review on 


Friday, June 23, 2017

Serrah Russell collages at Feast Art Center

The evening and the evening out

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 22, 2017

“There's blood in the water but the world could change its heart,” collage by Serrah Russell, courtesy Feast Art Center
Discovering the work of Serrah Russell, first through Feast Art Center and then through the Internet, was a pleasure for which I am grateful. Russell is a Seattle photographer, video artist and sculptor.

As a way of not allowing shock, sadness, anger, fear or confusion from trapping her in a standstill after the 2016 election, she challenged herself to make a new collage every day for 100 days. Selected works from those 100 days comprise her current show at Feast Art Center. Using works from other photographers, she cut, tore and reassembled photographs from magazines into artworks that (I am paraphrasing) brought art from the past into the present to look toward the future.

“I strived to see my source material better, to look within the photos that had been captured by someone else, years prior, and see them for what they were and what they could become. I then sought to transfer that act of empathy to the events transpiring around me,” Russell explains.

“What has been built can still be torn down,” collage by Serrah Russell, courtesy Feast Art Center
There are 58 collages in the show, all the same size, 16-by-30 inches, arranged in two stacked rows along the gallery walls. They carry enigmatic titles that in many instances refer to hope emerging from horrible or depressing  situations.

In each collage, cut-out snippets from magazine photos are put together in asymmetrical compositions on white backgrounds. Many of the photo-collages are either black and white or an intriguing combination of black-and-white and color images.

Many of the images are foreboding or mysterious. Bodies, faces, parts of bodies are combined with partial images of interior or exterior scenes. They are cut into odd geometric shapes with sharp edges. Compositionally the separate images within each collage harmonize and contrast with each other in startling ways. Within each there are disparate images that despite their odd combinations go together because, as a typical example, there is a shape or color in one that leads the eye into the other.

A few examples:

In “There's blood in the water but the world could change its heart,” we see a woman in a pink satin gown, one limp-wristed hand pointing to an arm that hangs down. Beneath and behind this angularly cut section is a picture of rippling water washed with the same pink tone, and in the water there is a reflection of something indefinable that looks like blood pouring from the cut-off arm. The enigma that makes this image so mesmerizing is the combination of colors associated with femininity and love, the hopeful title and the blood in the water.

“The land in protest” pictures a naked woman seen from just below her breast to part of her face. She is holding a candle. It is a color photo in warm tones of yellow. The other two sections, gray tones, depict a stormy sky and a straight, pleated skirt in the dark of night. As in most of these collages, contrasting images are united where parts of one image line up almost perfectly with parts of another, in this case the woman’s torso with the pleated skirt below.

“What has been built can still be torn down” depicts the opposite of the hopeful message from “There’s blood in the water …” The message here is that what has been built is wrong, destructive, but can be torn down. It shows a black man’s fist in a power salute. Around this are soft gray images of clouds and ground cut at odd angles that match the angle of the man’s arm.

It can easily take an hour or longer to study each of these collages and suss out the meaning and appreciate the artistry of Russell’s compositions. It is worth that careful study.

Serrah Russell: The evening and the evening out, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, and by appointment, through July 9, reception June 24, 6-9 p.m., Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Little Joan with Mask

I sent Joan a photo of a collage called “Little Joan with Mask.” She had been the model who posed for “Little Joan” 30 years before. She asked me what was the significance of the mask, and I could not come up with a good answer. But now that I think about it, I’m beginning to grasp what was a purely unconscious when I created the collage.

Little Joan with Mask
I was teaching art at the University of Southern Mississippi, and somehow—I don’t know who might have recommended me or how it came about—I was invited to do a one-person who at Itawamba Junior College 200 miles north near my old hometown of Tupelo. The faculty in the Art Department there seemed to like my work, but apparently the president of the college and some others did not. They locked the gallery doors and put up a sign saying that because some of my paintings might be offensive people who wanted to see the show should go to the Art Department and ask to be let in.

There were some nudes in the show. I thought they were rather mild and couldn’t imagine them offending anyone, but we were in the Bible Belt.

A note of explanation: I never gave much thought to whatever meaning or symbolism there might be in my paintings. I was all about color and shape and texture, and if there was any emotional or symbolic content it came from my unconscious and was something that in my mind simply was. Whatever it was.

I thought it was funny that the college administration was upset about my paintings, and as a joke I imagined it would be fun to make paintings of naked people with clothes people could put on them if, say, old prudish Uncle Mike was coming for a visit. Kind of like paper dolls that have changeable wardrobes. It was such a fun idea that I decided to do it. I started asking my friends to pose for me both naked and clothed. Dress in any way you want to, I told them.

Big Joan (naked)
Big Joan (clothed) with artist
I was surprised at how many people were willing to pose in the nude. Two women who lived in our apartment building, my wife, a guy who hung out around the Art Department, the one semi-professional model who posed for figure drawing classes, my studio assistant and an older student named Joan—all women except for the one guy, so I had to do a self-portrait to have more than one male.

