Friday, September 22, 2017

Witness to Wartime

The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 21, 2017
"High School Girl," by Takuichi Fujii, oil on canvas, Wing Luke Museum collection, photo by Richard Nicol, courtesy Washington State History Museum.
Washington State History Museum offers a rare opportunity to see the visual diary, drawings and watercolor paintings of a Japanese-American held in the relocation center in Puyallup and the internment camp at Minidoka, Idaho.
Takuichi Fujii was a small businessman and well-known local artist in Seattle at the beginning of World War II. Swept up along with his wife and two daughters, as was almost every Japanese-American on the West Coast, he was confined in the relocation center in Puyallup from May to August 1942, and then to Minidoka, where he and his family were held until October 1945. A prolific artist, Fujii documented the scenes and the life at both camps in a personal diary and in watercolors and ink drawings. About 70 artworks from this time period and including later works from when he lived in Chicago after the war, are on display in two galleries at WSHM. The galleries are small, and the paintings can be seen in a short visit, but visitors should linger long and attentively over each work because they illustration a life lived during one of the most horrendous events in American history, and because Fujii was an excellent artist whose works demand attention.
In the smaller of the two galleries we are given an overview glimpse into his art before and after his wartime experiences. The earlier works are realistic and simplified. In the later years he moved into more abstract work with his final paintings being strong black-and-white abstract paintings in a style similar to that of Franz Kline.
The larger of the two galleries is dedicated to his wartime art, which was unknown until they were rediscovered after his death by his grandson, Sandy Kita. These drawings and paintings have never been shown publicly.
The diary he began in the relocation camp at Puyallup is displayed in a closed case but all of the nearly 400 pages can be viewed digitally.
Work done before the war include self-portraits, pictures of downtown Seattle. There is a portrait of his daughter titled “High School Girl” (1934-35) that shows a strong influence of such painters as Cezanne and Braque and other forerunners of cubism. The Seattle scenes and a painting of the Rock Island Dam on the Columbia River. There are paintings from the beginning of the war showing American citizens of Japanese descent reading the signs tacked to light poles and fences announcing that they must report to the relocation center, essentially that your life, your home and your business are over.
The pictures from Puyallup and Minidoka are stark and simple. More of them picture the camp buildings and the desert than the people. There are pictures of the barracks and the latrines, the crowded train that took them to Minidoka, and incident where they saw a rattlesnake I the desert.
“The exhibition tells the story of Fujii’s individual will to persist, both as an artist and a citizen, and provides a rare glimpse into exactly what that experience was like,” said the museum’s director of audience engagement, Mary Mikel Stump, who summed up the exhibition saying it is all about Fujii’s individual experience. This critic would add that it is also about the talent and dedication of an artist whose work parallels trends in art history from the 1920s and ‘30s through the 1950s.

Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tue.-Sat, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. third Thursday, through Jan. 1, $5-$12, Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, 888.238.4373
Review: Rumors
By Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune
Mark Peterson, left, and Jess Allan, photo courtesy Tacoma Little Theatre
Neil Simon’s “Rumors” at Tacoma Little Theatre is loud, raucous, fast-paced, witty and pretty much over the top from curtain to curtain, and the laughter of the opening night crowd was just as loud as the gesticulating and shouting actors on stage. There is little subtlety or nuance in this comedy. But where there is subtlety, it is golden — as when the overly nervous Chris Gorman (sharply portrayed by Jess Allan) gets mad at one of the other guests and hisses like a cat. It’s an action that takes no more than two seconds, but it is perfectly played and brings down the house.
The action takes place in the Manhattan apartment of the Deputy Mayor of New York and his wife, neither of whom ever appear on stage. It is their 10th anniversary and they’re throwing a party, but when the guests arrive, Charlie, the Deputy Mayor, has attempted suicide and missed, just shooting his ear lobe. He is shut up on an upstairs bedroom and his wife has left. Nobody knows where she has gone.
The beauty of setting the play in a single apartment on a single evening is that no set or costume changes are required — except when Lenny (Matt Garry) comes downstairs wearing a bathrobe and sporting a bandaged ear, pretending to be the Deputy Mayor and giving a couple of incredulous cops a long and absurd explanation of why gunshots were reported and why all the obviously well-heeled guests are acting so strange.
A lawyer named Ken (Mark Peterson) and his wife, Chris (Allan), are the first guests to arrive, and Ken decides nobody can know that Charlie shot himself. When the next guests arrive, Lenny and his wife, Claire (Jill Heinecke), they make up stupid excuses about why Charlie and his wife aren’t there, excuses that keep getting more and more implausible because their stories are too wild to be believed. The plot thickens when a psychiatrist named Ernie (Jefferry Swiney-Weaver) and his wife, Cookie (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson) show up. Cookie, who stars in a cooking show on TV and who periodically screams and contorts her body with severe back spasms, volunteers to cook dinner because the servants are mysteriously missing. Into this chaotic mixture come Glenn Cooper (Houston White), who is running for state senator, and his wife, Cassie (Kristen Blegen Bouyer), a new-agey vamp who keeps rubbing herself with a crystal and accusing her husband or infidelity. There are a lot of whispered rumors of infidelity involving various characters, thus the title, “Rumors.”
The cast is comprised of experienced actors who not only play their parts well but are clearly having fun doing it. They are every one deserving of special mention, but two in particular stand out. They are Peterson and Garry. Peterson, who has a booming, guttural voice and a demanding stage presence is sometimes overwhelming, but in this role shouting and over acting is called for, and he does it magnificently. And Garry is physically and verbally spot-on. In this role he reminds me of classical comedians like Sid Caesar and Jackie Gleeson.
Finally, I must say the set by Blake York is wonderful. The entire apartment with its staircase and floor-to-ceiling windows is patterned after a Piet Mondrian painting with everything but the diagonal of the staircase being rectangles and squares in primary red, yellow, white and blue with black lines. It’s all a bit retro for being set in 1989, but absolutely gorgeous.
If you like a good farce, this one is one of the best, cleverly written and performed by great actors. Warning: there is a liberal sprinkling of language that might be offensive to some.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 1
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 North I Street, Tacoma
TICKETS: $20-$24
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

Pete Goldlust and Wayzgoose in the Woolworth Windows

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 21, 2017
Detail shot of part of Pete Goldlust’s installation in the Woodworth windows, photos courtesy Spaceworks Tacoma.

When artworks first began showing up in the windows of the old Woolworth building on 11th Street between Broadway and Commerce, there was little sense of installing work that was site specific. The walls were treated as gallery walls upon which paintings were hung, not as the three-dimensional space it is, with a long, narrow orientation and shallow depth more suitable for frieze-like installations that read left-to-right like a book or scroll. More recently artists have begun to utilize the space with much more awareness of its uniqueness as an exhibition space.
Pete Goldlust’s current installation turns the walls of the corner section on the Broadway side into a kind of backdrop for comic hieroglyphs. The wall that turns the corner is filled with cut-out figures on cardboard that are painted white with black outlines and lines and dots to indicate features such as comical eyes and noses. They are mounted so as to extend out from the wall to various degrees, and the raw, unpainted brown of the cardboard edges remain untouched. There are blimps, bicycles, plants, and strange undersea creatures drawn in a manner reminiscent of Dr. Suess and Keith Haring. Or perhaps even more reminiscent of the late paintings of Phillip Guston, especially the line quality and drawing style.
I strive to produce work that fosters a sense of wonder, joy, and play. I look to draw out these qualities, often dormant within the history of each site. The work is firmly rooted in pop-surrealist tradition, with plenty of influence from Dr. Seuss and independent comics,” Goldlust writes in a statement on the Spaceworks website.
The walls and floor are bright fuchsia, making for the strongest contrast imaginable between figures and background. These are joyful and playful works. I saw them in the daytime, but I can imagine them appearing as bright as the lights of Broadway when lighted at night — the other Broadway, the one of theatrical fame.
On the Commerce side, there is a display of prints from Wayzgoose that makes the windows look more like a collage of 1930s-style political posters and less like individual works displayed on a gallery wall. The reasons it doesn’t look like a typical display are first, because the prints are attached to the inside surface of the front windows instead of on the walls, and second, because there is no space between the individual prints.
For those who might not know, artists working with Wayzgoose create prints by laying the inked plates on the road and rolling over them with a steamroller. The production is done as an annual event, with a different theme each year. This year’s theme is “Unlucky Tacoma.”
I like seeing the entire window of prints as a single work, but I equally enjoy the individual prints. Ones that stand out in my mind are Katie Dean’s dreamy fantasy scene with mythological creatures in a riverside park, Audra Laymond’s “Against the Walls of Every Power BLOW the small trumpet of your defiance,” and one attributed to PLU called “Typhoon,” witch depicts a hurricane of wind-blown letters energetically flowing across a tropical island.
Woolworth Windows, 11th and Broadway and 11th and Commerce, seven days, 24 hours, through November.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Foundation of Art Award Winners at Spaceworks Gallery

