Thursday, December 18, 2008
Fine crafts at Childhood’s End
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 18, 2008
Pictured: "Closed #3," oil on aluminum, by Rebecca Raven
The current exhibition at Childhood’s End Gallery seems well chosen for the holiday spirit in that the work on display is colorful and playful, and if you buy something from this exhibition as a Christmas present for your next door neighbors or your spouse or grown children who just bought a new home, it will probably be the most unique gift they have ever received.
None of the above is meant to imply that this is necessarily fine art; although I’m sure many people would certainly think so. As I’ve said many times, there is a fine distinction between art and craft. To my way of thinking, this is a crafts show — fine home décor that is unique and skillfully made. But none of it rises to or, I don’t believe, even aspires to the transformative experience that is art.
Having said that, the current show features batik paintings by Lisa Kattenbraker, oil paintings on aluminum by Rebecca Raven, and ceramic and metal sculpture by Robin and John Gumaelius.
Frankly, I’m not sure what to think about Kattenbraker’s batik paintings. I’ve been noticing them for about a week as I drive by and glimpse them through the gallery windows almost daily. They looked very intriguing from that distance, but not so good up close. They’re inventive, colorful and playful, but if there is any kind of theme or message, I don’t get it. And the designs and color combinations are somewhat bland despite being extremely busy. As with glass and encaustic, the technique of painting on fabric with wax-resistant dyes has an inherent surface beauty that is undeniable.
Kattenbraker paints faceless, bubble-headed figures and stick figures over intricate surface patterns, some of which look like Oriental or Indian designs. Her colors are bright and festive, and the figures carry well, which is why they look good from a distance. But I don’t think the figures and the background patterns work well together — neither harmonizing nor contrasting in visually exciting ways.
I think her best work is a little piece called "Blooms," which can be seen either as a field of flowers with big, round blossoms and long stems or a bunch of balloons on long ribbons. This is the only one of her pieces in which the figure and background are well integrated.
Raven is showing a group of portrait heads under the series title "Open, Away, Closed" with individual pieces carrying titles such as "Open 2" and "Away 1." I have no idea what the titles mean or how they relate to the portraits, but they are beautifully painted in a photo-realist (or perhaps neo-Renaissance) manner in oil on aluminum. Technically, they are flawless. The faces are all of attractive young people with smooth skin, perfectly coiffed hair and an inner glow. Not a brushstroke can be seen unless you look very closely at the reflections in the subject’s wet eyes.
The unique thing about these, individually and as a set, is the position and point of view. Each model is lying down, and the artist’s point of view is directly overhead looking straight down at their faces. Each head is oriented differently in relation to the frame — some at an angle, some upside-down, and so forth. This aspect works best when viewing the set of six paintings as a whole. If you bought one of these and took it home you’d lose that effect.
John and Robin Gumaelius, husband and wife, are showing, among other pieces, half a dozen stoneware birds with very decorative and highly intricate surface decoration, which looks like painting but is obviously fired in as a glaze. I don’t understand the technique, but it is highly effective. These are joyful, playful and quite beautiful.
[Childhood’s End Gallery, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, call for extended holiday hours, open Christmas Eve 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Dec. 31, 222 Fourth Ave. W., Olympia, 360.943.3724]