Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Hemingway Story


By Alec Clayton

I tell this Hemingway story better than Hemingway does, if I do say so myself.

It’s my favorite story about the great writer, but I had long since forgotten where I first came across it. Until yesterday when I found it while re-reading A.E. Hotchner's book Papa Hemingway. It had been more than 30 years since I read it, and I do not have perfect recall.
Here’s the way I’ve always told the story:

Hemingway’s editor, Max Perkins, was upset with the writer for using the word fuck, so he decided he had to talk to him about it. To remind himself, he jotted down a note on his desk calendar. Later, while he was out for lunch, his secretary came into his office looking for something and happened to glance down at his calendar and saw a note in the twelve o’clock block: “Fuck Hemingway.”

Here's the Hemingway-Hotcher version of the same tale:

“Max was too shy to say the word out loud so he wrote it on his calendar pad. … Along about three o’clock that afternoon Charles Scribner came into his office to consult him about something, and not finding him at his desk went over and looked at the calendar pad to see where he was. Opposite twelve o’clock, Charlie found the notation F-U-C-K. Later that afternoon, when Charlie did find Perkins as his desk, he said solicitously, ‘Max, why don’t you take the rest of the day off. You must be done in.’”


OK, maybe my version is not better after all.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: “The Little Mermaid
By Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, July 14, 2017
Ariel (Cherisse Martinelli), photo by Kat Dollarhide
Fresh off the dizzying experience of being the biggest winner at this year’s AACTFest, a national competition of community theaters — winning eight top awards for “The Addams Family” — Tacoma Musical Playhouse presents a sweet and romantic musical for the entire family, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” This is not a children’s play, it is theater for grown-ups with adult actors, but it most definitely appeals to children. There were many in the audience opening night, mostly little girls wearing Ariel’s crown (for sale in the lobby for $5), and they clearly loved the show, even to the point of chasing bubbles in the aisles.
It is not the most highly polished show TMP has produced. It starts off slow and feels a bit wooden, but becomes lively beginning with the big song-and-dance number “Under the Sea” featuring Isaiah Parker as Sebastian the crab, and gets progressively better from that point forward.
Most scenes take place underwater, which created technical challenges that were unevenly met. Some of the set pieces that are pushed on stage by hand are not up to TMP’s usual excellent standards. The boat that Prince Eric (Colin Briskey) sails and the big rocks on the seashore look like something seen in a school production. But other set pieces, such as Ursula (Nancy Herbert Bach) the sea witch’s lair and a palm tree-shaped coral with fish swimming around it, are marvelous.
John Chenault’s usual excellent lighting lends an aura of magic to these sets. Interestingly, no set designer is listed in the program, so I assume that was a group effort.
To further the illusion of being underwater, many of the characters are flown on wires, which is done admirably, and the mermaids move in waving motions throughout. They do so beautifully.
Based on the popular children’s book by Hans Christian Anderson and the Disney movie of the same name, the story is well known. Ariel (Cherisse Martinelli) falls in love with Prince Eric and longs to become human. She agrees to a wager, giving her voice to the evil undersea witch Ursula in exchange for a spell that makes her human for three days. The horrible catch to the deal is she can’t speak and she must get Price Eric to kiss her before time runs out or the spell will be broken and her soul will be doomed to Ursula’s control forever.
Martinelli is highly expressive as Ariel, in turn loveable, comical, love sick and pensive. She is delightful in the scene where she is learning to walk on human legs. She’s as wobbly as a newborn colt, and she keeps falling down with a precious look of surprise on her face.
Parker is terrific as her helpmate, Sebastian. I loved his mobile face and quick changes of expression, and he sings sweetly.
Briskey has the clearest and strongest singing voice of all the cast, and he plays Prince Eric as dignified and down-to-earth.
Erik Furuheim as Chef Louis provides the funniest passage in the play as he prepares a seafood dinner for Ariel while singing “Les Poissons,” joined by the ensemble with a reprise as he prepares to butcher poor Sebastian and serve him on a platter whereupon a delightful slap-stick chase scene ensues.
Also outstanding is Jake Atwood as the wisecracking seagull, Scuttle. His tap dancing backed by an ensemble of dancing seagulls on the upbeat tune “Positoovity” is wonderful — with feathers a flying.
Johnny Neidlinger is a disappointment as King Triton. His costume and makeup were harsh and unattractive, and his acting was stiff.
Typical of TMP, the large ensemble numbers are the highlight of the show. Director Jon Douglas Rake’s choreography is grand, as is the music by the great Alan Menken. Finally, deserving of especial note is costume designer Jocelyne Fowler and assistant Grace Stone. Their costumes are colorful and inventive; the mermaid’s dresses are lovely, and some off the oddest ones, such as Ursula’s squid costume and the long-tailed, lighted eels Flotsam and Jetson are hilariously creative.