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 14, 2017
“Undine,” ceramic by Heather Undine, photo by Kris Crews

The Greater Tacoma Community 10th Foundation of Art Award is among the year’s biggest arts events. Purportedly, the exhibition represents the best of the best. Every year for 10 years jurors chosen from among Tacoma’s art professionals have nominated local artists for a major prize, and every year the nominees and the annual winner have been featured in an art exhibition. This year, since it is the 10th Foundation of Art Award, 10 winners were chosen, and each was given a greatly deserved $1,000 cash award. This year’s show held at the Spaceworks Gallery showcases works not only by this year’s winners but by winners from each the past nine years.
This year’s winners are: Mindy Barker, Heather Cornelius, Todd Jannausch, Janet Marcavage, Gillian Nordlund, Nicholas Nyland, Chandler O’Leary, Saiyare Refaei, Kenji Stoll, and Chandler Woodfin. Past winners included in the show are: Chris Sharp, Jeremy Mangan, Lisa Kinoshita, Jessica Spring, Oliver Doriss, Shaun Peterson, Elise Richman, Christopher Paul Jordan, and Sean Alexander. Each artist is represented by a single work.
The panel which chose this year’s winner included Amy McBride, and past winners Sean Alexander, Jeremy Mangan, Elise Richman, and Christopher Paul Jordan.
To write about all 19 artworks in the space allowed is not possible. Instead, I shall mention some of the highlights and encourage readers to visit the gallery and see them all.
Mandy Barker’s “Strata Discs” is a fascinating painting in acrylic, metal leaf, and ink on paper mounted on wood. Pictured are three circles of various sizes and varying distances from the wall, each decorated with ornate animal-themed painting in brilliant colors. It is a delightful and exciting piece that requires careful attention to suss out what all is pictured.
Glass artist Oliver Doriss’s “Blue Moon” is a small piece on a sculpture stand consisting of two small blocks of acrylic within which are crumbled and flattened aluminum foil. peering into the acrylic is like viewing bits of ancient rock or wood through a magnifying glass. Space and time seem condensed by art.
Speaking of time, Nicholas Nyland’s “Slab Basket” has the look of an ancient artifact dug up from an archeological site. It is a globe of overlapping slabs of stoneware with open space between the slabs fired with earthy tones of pink and purple. There is a majestic and timeless quality to this one.
Janet Marcavage’s screen print “Cools” is a study in illusion and perception. Curvilinear lines in various tones of blue and white are put together in six interlocking round shapes that have the quality of rhythmic movement seen as striped patterns of cloth blowing in the wind.
Heather Undine’s “Undine” is a ceramic bust of a woman emerging from a circular shell-like formation, or perhaps it is intended as floral leaves from which her head and shoulders appear. It reminds me of Botticelli’s “Venus” except that it depicts strength rather than the idealized beauty of the “Venus.” Judging from the title, my guess would be it is a self-portrait. If so, it is as unflinchingly unflattering as a Rembrandt self-portrait.
Other pieces I found to be particularly impressive are works by Lisa Kinoshita, Elise Richman and Sean Alexander.
All of Tacoma should turn out for the reception gala Thursday, Sept. 21.
Foundation of Art Award, 1-5 p.m., Monday-Friday and 1-9 p.m. Third Thursday, through Oct. 19, reception 5-9 p.m., Sept. 21, Spaceworks Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Clarissa Sligh: ‘Am I Safe’ and Fumiko Kimura: ‘One. Dot. Sumi’ at UPS

