Friday, January 11, 2008

Time warp

South Puget Sound Community College show looks like early modernism

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan 10, 2008

pictured: "Expand," digital print by Anthony Culonag; "Light Entertainment," oil on canvas by Bill Collins; "Deer in Bear Coat," oil on paper by Karen LaGrave.

As juried art shows go, the Third Annual Regional Juried Art Exhibit at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Art Center, South Puget Sound Community College, is not bad. There are some old friends as well as some excellent artists I’ve never before seen. There are a couple of sappy landscapes, a way-too-cute kitty-cat picture and one obvious Georgia O’Keefe knockoff.

I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with a juror’s choice of Best in Show, and this show is no exception. Scott Mulholland’s little watercolor “Red White & Blue” is a nicely composed rendering of an old couch sitting in front of what appears to be an abandoned factory. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of disparate objects that sets off thoughts of some movieland, post-apocalyptic world. But it loses power due to its tiny scale, and intriguing as the imagery may be, it is certainly not the best thing in the show.

Had I been the juror I would have given that honor to Michael Born for his large welded steel sculpture “Untitled Pair.” This is a proud and menacing pairing of two almost identical machinelike figures — hybrids between man and machine wielding heavy hammers with which they pound spikes into their own heads, which are made of massive, dark forms that look like ceramic pots enclosed by an angular web of steel rods. The two figures remind me of Morris Grave’s instruments of navigation that were shown at Tacoma Art Museum a few years back. They carry mystery and beauty, and I like it that the two figures are perfectly balanced mirror images of one another.

Runners-up — had I been the judge — would have been Anthony Culanag’s trio of digital prints, “Rift,” “Expand” and “Rip,” and either Karen Lagrave’s duo of oil paintings, “Deer in Wedding Dress” and “Deer in Bear Coat,” or Suzana Bulatovic’s oil painting, “Rain.”

I surprise myself in picking Lagrave and Bulatovic’s work because while I was in the gallery I thought their paintings were OK but nothing spectacular. But the more I think about them, the more I like them — especially Bulatovic’s “Rain.”

Culanag’s trio of digital prints are distorted photographs (à la carnival fun house mirrors) of a woman in a red dress on a surface that looks like dried hills of mud with the ground rippled into waves and the woman’s body twisted like a pretzel. I was told that the photo was taken in front of Tacoma Art Museum. More likely it was taken in the courtyard where the Chihuly floats are, but before they were installed.

Bulatovic’s painting pictures a sidewalk in the rain crowded with people carrying umbrellas. Figures are blobs of paint. The oddly shaped umbrellas look like toadstools in the rain and create swirling patterns across the canvas. Her palette, predominantly reds and blues, is muted but vibrant. This painting reminds me of some of Mark Toby’s early paintings of Seattle street scenes.

Lagrave (who many area art lovers will remember as Karen Lagrave Small) is showing two little oil paintings on paper in a style borrowed from Native American artists with perhaps a little Arshile Gorky influence. These paintings are of deer dressed in, as the titles imply, a wedding dress and a bear coat. They are delicate, sketchy and atmospheric with a nice combination of energetic marks and soft washes of color.

Another painting of note is Bill Collins’ oil painting “Light Entertainment.” Like Lagrave’s paintings, this one is sketchy. It is a painting of two women and a man at a dance or party dressed in evening gowns and tux. A brownish-yellow light suffuses everything. The figures are reminiscent of early American painters such as George Luks or John Sloan in his more impressionistic works — which kind of typifies the whole show. Everything in this show could have been done in the first half of the last century.

[South Puget Sound Community College, Third Annual Regional Juried Art Exhibit, through Jan. 31, Tuesday-Saturday noon-5 p.m., 2011 Mottman Rd. S.W., Olympia, 360.596.5508]

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