Joan was 50 years old at the time, and her fellow students who were in their 20s thought she looked amazingly good for her age. Fifty seemed older then than it does now. I was 42 or 43 at the time, and I also thought she looked great for 50. She was gorgeous.

The “Paper Dolls” were a series of paintings of nudes on Fomecore board with oil sticks. I cut them out to the shape of their bodies and painted separate clothing, also on Fomecore with oil sticks, and cut to shape, that could be put on or taken off. They were each about 15 or 16 inches tall. I also did a few larger than life on the kind of thin board hollow-core doors are made of and cut to shape with a jigsaw. I titled them with the names (first name only) of the models: “Little Joan” and “Big Joan,” Little Debbie,” and so forth. “Big Joan” was seven feet tall. She drew lots of stares when we drove her across campus in the bed of a pickup truck.

I painted a large mirror behind “Little Joan” in which her backside was reflected. On “Big Joan” I made the mirror part of the detachable clothing and painted on the mirror a reflection of the artist (me) painting her.

Approximately 15 years after painting “Little Joan,” I saw a picture of a mask in a magazine and, on a whim, I cut it out and used it to create a collage. I didn’t give any thought to the significance of the mask, but visually I liked the way it contrasted with the figure. Another 15 years went by before I reconnected with Joan via Facebook and she asked me about the significance of the mask. I had never thought about it before, but in all the “Paper Dolls” the clothing was a kind of mask. With clothing, we present ourselves to the world as how we want to be seen, but naked there is no guile, no pretense. My friends as represented by the “Paper Dolls” stood proudly and unashamed in their nakedness. When clothed their true selves were masked. “Little Joan with Mask” is a more literal statement of what all the “Paper Dolls” were. I just didn’t see that at the time I painted them.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Love Letters at Olympia Little Theatre

Real actors and real couples relive a life through letters

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 15, 2017

Sharry O’Hare and Micheal O’Hara in Love Letters, photo courtesy Lakewood Playhouse
Love Letters by A. R. Gurney presents 50 years in the life of a loving couple, Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, as seen through letters they wrote to each other beginning in the second grade and continuing until maturity. Traditionally the play has been presented with different actors playing the parts on alternating evenings. On Broadway it has been done by Jason Robard, Stockard Channing, Swoosie Kurtz, Christopher Walken, Carol Burnett, Alan Alda, and others. At Olympia Little Theatre, Love Letters will be performed as a staged reading with a different actor couple in each performance.

This production is being mounted in honor of long-time OLT Director Kathryn Beall. Before her death, Beall suggested pairs of actors with whom she had worked or knew to perform this play and every one of them agreed to act in the production. Some of the actors are real life couples, others are friends who have worked together. They are:

June 16 - Susan and Jim Patrick; June 17 – BarbaraAnn Smith and Larry Bonner; June 18 – Ingrid Pharris Goebel and Tim Goebel; June 22 – Andrea Weston-Smart and Jack House; June 23 – Sharry O’Hare and Micheal O’Hara; June 24, Jean Kivi Thomas and Jess Thomas; June 25, Chris and Heather Cantrell; June 29, Cameron Waters and Cori DeVerse; June 30 – Robert McConkey and Silva Goetz; July 1, Jeff Hirschberg and Anita Pirkle; July 2 Michael and Heather Christopher.
Two of the married couples, the Christophers and Goebels, first met when performing at OLT.

When O’Hare and O’Hara played Melissa and Andrew five years ago, critic Michael Dresdner called their performance “a complete tour de force.” O’Hare, who has done the play nine times, says,Throughout the years we have been so fortunate to re-visit Love Letters and bring these characters to life.  For us, the reading of the letters must be accompanied by the ability to fill in the blanks for the audience to experience who these two friends are beyond the written word. Our greatest challenge is to project what is felt but not said in 50 years of letter writing and making sure that each letter is spoken with spontaneity and freshness as if reading for the first time.”

Heather Chistopher says, “This project is special to Michael and me because we met and eventually married at OLT. After reading the script and connecting with the material, we are both really looking forward to our closing matinee performance.”

At Olympia Little Theatre, directing chores are split between Toni Holm and Jim Patrick. “I look at my role as facilitating their performances in honor of Kathryn, and trying make sure nothing goes off the rails technically,” Holm says. “The set, lighting and script will be the same each night, but the performances should all be different. I think the result will be 11 lovely interpretations of the play. I've had rehearsals of five of my six pairs, and it's been fascinating to see where each comes from and where they go with this very nuanced play. I can see why so many actors want to do it and why audiences love seeing different actors interpreting the role.