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 7, 2017
“Year of the Rooster,” sumi ink by Fumiko Kimura, courtesy Kittredge Gallery
More than 6,000 folded paper cranes by nationally known artist Clarissa Sligh hang from the ceilings and cling to the walls of Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound. Many of the cranes are made from the pages of white supremacist books, plus there are dramatic black-and-white photographs of people who are or might be the targets of white supremacist hate, and close-up, high-contrast photos of some of the individual cranes.
The show is called Am I Safe?
These works transform hate speech into artworks of calm contemplation, as stated in a press release that goes on to say, “Her artists’ books, photos, and prints examine personal identities and fears in an unequal world.” Some of the artists’ books are displayed in a companion show in Collins Memorial Library on the UPS campus.
Sligh’s work balances the conceptual and the aesthetic, the symbolic and the literal. In Japan, the crane is a mystical creature believed to live for a thousand years. In Japanese, Chinese and Korean cultures, cranes represent good fortune and longevity. Juxtaposing them with photos of hate-targeted people is the height of irony.
Four clusters of cranes of many colors hang from the ceiling in the middle of the gallery. They are black, white, silver and other colors, and are strung together with many colored beads. The black ones are dull, or matt. Others are shiny. Close examination reveals that the white ones are made from maps. Compositionally the various colors group together — whites together, blacks together, and so forth — in patterns that play off against each other within and against each hanging group like a kind of bizarre dance of different colored dancers.
Against one wall there is a lineup of black and white photographs of multicultural faces with the artist’s face near the center, and against another wall there is a line of photographs of people of color behind a scrim of hanging cranes in black, white and gold; the white ones in this group are made from pages of hate literature.
Against another wall there is a large offset lithograph and digital collage called “Women Bring the People.” It shows pictures of women in various configurations. The central figure is a naked woman collaged of images of possibly the same and possibly different women put together in such a way as to make it look like she’s been folded in half. I can’t begin to imagine the intended meaning of this image, but I can say it is disturbing at best and horrifying at worst.
Sligh’s installation fills the larger front gallery. The smaller back gallery presents a show of sumi drawings, paintings and collages by local artist Fumiko Kimura, founder of Puget Sound Sumi Artists. Kumura’s show is called One. Dot. Sumi. It includes lovely and delicate pictures of landscapes, flowers, birds and insects in a lyrical painting style based on the ancient art of calligraphy.

Clarissa Sligh: Am I Safe and Fumiko Kimura: One. Dot. Sumi, Kittredge Gallery, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., through Sept. 23, artist’s talk 5 p.m., Sept. 13, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Review: August: Osage County

Jason Haws and Ann Flannigan
Clockwise from left: Janette Oswald, Brian Pucheu, Jason Haws, Bill Johns,  Diane Goodknight. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions

The Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play August: Osage County by Tracy Letts is a play unlike any other. The story unfolds, or should we say erupts, over a few weeks in the rural Oklahoma home of Beverly and Violet Weston. It opens with Beverly, a crusty but kindly old drunk played by the inimitable Russ Holm, hiring Johnna, a young Cherokee woman (Mackenzie Platt), as a housekeeper. “My wife takes pills and I drink,” he tells her. Not long after, Beverly disappears and ...

