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.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Pirates of Penzance

By Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, June 2, 2017

GARY CHAMBERS (The Major General) and the Pirates from the Lakewood Playhouse Production of The Pirates of Penzance, photo by Tim Johnson

I reviewed “The Pirates of Penzance” at Lakewood Playhouse 10 years ago. Now it’s back with a new and quite different production with an all new cast and director. The earlier production was directed by Barry Johnson, a director with extensive experience directing opera. It was produced in a classic style with an emphasis on the operatic aspects of the Gilbert and Sullivan musical.

This newer version is directed by John Munn, who has a broad theatrical background including acting in and directing comedies, dramas, and musicals – even including “Pirates of Penzance.” Munn’s version weighs in more heavily on the comic aspects and the physicality. Not that the singing isn’t good, it is, but it is less operatic and more like “Monty Python” or a Warner Brothers cartoon, which is pointed out in the promotional material. 
There are also sly references to “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” and to other plays and pop-culture icons, some of which only some folks will get and others of a more personal nature that nobody would get, such as pirates climbing a ladder into the audience in tribute to Tim Burton whose version of “Pirates” the director saw in his youth.
In addition to directing, Munn plays the Pirate King. This was not his intention. He did not want the burden and huge challenge of both directing and playing a lead role, but circumstances made it necessary, and he is so good in the part that I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. His commanding presence, his comic timing, his singing, and his acrobatic physicality are astounding.

(L to R) FUNE TAUTALA (Fredric) and ALLYSON JACOBS-LAKE (Mabel) from the Lakewood Playhouse Production of  The Pirates of Penzance, photo by Tim Johnson

Also outstanding are Gary Chambers, a veteran of many Lakewood Playhouse performances, as the loveable Major-General Stanley and Fune Tautala in his Lakewood Playhouse debut as Frederic.

Standout performances are also turned in by Kathy Sawrey as Ruth and Allyson Jacobs-Lake as the love interest, Mabel. Both Sawrey and Jacobs-Lake sing clearly and sweetly, and each plays her part as a complex and multi-faceted character.

Derek Hall as the police sergeant is a comic treasure. He looks like Ringo Starr and moves like Charlie Chaplin. All of the policemen are amazing in their almost gravity-defying movements (choreographed by Amanda Jackson). The same can be said of the rest of the ensemble cast, the pirates and the many daughters of the Major-General. These ensemble groups are great singing in chorus. The choral singing, in fact, outshines most of the solo singing. The groups of policemen and pirates move almost as a single entity, and yet each policeman and pirate and daughter is a distinct individual.

Ruth, at 47, is the only woman 21- year-old Frederic has ever seen. He believes she is beautiful because she says she is. And then he sees the many daughters and discovers real beauty and falls in love with Mabel. But he can’t have her because he is indentured to the pirates until his 21st birthday, which will not arrive until he is 64 because he was a leap year baby. It might be the most absurd plot device ever devised, but it’s funny, and that’s what matters.

This version of “The Pirates of Penzance” is a musical laughathon.

One other note of interest: There is a recessed orchestra pit in the middle of the stage, and actors move all around the three-piece orchestra, two pianos and a drum set, with Musical Director Deborah Armstrong playing one of the pianos and occasionally – and hilariously – breaking the fourth wall to direct and interact with the actors. This is something I’ve never seen anywhere. It brings down the house.

Opening night was sold out and tickets are going fast, so get yours as soon as possible.

The Pirates of Penzance
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through June 25
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood TICKETS: $25-$30
INFORMATION: 253.588.0042,

Student Art Exhibit at SPSCC

Photo: “Not My Home,” digital photo by Ashley Meyers, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College.