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




A beautiful space abuzz with live

Alec Clayton’s Retrospective at Tacoma Community College
By Susan Christian
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 13,2017
Note: I could not review my own show, so the Weekly Volcano editor asked Susan Christian to do it.
"X-Plosion" 24" x 32", oil and oil stick on canvas, by Alec Clayton
I went to Tacoma Community College to look at my old friend Alec Clayton’s paintings, along with my friend Becky Knold, another a painter living and working in Olympia. Clayton has reviewed Becky’s work and my own in this publication.
In our years as friends, I’d come to believe I already knew Clayton’s work. But seeing one painting at a time gives you only one frame of a movie. A one-person show is a privileged encounter with someone’s mind over time. 
Clayton’s mind is complicated and wise. He loves paint. He loves color. He loves the world and it also makes him mad. TCC’s beautiful space is abuzz with life; ideas bounce back and forth from one work to another, from one group to another, from one wall to another, and around corners. You find yourself walking back to work you’ve already looked at, to see what you missed now that you’ve seen more.
The paintings are exuberant, bright, complicated, energetic, wild, and strongly related to one another.
"The Crossing" oil stick and acrylic on canvas, 32" x 24" by Alec Clayton
The show presents a sampling of about 30 years’ worth of work, largely from the artist’s own collection. A striking consistency holds this long sequence of work together. Clayton put together a vocabulary of marks long ago and has given up none of its elements while developing more.  My sample list of his “alphabet” of marks and devices includes (my words, not his): claws, crosshatches, bands, clouds, zigzags, dots, butts, checkerboards, wiggles, hooks, loops, stripes, and swimming pools.
There’s consistency over time in his subject matter as well, including sex, violence, bodies, threat, portraits, landscape peeking out behind lots of abstract action, and shapes he likes and doesn’t need to identify, like what I call “steam irons” except I’m probably wrong.
There’s a lot of deep blue, a lot of black, a lot of scumbled-over pink, red, flesh tones and oranges, and greens mostly in the viridian family. These are not nature paintings; you won’t see many earth tones, and even the neutrals buzz with energy. The world you see, beautifully ordered within the painted rectangles and within the clean and elegant gallery space, is a world of dreaming, not of hanging out in the quotidian. Calligraphy reigns over many observed shapes. You can’t read it. It’s wiggly and private.
You’ll see ideas played with and later abandoned — for example, in the entry there are three or four rectangular paintings from which dangle additional heavily painted wads and streamers. These are 17 years old. No other dangles are in evidence.
In the middle of the largest room of the gallery there are four bi-fold blanks, the narrow wooden rectangles designed to be hinged together as closet doors. Here they are heavily painted, hanging singly and vertically from cords, turning slowly in the air, comprising one piece, “Rhythms in Evolution.” This way of seeing seems central to this artist. Things change, they move, they live, they go on and on, they are filled with feeling —some of it anguished — and energy, all of it purposeful. Go feel them out.
The artist will be on hand to greet you and chat with you about the art at a reception Thursday, July 20.
Editor's note: Alec Clayton has been reviewing artists for this fine rag for many, many, many years. And we are very proud of him.
Alec Clayton Retrospective, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through Aug. 10, artist's reception 4-6 p.m., July 20, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 



Thursday, July 13, 2017

Larry Brown King of Grit Lit




“She’d taken her house shoes off and including her feet she was as nice a woman as Eric had seen. The nice was coming off her like the heat off his granddaddy’s stovepipe.” 