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Troy Gua’s SMÖRGÅSBORD at Feast Art Center by

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 30, 2017
“Le Petit Prince,” video and book by Troy Gua, courtesy Feast Art Center
In the art of Troy Gua we see the reincarnation of the minds of Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp. His art is conceptual, brilliant, funny, and drawn/painted/built with exquisite craftsmanship.
He is famous regionally, and should be famous nationally and even internationally, for his pop hybrid portraits of celebrities and for his series of hand-made dolls, books and videos for the artist formerly and forever known as Prince.
The pop hybrid portraits are portraits of famous people painted in a pop art fashion much like Warhol’s famous portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and others. They are more precisely painted than Warhol’s and without his colors printed off-register. The unique character of Gua’s portraits is that he typically combines and overlaps two or more portraits in such a way that they might look like one of the subjects and then change in the viewer’s eye to the other. Sometimes figuring out who they are is a delectable puzzle.    Often he combines people who have things in common, be it a name or profession or other similarities, such as Martin Luther King and Elvis (the King of rock and roll), or computer pioneers Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. In reviewing his show at Fulcrum Gallery for this newspaper in 2013, I described his pop hybrids as “slick and polished as custom made cars and as clever as the most inspired work of a Madison Avenue ad writer." Now they are even more polished. The earlier ones were painted in acrylic on canvas; the new ones are sealed with a resin coating. 
There are two pop hybrids in this show, one of Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein called “The Brains and Beauty (First Try)” and one that is a self-portrait combined with Prince. Which brings us to “Le Petit Prince.”
 Gua clearly loves Prince. Over the years he has made countless little handmade dolls  of Prince and put them in many different settings and made movies and books about him. At one point the rock idol’s lawyers hit Gua with a cease-and-desist order.
There is a “Le Petit Prince” corner in the gallery with a video, a book and two Prince-like dolls of Gua and his wife on a couch watching the video. As the pop-hybrid portrait indicates, the Prince and Gua have become so thoroughly associated in his art that it becomes almost impossible to tell them apart.
In addition to these works, there is an intriguing memorial to 9/11 with two blank canvases standing in for the twin towers and a “paper airplane” made of folded canvas flying into one of the towers. There are also a number of pieces that make sly references to art galleries such as “Sold,” a red dot on the head of a pin in a white shadow box — referencing the reddots that are traditionally place next to artworks in galleries that have sold.
There is also a group of large commercial logos for imaginary companies that are cast in resin and make for stunningly beautiful abstract sculptures and similarly two sets of emojis set as hieroglyphics of the future.
The show is called SMÖRGÅSBORD because it is a mixture of many different works done over a ten-year period. Only a fraction of it is mentioned in this review, and even a smaller fraction is shown at Feast. I highly recommend that you visit the show to see the work in person, and then look the artist up online to see examples of the many varied works he has produced.

Troy Gua’s SMÖRGÅSBORD, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, and by appointment, through Aug. 11, Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Reading the Eagle Tree got me to thinking about climbing trees

Reading the Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes got me to thinking about climbing trees. Not wanting to do it, God no. I’m 74 years old, and that’s a wee bit too old for that kind of shenanigan. But remembering and thinking about the logistics of it, how to get from one branch to another without scraping the hell out of my arms and legs. It was a year or so ago that I read that book. But sitting on my patio just now and looking at the trees, I starting thinking about it again. I could limb that one and that one, if I was younger. What would my wife think if she came home and saw me perched high in an oak tree? She’d probably think I’d lost my mind.

But what about these two big ones in our side yard? No way could I tackle them.
I was a great climber when I was a kid. My dad said I was just like a monkey, and that pleased me greatly. I remember home movies of me and my brother waving from high in the gum tree in our front yard in Tupelo, the house on Woodlawn, I think, not the one on Magazine—meaning we must have been eleven or twelve years old. And I remember climbing the giant magnolia on the bank of Gordons Creek in Hattiesburg a few years later. I truly believed I was the only kid in the world who could climb that one.