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 1, 2017
“Not My Home,” digital photo by Ashley Meyers, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College
As a former college art teacher, meaning as someone who has at least a little knowledge of what might reasonably be expected of college art students, I think the overall quality of the 12th Annual Student Art Exhibition at South Puget Sound Community College should be better than it is. There are a lot of ceramics in this show, much more than I would normally expect to see in a student show, and while some of it is excellent and a lot of it is clever, funny, inventive, much of it is clumsily executed. There is also some excellent photography and a few good drawings, but overall the drawings are the weakest part of the show.
A few exceptions:
There is an untitled charcoal figure drawing by Casey Costello that stands out. It is a standing female figure that is impressionistic with soft gray charcoal modeling in large planes with just enough sharp line drawing to delineate the figure in its dynamic pose. It is simple and nicely done.
Next to Costello’s standing figure and between it and another Costello figure drawing (which is clumsily drawn), hangs a reclining nude by Lou Dagle with strong and emphatic line work.
Also worthy of note is a Greek-style stoneware wine jar by Suzanne Petrie. It is a large jar that stands approximately three feet tall with a rounded form. The outstanding thing about this wine jar is the glaze, which looks like a gritty abstract- expressionist painting with swaths of overlapping transparent slashes of olive green and gray accentuated with sharp darts and squiggles of line. There is something about this piece that reminds me of the great ceramic sculptor Peter Voulkos, although it doesn’t have the rough and broken quality of a Voulkos and is more classic in form.
There is a stand with a group of hand-made artist books. My favorite of the bunch is one called “Monster” by Skillet, a book of moody poems illustrated with dark and brooding photographs and drawings by Terry Winland. Yet another charcoal drawing by Costello stands out. It depicts a large group of people crowded shoulder-to-shoulder in an interior setting with two hands framing the scene in the foreground. The empty square formed by the touching of fingers and thumbs is startling because the space between the fingers through which the background figures should logically be seen is solid white. The way Costello brings the small background figures right up against the larger foreground hands in defiance of normal perspective is dramatically effective. 
The most inventive and beautifully executed photograph in the show is “Tug of War on Drugs” by Jason Appleby, in which flat black cut-out figures play tug-of-war with a white string in front of a stack of bright-orange pill containers. There are many possible interpretations of this image, all of which are disturbing. The colors and the composition are strong and in-your-face.
Next to Appleby’s photo are two by Ashley Meyers, one of a news box on an urban street with the newspaper inside showing a headline article about the 2016 presidential election. The other one, called “Not My Home,” pictures a row of houses either being built  or repaired — siding or painting in progress. The houses look cheap and shoddily built.
One other thing worthy of note is “Chia Pets,” a class project by students of Colleen Gallagher. It is a shelf with many odd and funny student-built ceramic Chia Pets.
I can’t highly recommend this show, but it is worth seeing for the few pieces mentioned here and a few others.
Student Art Exhibit, Noon to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday, through June 16, South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia

Friday, May 26, 2017

Something Happened Again Tomorrow

Larry Calkins at Feast Art Center 

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 25, 2017

Masks and collages by Larry Calkins, photo by Alec Clayton
The first thing that strikes the eye upon walking into Larry Calkins’ show Something Happened Again Tomorrow at the Feast Art Center is a pair of rust-colored figures hanging in the windows. Hanging as in lynched. The overall impression, not just of these figures but of the entire show, is of darkness. Darkness as in despair.

Some of Calkins’ drawings, collages and sculptures look like ancient artifacts found in some dark cave, preserved in amber. There are what appear to be voodoo dolls and figures pierced by nails. Some of the art looks like old photos found in a scrapbook from the earliest days of photography. Mysteries and implied narratives abound.

Encaustic is the one common materials in all of the work — encaustic with aluminum, encaustic with found photographs, with paint, with cloth. And in each instance the artist displays both understanding of his media and a willingness to stretch that media in unexpected ways.

In addition to the hanging figures in the windows, there is an eerie photograph of a hanging man with a silhouetted house behind him, and above this image is an animal mask made of aluminum, cloth and encaustic. It is the elongated face of an unidentifiable animal with tiny round holes for eyes and bear ears, a projection on top of its head that is shaped like a house with a peak roof.

Gallery owner Todd Jannausch says the figures in the windows are Calkins and his wife, the wife being the one on the viewer’s left (there are no recognizable gender markers). She has a cone-shaped protrusion on her forehead. Both have numbers on their chests, indicative perhaps that they are in prison. She is number 5650 and he is 1255. If there is any narrative intent to these surrealistic figures, I do not get it. But I like their power and mystery.

Along one wall is a large encaustic collage with old photos grouped and overlapped like scattered pages from some old scrapbook. There are pictures of dolls, of nude figures, a bandaged man, scenes from an operating room. It could easily be the history of a tragic family. There is writing. It is handwriting that is unreadable — drawing that looks like writing but no actual letters.

Hanging on one wall is a little rusty figure impaled head-to-foot with nails. He brings to mind Saint Sabastian shot through with arrows.