That wonderfully poetic and colloquial line comes from Larry Brown’s novel, The rabbit Factory. I’m reading it for the second time, having first read it only months after it came out in 2003. At the time, Brown was much admired in the state of Mississippi (he lived in Oxford) and was fast becoming well known throughout the land, but he unexpectedly died of an apparent heart attack the next year.

The great short story writer Barry Hannah—also from Oxford and who also died young and unexpectedly—called Brown the king of “grit lit.”

I “met” Larry Brown through other Mississippi writers shortly before his first book, Facing the Music, was published. Never had the honor of meeting him in public, but we corresponded. He even submitted a short story to our magazine Mississippi Arts & Letters, but we were not able to publish it; we had just declared bankruptcy.

He was a big influence on me. People say I create quirky characters, but man, my characters are as normal as coffee in the morning compared to the whores and con men and rednecks Larry Brown writes about. His writing is funny and real, like a modern day Flannery O'Connor but without all the religious stuff.

I’m afraid that now that he’s dead his work will be forgotten. That would be a shame because he’s too damn good for that.

Go to his page on wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Brown_%28author%29 and then search out his books in your local bookstore or on amazon at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_2_11/136-9656850-3850359?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=larry+brown&sprefix=larry+brown%2Caps%2C202&crid=1KDK3G9NEQC9X&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Alarry+brown


Friday, July 7, 2017


An18th century comic romp
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 6, 2017
Sara Geiger as Silvio (left) and Mehra Park as Beatrice. Photo courtesy New Muses Theatre Company
A hallmark of New Muses Theatre is adapting old plays for modern stages. The company’s founder, Niclas Olson, writes the adaptations and usually both directs and stars in the shows —a heavy load for anyone to carry, but one he shoulders well.
Written in 1753 by the Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni, A Servant of Two Masters is a madcap comedy in the commedia dell’arte.tradition. Modern audiences will see in it reflections of comedies by Moliere and Shakespeare, as well as some sly pokes at current-day absurdities.
In wild dashes through scene after scene, characters pretend to be people other than who they are and people who know each other keep barely avoiding running into each other — a well-worn comic bit that never gets old.
Beatrice (Mehra Park) disguises herself as her recently murdered brother Federigo and travels to an inn in Venice in search of Federigo’s killer, Florindo (Olson), who also happens to be her lover. Beatrice and Florindo get rooms in the same inn, but neither knows the other is there.
Try to keep up. Before he was murdered, Federigo was betrothed to Clarice (Jenna McRill), and by pretending to be Federigo, Beatrice expects to collect his dowry from Clarice’s father, Pantalone (Paul Sobrie). Meanwhile, Pantalone has agreed to marry Clarice to Silvio (Sara Geiger in a cross-gender role). As if this were not confusing enough, Beatrice’s servant, Truffaldino (Andrew Yabroff) sees a chance to make extra money by also serving Florindo, thus becoming the “servant of two masters” of the title. He has to go through incredible machinations to keep each of his masters from discovering he is serving the other. To even further the confusion, people keep giving him things to deliver to his master and, naturally, he never knows which master they mean. In a scene worthy of the Marx Brothers, he has to serve a multi-course meal to each of his masters without either of them or the cook catching on — and being gluttonous, Truffaldino eats most of both meals himself.
The acting style is a parody of the declamatory acting popular when the play was first presented. The actors must appear stiff and falsely histrionic without actually being stiff and falsely histrionic. That’s a tough tight rope to walk. Olsen, Geiger and Yabroff do it well. Eric Cuestas-Thompson as Silvio’s father and Sobrie as Pantalone come close.
As originally written, the playwright left a lot of room for improvisation. In this adaptation, nearly all the characters make snide asides to the audience, which might or might not be improvised.
A Servant of Two Masters is funny, but it does not quite come up to New Muses’ usually excellent standards.
Note: The part of Silvio will be played by Xander Layden July 7-9.
A Servant of Two Masters, 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through July 9, $10-$15, Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma, http://www.newmuses.com/,  http://peergyntyouth.brownpapertickets.com