For a long time after reading the Eagle Tree I looked at trees while riding around town and thought about which ones were climbable and which weren’t. The thing that struck me was that most are seemingly impossible because the first branches don’t branch out until way past where they are reachable from the ground. How in the world are you supposed to climb a tree if you can’t reach the first branches? Scamper up like a money? Like a lumberjack with a rope and spiked shoes but without the rope and spikes? I wish I could ask March Wong about that. He was the hero of the Eagle Tree. He might have been the best tree climber there ever was. He could tell me how to do it.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Preview: Wait Until Dark at Lakewood Playhouse

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 24, 2017

Wait Until Dark poster designed by James Stowe, courtesy Lakewood Playhouse
Lakewood Playhouse opens its 2017-2018 season with the classic thriller Wait Until Dark, one of the most suspenseful plays ever mounted on stage. The play by Frederick Knott was first performed on Broadway in 1966. A film version starring Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkan was released the following year, and it has been revised on Broadway and performed in community theaters repeatedly ever since.
Lakewood Playhouse calls it a cat and mouse game. Susy Hendricks (Deya Ozburn) is a blind, but has learned to get along quite well without eyesight.  She and her husband, Sam (Ben Stahl, recently seen as the monster in New Muses Theatre’s Frankenstein) are threatened by a trio of potential killers; but in the dark Susy has the advantage on them.
“The play is a tight, one-room thriller with a detailed story and complicated mechanics, and working on it really keeps you on your toes,” says director James Venturini. “And the ending, when played truthfully, is extremely harrowing.”
Venturini says that he was attracted to the script because the characters are complex and interesting, and not stereotypes or caricatures. “It's not a mystery, but more of a suspense thriller, so you’re not pursuing a solution, but a resolution, and it has some interesting twists.” He says he saw the film when it first came out and again about two years ago, and likes the play better.
Ozburn, who does the lion’s share of the heavy lifting in this drama says her character, Susy, lives a life “not quite as posh as Laura Petrie, but not far from the mark, in essence,” even though she is totally blind. “It’s a very psychological thriller,” Ozburn says. “For one of the men: it’s a game…like a cat playing with its food before he kills and eats it. The other two are more grifter-style in approaching the con, but all have at her in their own way, and though for great parts of time she could easily escape and get out of there…she doesn’t. She stays, and defends her home and person, finding out what her true potential really is…it’s a whole ‘hero’s journey’ in a basement, really.” And she triumphantly adds, “And written for a woman. In 1966. How great is that?”
Jed Slaughter plays Mike, one of the trio of bad guys. He says, “One of the things that appealed to me was that it would allow me to play a different sort of character from my most common archetypes: the nice guy and the comically misogynistic jerk. While my character, Mike, is generally the ‘nice guy’ of the trio of criminals, he's still ultimately a con artist trying to swindle a blind lady. When I read the script leading up to auditions, Mike was definitely the character who most appealed to me. He gets a chance to really evolve over the course of the show in how he views and interacts with the other characters that surround him. It's also great fun to convey two different intentions simultaneously, as we're often voicing one thing while being free to completely contradict ourselves visually, taking advantage of Susy's blindness.”
Rounding out the cast will be Mari Dowd, Kerry Bringman, Lakewood Playhouse artistic director John Munn, and Travis Martinez.
Ozburn sums up her assessment of her character, Susy, by saying, “It is not her lack of sight which dooms her, and makes her a stereotypical victim. It is her intellect and sense of fight that we are watching, and rooting for. Yes, she is battling three men who are constantly at a physical advantage, but they mistake the situation and unmask their own folly by underestimating someone’s ability to thrive and survive with any kind of limitation.”
Wait Until Dark comes with a parental advisory. It contains scenes of psychological horror and intense action. There will be special showings September 14 (Pay What You Can Night) and September 21 (“Pay What You Can” Actor’s   Benefit).
Wait Until Dark, 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 8-Oct. 8, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. Lakewood, $20-$26, 253.588.0042,