On the right-hand wall when facing the window are two sets of collages and animal masks. There is one set of four collages with encaustic in amber and black and white collaged onto old picture frames with fascinating texture. Pictured are faces and type. Next to it is a similar set of two collages stacked vertically. The lower one features a black-and-white drawing of a face. The top one features the flat and transparent shape of a head and chest in bright red, one of the few instances of color in the entire show. Arranged in a triad above these are three of Calkins’ strange animal masks. One appears to be a bunny, one a deer, and one a human face.

I like that there is very little color in this show. The black, white and gray, the rust, and the amber of the encaustic lends to the images the patina of age. This is a marvelous show, strange and mysterious with work that is beautifully executed, depicting people and animals and events that one can only marvel at and wonder about.

Larry Calkins: Something Happened Again Tomorrow, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, and by appointment, through June 10, Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Nicholas Nyland partners at Matter

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 18, 2017
 “Urban Woodscape mixed media window installation by Nicholas Nyland
Artist, curator and gallery owner Lisa Kinoshita recently announced that local artist Nicholas Nyland has joined Matter co-owners Kinoshita and furniture maker Steve Lawler of rePly Furniture as a third partner. “And wait 'til you see the changes he's wrought at the gallery,” Kinoshita exclaimed in an email brimming with uncontained excitement that fairly leapt off the screen.  
Nyland is well known in Tacoma for his exciting and varied artwork, from delicate watercolors and brilliant ceramics to the vibrant, multi-colored and multi-patterned mixed-media constructions he did in collaboration with Ellen Ito. It seems there’s no guessing what he might try next.
Nyland’s bio reads like an entry in a who’s-who of South Sound artists. He has shown his art at Seattle Art Museum, Olympic Sculpture Park, Henry Art Gallery, and the Northwest Biennial at Tacoma Art Museum. He was a nominee for the 2013 Northwest Contemporary Art Awards at Portland Art Museum.
“Now, he's brought his artistry to Matter and has activated the upstairs gallery with a fantastic line of ceramics and home accessories, called Object Lesson. Nicholas's aesthetic, “an energetic blend of fine art and craft, will be on full display as he brings his keen eye to the downtown design store,” Kinoshita says.
The three owners, each an artist, will rotate curatorial tasks in coming months.
“I'm thrilled to be joining forces with Lisa and Steve,” Nyland says. “I see Object Lesson as an outlet for my interest in the crossover between art and design. I will be including my forays into tableware, lighting. I am also planning on adding other contemporary artists' work to fill out the mix. I'm inspired by past precedents such as the Wiener Wekstätte in Austria or the Omega group in London where visual artists turned their hands toward decorative and applied arts.”
Also included in the show is some colorful and fun painted ceramic ware and a long wood table with colorful ceramic plates, bowls, a spoon, candle holders and even a chocolate covered donut.
As an extended part of the show, Nyland has created a window installation called “Urban Woodscape” that features that kitschy staple of Northwest culture, the chainsaw-carved grizzly bear, along with a painted forest backdrop and some furniture not identified but which I suspect is by Lawler.
Matter will celebrate the arrival of Nyland and Object Lesson with a "Meet the Makers Popup" and relaunch party on Saturday, June 10, from 4-8 p.m. The relaunch event will be a chance to meet some of the Northwest's fine artisans who are on the Matter roster, including Jeremy Mangan, Carlos Taylor-Swanson, Arts & Crafts Press, Melissa Balch, Saya Moriyasu, Brian Murphy and others.
Nicholas Nyland: Object2-7 p.m. Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, and by appointment. Contact: 253.228.1976; Matter, 821 Pacific Ave. in Tacoma.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Shakespeare in Hollywood

A screwball 1930s comedy
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 18, 2017