In the Spirit


Native American art at the Washington State History Museum
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 6, 2017
“Bear II” steel sculpture by Jason Reed Brown, photo courtesy Washington State History Museum
There is a small but interesting show of Northwest Native American art now on display at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. The 12th annual In the Spirit: Northwest Native Art juried exhibition includes 22 works by artists from Alaska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Washington, and Canada, displayed in two adjacent galleries.
Over the 20-some years I have reviewed contemporary Native art, one overriding claim has been proclaimed of the art, and that is that it blends the traditional and contemporary. But most of the art in these shows, with a very few exceptions, has been much more traditional than contemporary, if by contemporary we mean in the Western art canon. In many instances, the only contemporary thing about the art is the choice of materials. Blown, fused and sculpted glass, for instance, is common in contemporary Native art, but the use of modern materials does not necessarily make the art contemporary in concept or aesthetics.
But this show blends the traditional and the contemporary more than usual. There are more wholly- abstract works in this exhibition than in any Native art show I’ve seen, and more time-honored images rendered in a modern style. An excellent example can be seen in Linley B. Logan's "Red Road Red Carpet," linoleum and paint. This picture has the look of a modern graphic novel, with a fierce warrior wearing a bowtie and holding feathers, while on his sleeve he wears the images of two faces that could have been lifted right out of Picasso's “Demoiselles d'Avignon.” Or Jennifer Wood's "She's Always Looking for Mountains." It is a fairly traditional wooden mask, but on top of the mask like hair standing on end is a field of plastic straws, LED lights, ribbon and shimmer pigment that can be seen as a glowing mountain range, making for a startlingly modern image.
Celeste Kardonsky Dybeck’s “Kardonsky Family Tree” was named Best in Show. It is her own family portrait, which she calls “a mysterious family.” The father is represented by a raven, the mother is the moon, and the children are waves. It is a child-like tapestry made of wool, suede and mother-of-pearl buttons.
There is a strong industrial look to Jason Reed Brown’s two steel sculptures “Bear II” and “Hummingbird II,” most noticeably “Bear II,” a profile of a bear’s face embedded in punched, raised, riveted and bent steel.
A favorite of mine is Ryan Feddersen’s “Manifest Signs (I).” This bright sculptural work features colorful flat cutout bison heads in pink, orange, blue and raised an inch above the surface of a flat white surface, upon which has been painted the stark black shadow of power lines and poles. Wall text explains that it represents 270 million bison slaughtered by settlers, businesses and the United States military. The balance of black and white, the sharp contrasts of color and shape, and the bright, colorful and almost playful representation of the horror of wiping out the bison combine to make for compelling art.
One of the most original works in concept is Erin Genia’s “Dakota in the Pacific Northwest.” A cascade of rain (“jingles”) hangs from a circular cloud made of cloth that hangs from the ceiling, and floating in the center is a quilted “morning star” in diamond-shaped panels of red, yellow, orange, pink, white and yellow. A wall label describes it as embodying “the beauty and resilience of our people even when far from home” after the Dakota were exiled from their homeland in Minnesota.
I hope many of our readers will visit this exhibit.

In the Spirit Northwest Native Art, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tue.-Sun. and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Third Thursday, through Aug. 20, $8-$12 museum admission, free for members and free for all after 2 p.m. for Third Thursday Art Walk, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Bamboo: The Summer Gentleman

Photo: “Bamboo 7,” sumi by Sally Penley, courtesy of the artist.