A Paper Narrative

First art exhibition at Browsers Bookshop
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 24, 2017
“Go,” paper cut by Nikki McClure, courtesy Evan Clayton Horback
There’s a new visual arts venue in Olympia, and I hope this won’t be a one-shot deal, but rather the first of many shows to come.
Collage artist Evan Clayton Horback secured the use of   the balcony area at Browsers Bookshop for an art exhibit space and curated a show featuring works on paper by five local artists: Nikki McClure, Arrington De Dionyso, Aisha Harrison, Horback and Madeline Waits. McClure is probably Olympia’s best-known artist. Horback and Harrison are also well known (Harrison’s exhibition of clay and salt sculptures at Salon Refu in 2013 was one of the most astounding sculpture shows I’ve ever seen). Dionyso  and Waits are new to me.
In a written statement presented as a collage, Horback wrote: "This show ... includes work from a variety of artistic processes, styles and themes creating a more unified visual conception of our artistic lives. Olympia seems to be changing briskly and this exhibition grew out of perceived need for artists to put forth some more unified vision in a new, community space. For me, A Paper Narrative seems to highlight the freedoms to dream ideologically while also considering some of the layered social-political complexities working against them."
Each artist is represented by approximately half a dozen small works on paper.
Horback creates collage on the covers of old books. They are rough and gritty in texture and are often narrative in content, although the stories are seldom if ever clearly spelled out. They contain elements of mystery, often humor, and sometimes sly references to social and political content. Many of his collages look like story illustrations in literary magazines, and some look like book covers —no little irony there, keeping in mind that they are collaged onto book covers. In one of his works in this show the cover is “turned back” —literally, like covers on a bed. And peeking out are the figures of a sleeping couple. On the “sheet” beneath them (bed sheet/sheet of paper) is written in calligraphic script “on this page so pure and white . . .”
His works are simple, entertaining, thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing.
The wonder of McClure’s cut-paper art is her use of depth, not deep space as illustrated using perspective, but the shallow depth of things that are layered, an effect that is heightened in her works because of the high black-white contrast. Her paper cuts have a wide appeal because they picture families and children and working people in situations to which everyone can relate, and because they are so meticulously crafted.
Her piece called “Go” features the image of a bicyclist as seen from the point of view of the cyclist. All that can be seen of the rider is hands gripping the handlebar, and all that can be seen of the bike is the handlebar and its attached woven basket —like a girl’s bike from the 1950s. She, assuming it’s a she, is heading down a country road, and three other bicyclists are pedaling in a collision course toward her. It is dramatic and delightful, and we just somehow know she’s going to win this showdown.
Harrison is showing collages on wood panels that feature figures, mostly faces, somewhat crudely drawn with subtle colors and a delicate contrast of line drawing with larger flat areas of color. The paper is crinkled and slightly transparent. These collages do not have the immediate impact of her sculpted figures but grow on the viewer with time. Most intriguing is that close examination reveals line drawings that create the effect of an x-ray that shows not muscle and bone but what appears to be some kind of ancient hieroglyphics.
Waits’s decorative works in ink and other media combine elements of Australian dot paintings and psychedelic art of the 1960s. DeDionyso’s colorful works present figures, some nude and some clothed, marching and dancing across the surface.
A Paper Narrative, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through Sept. 24, Browsers Book Shop, 107 Capitol Way N. Olympia, 360.357.7462

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Seasons: Women Painters of Washington at Childhood’s End