Dan Overton as Oberon and Orit Wernor as Puck, photo courtesy Olympia Little Theatre
Shakespeare in Hollywood by legendary playwright Ken Ludwig, author of such popular plays as Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo and Twentieth Century, brings a bit of magic and a lot of mayhem to Olympia Little Theatre. The concept is brilliant, even as it asks audiences to forsake logic and believability a tad more than such a comedy should.
It is 1934. Hollywood mogul Jack Warner (Rich Young) has hired the famous German expatriate director Max Reinhardt (Paul Parker) to direct a film version of Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring leading man Dick Powell (Paul Wirtz). Magically, the fairies Oberon (Dan Overton) and Puck (Orit Wernor) from Shakespeare’s play visit the set. They immediately see that actors in Hollywood are treated like gods. Conveniently for the plot of this whacky comedy, the actors who had been cast to play Oberon and Puck are suddenly no longer available, and the fairies are offered the opportunity to play themselves in the movie. They jump at the opportunity.
Into this madcap mix a slew of unlikely romances are born when pollen from Shakespeare’s magical flower gets in people’s eyes and each proceeds to fall madly in love with the next person they see. Mostly unnecessary to the plot, a handful of celebrities show up, some in cameos and some in more substantial roles: Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Rhoni Lozier), comedians Joe E. Brown (Conner Nuckols) and Groucho Marx (Alex Hume), and actor James Cagney (also played by Hume); not to mention “Tarzan” (played by Nuckols, who triples as another of the Warner brothers).
Also appearing in various small roles are Randall Graham and the play’s director, Kendra Malm as “Tina Tian.”  
The acting is uneven with some of the characters who play multiple roles — there are many of these — being good in some parts and ridiculous others. Nuckols, for instance, is good as Sam Warner but totally uninteresting as Joe E. Brown, Bob Lozier is good as the nasty censor Will Hayes but not so good as Harry Warner and Moose Tarseid, and Humes’s Groucho is unconvincing while being too much like countless other Groucho imitations. Fortunately, he’s on stage in that role for only a few seconds.
The standout performer is Overton as the fairy king Oberon. He plays Oberon as delightfully arrogant, and he enjoyably displays constant surprise at what life is like in the 20th century. Lozier is a good Louella Parsons, and Young is humorously dictatorial as studio head Jack Warner. Jenni Fleming as starlet Lydia Lansing and Maria Densley as actress Olivia Darnell are both good.
Will Hayes falling in love with his own image in a mirror is a comic treasure.
The funniest bit in the whole show opening night was a wardrobe malfunction, which I’m pretty sure was an accident. I hope they’ll incorporate it into all remaining shows.
Shakespeare in Hollywood is really, really funny in spots and as clumsy, over-acted and ridiculous as a bad high school comedy in other moments.

Shakespeare in Hollywood, 7:25 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 18, Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia, tickets $18-$20, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, 360.786.9484,

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cultural imPRINT

Six decades of Northwest Coast indigenous prints
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 11, 2017
Ben Davidson (b.1976), Haida First Nation, “Just About,” 2014 screenprint, 28½ x 18½ inches. Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

Cultural imPRINT: Northwest Coast Prints is an exhibition of some 45 prints by artists from the many Northwest coastal tribes over a period of six decades. From the earliest works to the most recent, these prints demonstrate a melding of ancient traditions with the latest aesthetic practices from the times in which they were made. Perhaps the most potent commonality is that they all have the visual impact of poster art combined with sensitive use of space and subtle color modulations. Most have some variation (in some cases very striking variations) on traditional imagery and narration. Two things that stand out in most of the prints are the generous use of white space between and around images and the clever interplay of positive and negative forms.
“Blueberries,” embossed lithograph by James Schoppert of the Tlingit Tribe, looks like a photo of a wall of low-relief sculpture that has been washed with drippy purple and orange paint and then cut into nine squares and rearranged. It calls for close observation.
“Brothers Who Fell From the Sky” by Coast Salish artist IessLIE is a screen print from 2008 that pictures the heads and torsos of two figures depicted as strong geometric shapes in black and white set side-by-side, with one of them upside-down on a solid white ground with a yellow circle — the sun perhaps — between them. The yellow is so light that it almost disappears and seems to hover like a mirage.
Local contemporary artist Shaun Peterson, Coast Salish from the Puyallup Tribe, is represented by a digital print called “Daybreak.” It pictures a simple face with lyrical and circular lines and extremely nuanced color modulations, which a wall label explains is a hallmark of Coast Salish design. As is the case with many of the works in this show, there is much more to see in this print than is evident in a quick glance.
Kelly Cannell’s “Salish Rope” is a clever screen print with imagery that is almost hidden and pops out unexpectedly. It is a simple abstract depiction of a coil of rope or what looks to me like braided hair. Hidden within the coils are figures of women crawling upward, some in black on white and some in white on black.
Two works that stand out as quite different from everything else are drawings by the collaborative team of Tania Willard, Peter Morin and Gabe Hill, a trio of artists who go by the name New BC Indian Arts and Welfare Society. The two drawings by this group are done using the old surrealist method of exquisite corpse, a way of writing or drawing in which none of the collaborating artists see all of what the others do until the work is finished. In this case, they folded the drawings so parts drawn by each of them were hidden from view of the others, and then the parts were cut apart and taped together. The resulting drawings illustrate Native stories but in a style more like the Chicago Imagists or “Hairy Who” — quirky and inventive and strangely beautiful.
Another artist in this show whose work diverges from the Native tradition is John Brent Bennett of the Haida First Nation, showing two lithographs with dense and repetitive patterns superimposed over cityscapes and landscapes. His “Henslung” has circular patterns over a city skyline that are something like lines in a seismograph. It made me feel as if the city was about to be torn apart.
In the 20-plus years I’ve been reviewing art in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve seen a lot of Native art, and this is the best I’ve seen.