Patrick says, “The playwright was very specific about the do's and don'ts in producing Love Letters, no curtain, no music before house lights dim, entrances, no baby talk, no mugging, avoid crying and don’t mess around with the text.”

Gurney said, "Trust what I wrote, perform it as written, and all will be well." And Patrick says amen to that.

It is advisable to see it not just once but as many times as possible.

Love Letters, 7:25 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through July 2, Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia, tickets $11-$15, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, 360.786.9484,

Jeff Pasek: Unlands at the Washington Center

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 15, 2017
“Attractor,” painting by Jeff Pasek. Photo by Gabi Clayton
Jeff Pasek is relatively new to Olympia. He moved here from Ohio in 2014. The first I heard of him was when I saw a post about this show on Facebook. I was excited by the vibrant color and exuberance of his paint application. So I Googled him and found his website at, which impressed me even more, especially his works on paper, including a series called “interference.” His combinations of organic and geometric forms in these and his bright but nuanced color combinations are excellent.
When I visited the large exhibition of his paintings, Unlands, at the Washington Center, however, my reaction was mixed. There are some outstanding paintings in this show, but this series of paintings is not as good as the “interference” series and other works on paper posted on his website. I invite readers to visit the site and compare these works, and visit the exhibition and see what you think.
The paintings look great from a distance, and the layout of the three-floor gallery space in the Washington Center provides for excellent opportunities to view the work at a distance, but seen up close the paintings become overly harsh; colors and shapes clash.
“Crystalline,” painting by Jeff Pasek. Photo by Gabi Clayton

Despite the jangle and clash, however, what I do like about them is a trope he Pasek employs in approximately half his paintings where he superimposes over rough and highly expressive landscapes very precise geometric forms, either thin lines or circles or boxes or similar shapes so meticulous they could have been drawn using mechanical drawing tools. Some of these are highly transparent and in brilliant colors, and some are flat and opaque. In some instances, they vary or transition between transparent and opaque. In some of the paintings these mechanical shapes seem to hover over the landscape, and in some they weave in and out between being on top and underneath.  This device adds mystique and an interesting bit of spatial play to what would otherwise be common and dull paintings.
The landscape elements range from slightly abstract to completely non-objective. Sometimes there is only the break between sky and ground to elicit the feel of landscape. In others, mountains and streams are clearly recognizable. They are painted with a heavy build-up of paint and often in rugged and jagged clumps of color. 
One painting stands out as perhaps the best in the show. It is called “Attractor.” There is a heavy turmoil of stormy purplish-gray sky above green fields and a mountain stream the same color as the sky. A single fairly realistic tree stands on one side, and in front of everything are two thin yellow lines. The colors are softer and not so harsh as in most of the other paintings, and there is an otherworldly quality to the to thin vertical lines. 
Stop by when you have a chance and take your time studying these paintings up close and at a distance, especially from the upper levels looking down to the lower, in order to take advantage of the distance and see the paintings in their less jarring aspect.
Jeff Pasek: Unlands, by appointment (Monday through Friday noon to 4 p.m.), or to ticketed patrons an hour prior to an event, through June 26, The Washington Center for Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, 360.753.8585

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance at Tacoma Little Theatre

Photo- from left Jacob Tice as Ransome Foster and Nick Butler as Jim “The Reverend” Mosten, photo courtesy Dennis K Photography.