Puget Sound Sumi Artists in Olympia
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 29, 2017

"Bamboo 7,” sumi by Sally Penley, courtesy of the artist
I must confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of sumi art. But I’m getting there. The more of it I see, the more I like it.
There are 21 works of art in the show Bamboo: The Summer Gentleman, and 19 of them are pictures of bamboo.
One exception is a picture of a lion by Janet Fogle called “Roar.” It’s a sweet picture like something you might see in a children’s book. The lion’s face is cleverly delineated by the use of negative white space where the paper is left untouched.
The group Puget Sound Sumi Artists is well known in Tacoma, where they have shown their work often, but to my knowledge this is the first time they have shown as a group in Olympia, and it’s a nice little show. Not breathtaking or mind-boggling, but enjoyable with mostly soft and delicate pictures of bamboo — restful, contemplative pictures.
"Misty Falls” sumi by Andrea Erickson, courtesy of the artist.
The most well-known name among the 15 contributing artists is Fumiko Kimura, who is represented in this show by a wonderful little painting called “Visitor Squirrel.” It is a picture of a field of bamboo shrouded in mist with soft gray tones and layer after layer of soft imagery receding in depth. At the bottom are two small squirrels. It is a dreamlike, mysterious scene that makes the heart happy.
Most of the works are in black and white, or predominantly black and white. One nice exception is Mary Shizuko Bottomley’s “Sounds of Bamboo,” which is painted in soft tones of a light green with, as in Kumura’s painting, layers in space, but in this case not so much receding in distance but layers in shallow space as if painted on separate sheets of glass, dark gray-green on one level and white on another.
There is stillness in most of the pictures. Not so in Laura Mosley’s “Summer Storm.” In this picture, a small bird hovers beside bamboo stalks with many leaves blowing in a strong wind that creates a feeling of fast motion. Mosley captures movement tellingly.
Puget Sound Sumi Artists encourages their members to experiment and not be hedged in by sumi tradition, which is why we see in this show three paintings by Sally Penley, a well-known calligrapher whose studio is in the building where this show is being held. There is much about calligraphy that relates stylistically to sumi art (traditional or modern). Penley’s works fit in well, although they are not traditional. Her “Bamboo 7” is more abstract than any of the other works in this show. There are geometric shapes with sharp, clean edges; one a vertical bar from top to bottom that is an abstracted bamboo shoot, and a circle behind it that looks like a mirror or a camera lens, within which can be seen a stylized, flat mountain range. And on top of everything is a network of black brushstrokes in varying widths that are elegant and lyrical and mimic the feel of Asian writing. As in Bottomley’s paintings, each element rests on a different layer in space.
Another painting that I enjoyed tremendously is Andrea Erickson’s “Misty Falls,” a picture of towering mountains in the mist, each with evergreen trees on top, painted with a sparse use of heavy brushstrokes that modulate from the deepest, inkiest black to the softest of grays. Erickson is a master of brush and ink.
I liked this show enough to go back and see it a second time, and I suspect you will too.

Bamboo: The Summer Gentleman, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tues.-Sat., through July 29, the Loft Gallery at Buck’s 5th Avenue, 209 5th Ave. SE, Olympia.

First Date


A romantic comedy for the 21st century
reviewed by Alec Clayton

Published in the Weekly Volcano and OLY ARTS

Will Lippman and Carolyn Willems Van Dijk, background: Bruce Haasl and Christie Oldright. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions

Harlequin Productions’ First Date is a romantic comedy in the tradition of Tracy and Hepburn, Rock Hudson and Doris Day, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, updated for the digital age. Updated how? For starters the search engine Google appears in the guise of a woman, and there’s a decidedly 21st century attitude toward sex and language.First Date.

Read the complete review on OLY ARTS.


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 



OLY ARTS<

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, www.feastarts.com 

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, http://olympialittletheater.org/

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 https://www.jeffpasek.com/, 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, tacomalittletheatre.com.

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.