Tacoma Art Museum, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Aug. 20, $15, third Thursday free 10 a.m.-8 p.m., 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,

Monday, May 8, 2017

Water by the Spoonful at UW Tacoma

Toy Boat Theatre in Tacoma is producing the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, the second in a trilogy of award-winning plays by Quiara Alegría Hudes.

“This show represents very well my sensibility for theatre and the lovely collaboration between UWT students and more seasoned area actors that is the cornerstone of my UWT colleague, Michael Kula's and my vision for theatre at UWT,” says Toy Boat Theatre Artistic Director Marilyn Bennett. “This is just such a lovely, moving, redemptive script.

There are three remaining peformances: Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 11-13 at the broadcast studio theatre at UW Tacoma. Tickets are $10, free for UWT students.

Friday, May 5, 2017

New Muses Theatre Company Does Peer Gynt

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 4, 2017
from Left: Alex Gust, Eric Cuestas-Thompson, Niclas Olson, Emily Lott Robinson, Austin Matteson, Melanie Shaffer, and Katelyn Hoffman. Photos courtesy of New Muses Theatre Company
Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is a monumentally ambitious play for a community theater to produce. The original was done completely in verse and was performed in five acts with more than 40 scenes in different locations and times, and it alternated between realism and fantasy.
New Muses Theatre Company’s version, adapted by Niclas Olson, is much simpler and no longer in verse (although I caught a few random rhymes). Rather than five acts, it is being done as two, two-act plays performed on a rotating schedule. Olson says that although each part can stand alone as a complete play, seeing parts one and two in order is recommended. This review is based on Part One.
Peer Gynt is based on a Norwegian fairy tale Ibsen believed to be based on fact. Part One: Youth begins with Gynt’s mother (Emily Lott Robinson) berating her son for being a lazy vagabond who will never amount to anything. Gynt (Olson), known as a brawler and the laughing stock in his Norwegian mountain village, tells his mother about his exciting adventure fighting a deer in the mountains, a tale she eventually recognizes as a fantasy based on an old fairy tale she heard as a child. Peer goes to a wedding and steals away the bride and runs off to the mountains for adventures with trolls, battles with a monster known as the Boyg, marries the troll king’s daughter and then deserts her after she becomes pregnant, and then he romances Solveig (Katelyn Hoffman), a new woman in the village who fancies him a romantic outlaw and follows him into the mountains.
Katelyn Hoffman and Niclas Olson
Throughout a series of 16 short scenes, we follow Peer Gynt’s sometimes real and sometimes imaginary adventures, which are variously touching, realistic, highly dramatic, comical and surrealistic — an incredible challenge to any actor and any theater company, which Olson and company handle with seeming ease.
The story is not easy to follow. Close attention is demanded as scenes quickly change from real to surreal.
The acting throughout is commendable, as most of the casts take on divergent roles. Hoffman plays the sweet and tender Solveig as the most believable and least outrageous character in the play. Melanie Schaffer is outstanding and in parts almost gleefully evil as The Woman in Green and other parts. Olson’s histrionics as the overly dramatic Peer Gynt are a joy to watch as he switches lightning-fast from absurdly comical to intensely dramatic. This is a tour de force for Olson, who wrote the adaptation, designed the simple but effective set, directed and starred as the leading character.
Part Two: Revenant tells the tale of Peer Gynt’s later adventures as a world traveler beginning 25 years after Part One, and then in the second act Gynt is an old man 20 years further on. Please visit the New Muses website to see when each part plays.
Peer Gynt, 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 21, $10-$15, Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma,,