By Alec Clayton

From left Jacob Tice as Ransome Foster and Nick Butler as Jim “The Reverend” Mosten, photo courtesy Dennis K Photography.
Longtime and much celebrated Tacoma theatrical director David Domkoski directs his last show in Tacoma before moving to the East Coast. The play is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. This modern classic set in the Wild West in 1890 is based on a short story by Dorothy M. Johnson. It is best known as a 1962 movie directed by John Ford and starring James Stewart and John Wayne.
I saw the movie when it was first released. I remember nothing about it but the title. I never before saw the play. I’m glad that I have now, and I’m especially glad I saw this version with these actors and this wonderful set by Blake York and direction by Domkoski.
This play is gritty and realistic. It is simple and straight-forward with nothing fanciful and nothing superfluous (except, perhaps the use of a narrator, as the story would have held up as acted with exposition).
About York’s set: it is dark and dirty looking, the interior of the Prairie Belle Saloon in the Western town of Twotrees (we don’t know what state it is in, just somewhere in the West). On the rough, unpainted walls are wanted posters and photos of dance hall girls and a flyer for the opera. Above these are trophy animal hides and horns. It looks as authentic as any Western saloon in the movies and more authentic than many.
Ransome Foster (Jacob Tice), Hallie Jackson (Jill Heinecke) & Bert Barricune (Chris James), photo courtesy Dennis K Photography.
Into this saloon comes Ransome Foster (Jacob Tice) unconscious, half dead and carried over the shoulder of Bert Barricune (Chris James) a rough cowpoke who is in love with the saloon owner, Hallie Jackson (Jill Heinecke). Bert revives the severely beaten Foster whom he had rescued after he was attacked by a trio of ruffians. There’s no proof, but everyone knows the men who beat him almost to death were Liberty Valance and two of his gang (two unnamed ensemble actors who wear masks and never speak). They call the Marshall Johnson (Ben Stahl) who says he can’t do anything because there is no proof it was Valance.
Everyone knows that sooner or later somebody is going to shoot Valance. No spoiler here, the title of the play gives that away. The mystery of who shoots him is only a minor part of the play. What is more major is the love triangle that develops between Bert, Hallie and Ransome, and a look into the hearts and minds of these apparently simple people as they struggle with issues of love, hope, honor and revenge. Thrown into this mix is a harsh and unsparing look at the issue of racism at a time shortly after the Civil War. Jim Mosten (Nick Butler) is the only Black man in town and best friend of Hallie since childhood. He is called “The Reverend” because of his phenomenal ability to memorize and recite passages of scripture. Ransome teaches Jim to read and write and believes he can become a great man.
I will not go into how all this plays out but will only say it is a strong, meaningful and emotionally engaging story that is well acted and is totally believable. It presents issues and characters that might seem simplistic on the surface but are much more complex than they appear. You’ll come to love Hallie and Jim, despise Valance, understand the weakness of Marshall Johnson, and greatly admire both Ransome and Bert.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through June 18, $24 adults, $22 seniors /Students/Military, $20 12 and younger, pay what you can performance Thursday, June 15, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

Uplandos Art of Bruce Bickford

Legendary animator at Spaceworks Gallery
By Alec Clayton
Faces cut into leaves by Bruce Bickford, photo courtesy Spaceworks Tacoma.
Tacoma’s own Bruce Bickford, the legendary animator famous for his work on the Frank Zappa movie Baby Snakes, has his first Tacoma art exhibit at Spaceworks Gallery, and it’s a doozie. The show includes two animated videos, still frames from many of his animated films, sculptures of clay and of cardboard and paper, drawings executed directly on the gallery walls, and even faces cut into leaves.
To back up a bit: born in Seattle, Bickford started experimenting with clay at the age of 12 or 13 and began making his first animated films at 17. His animation sequences in Baby Snakes won first prize at a French animated film competition. And, as they say, the rest is history.
There are two continuously running films in this exhibition. Prometheus Garden is done in clay animation, and Comic That Frenches Your Mind is done with intricate line drawings made with a fine-point mechanical pencil. Both are surrealistic and comical, with rapidly morphing figures.
His line drawings employ broken lines that are connected in the mind’s eye of the viewer. In some of these drawings the lines break apart so severely that they look like flames blown by wind as the figures appear to vanish in air. His human and animal figures and houses and vehicles (especially sleds; he seems almost obsessed with sleds) are stylistically a lot like the underground comics of the 1960s, and some of his faces remind me of Beavis and Butthead.
The first wall of still frames is a series picturing a man and woman embracing, her legs wrapped around his waist. As they embrace, she reaches for his hip pocket and steals his wallet (or cell phone, it’s hard to tell which). Typical of animation frames, the changes from frame to frame are so minute that at first glance the 32 drawings look identical. Viewing this presents a good lesson in the patience and precision required of cell animation.
Inside the main gallery space are many glass or Plexiglas display cases, and inside of them a series of shelves made of cardboard. On these shelves are hundreds of figures, houses, castles, and fantasy environments, all cartoonish in style, all wildly inventive, and all sculpted in clay or cardboard and paper. Among these is a set of figures of the same man lying on his back with each figure a tiny bit smaller than the one before until the last one is an almost microscopic dot. At this point I should point out that some of his Bickford’s line drawings and clay sculptures were used in animated films and others were not. If this diminishing man was used in a film, we can see how as he gets smaller and smaller he would appear, on film, to be getting farther and farther away.
“Spring Evening a Comic Strip by Edvard Munch” is a line drawing depicting the character from Munch’s “The Scream” on a bridge where street artists are at work and a loving couple walks by arm-in-arm. A town is seen in the background, including a church with a giant steeple that looks like a dunce cap. The sky above is a take-off on van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”
Next to this one is an untitled drawing of a training camp for mercenary soldiers with print that describes the mercenaries as “rich, pampered, arrogant ignorant brutes.”
On the wall behind the monitor playing Comic That Frenches Your Mind is a set of 24 frame drawings from the film, and filling two entire walls are frames from a not-yet-produced film called Vampire Picnic.
This is one of the more astonishing art exhibitions you’re likely to see this year. The artist will be in the gallery on closing night, Third Thursday Art Wall, June 15.
Uplandos, 1-5 p.m., Monday-Friday and 1-9 p.m. Third Thursday, through June 15, Spaceworks Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.