By Alec Clayton 
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 17, 2017
"Spring is Beckoning" oil on canvas by A.J. Lowe, photo courtesy Childhood's End Gallery
Art galleries by the dozens have come and gone while Childhood’s End Gallery in Olympia just keeps rolling along. This venerable queen of South Sound art galleries has shown quality art since 1971 and shows no signs of growing weary. They have introduced many of the region’s best artists to its citizenry, including many of Washington’s best women artists; which is why I had high hopes for their current show, Seasons: Women Painters of Washington.
Sadly, this exhibition is crowded with art that epitomizes the most clichéd samples not of feminist art but of stereotypical “female” art — paintings in watercolor, gouache, pastel, and other media that are best described as soft, sweet, pretty, lovely. The colors, no matter the media, are “pastel,” bright, warm and summery. It’s as if the paintings are decked out in their Easter dresses with flowers in their hair.
There are a few abstract paintings and a whole lot of pictures of birds, flowers and scenery.
I almost never agree with juror’s choices, but in the case of this show’s First Place winner, I do. It is a small pastel landscape by Barbara Noonan titled “Vert Harmony.” It pictures a serene country road receding into the distance across a plowed field to a clump of trees. Blue and green dominate, with a greenish blue in the foreground part of the road, changing to a soft aqua in the distance. The perspective is flattened out in a manner much like that in Wayne Thiebaud’s famous San Francisco cityscapes, and the paint application is rich and creamy without being ostentatious.
Another excellent little landscape is Beverly Shaw-Starkovich’s “Red Trees with Shed.” This fiery landscape has burning-hot red and red-orange trees, yellow-green fields, and a hot yellow sky. The paint application is heavy and rough, and as in Noonan’s “Vert Harmony,” there is hardly any atmospheric or linear depth. The sky and trees push aggressively forward. For such a simple little landscape, this one is juicy and meaty.
For something different, Lois Lord’s watercolor “Season Ticket” is humorous and lighthearted. It pictures a bunch of people —middle-aged and older, possibly tourists, definitely casual in dress and manner — seated on and standing by a bench. It’s unclear what they have season tickets for. Possibly baseball, maybe for the bus, although I question whether the man with a little dog on a leash would be let in to either. It’s more funny illustration than serious art, but it’s fun to look at, and there are some nice watery effects.
A.J. Lowe is represented by two oil paintings that hang next to each other. They are “Retirement,” a picture of a man in a lawn chair on a tropical beach with palm trees and in the near distance someone riding a jet ski, and “Spring is Beckoning,” a painting of a silly-looking woman wearing a red, flower-patterned dress while picking a red flower. There is a profusion of yellow flowers in the background. The thing I like about both is that the people pictured are so typecast, especially the woman with her balloon-like face.

 Seasons: Women Painters of Washington, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through Sept. 16, Childhood’s End Gallery, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724.

Review: Frankenstein

Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, Aug. 18, 2017
Ben Stahl as the creature, photos courtesy New Muses Theatre Company
It is past time Tacomans come to know New Muses Theatre Company. Over the past few years this relatively unknown independent company has produced a slew of high-quality plays. Most but not all of their works are adapted by company founder Niclas Olson from great works of literature and performed in the upstairs performance space at Dukesbay Theater to –sadly –sparse crowds. Olson not only adapts the works himself, but he nearly always directs and performs in major roles. And their shows are invariably well produced with outstanding sets and lighting, and fine actors, all despite limited budgets.
New Muses’ latest production is “Frankenstein.” The well-constructed story and the dramatic presentation bears no resemblance to any of the many movie versions of the story nor to the comic film and stage musical by Mel Brooks. This version is based on and is true to the original novel written my Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
Niclas Olson (left) as Victor Frankenstein and Ben Stahl as the creature
The bare bones story is that Victor Frankenstein (Olson) creates a living creature who looks horrifying but has a kind and loving heart. He resorts to anger, hate and eventually murder only after being beaten and cast out by humans who fear him because of his appearance and his inability to communicate. In this version, the creature (Ben Stahl) can’t speak at first but gradually learns to talk and becomes quite eloquent.
The story is epistolary, told in the beginning through a series of letters and eventually told by the creature himself. It begins with Captain Walton (Nick Clawson) writing to his sister, Margaret (Jenna McRill). Captain Walton tells of being trapped in the arctic ice and of rescuing a man (Frankenstein) floating on the frozen sea, and of the mysterious story Frankenstein tells him. Finally, the creature confronts his creator and tells of his loneliness, of the pain of rejection, and of eventually turning to murder.
Rather than a tale of horror such as it has been made into by many adaptations, it is a sad tale of longing and misunderstanding.
It is not an easy play to watch. It is dark, morbid and intensely dramatic. And it is a tour de force of acting by the four-person cast, including two cast members who switch constantly between 18 different characters, convincingly so without resorting to costume or makeup or any kind of special effects. The audience is able to keep up with who is who simply because of context, what they say and how they say it. In addition to Captain Walton, Clawson plays Frankenstein’s father, a blind man and a judge, a priest, a shepherd and a villager, among others; and McRill plays Frankenstein’s cousin Elizabeth, his mother, a woman falsely accused of murder and others.
The set designed by Olson adds immensely to the drama, and creates a rough and foreboding sense of time and place. There are ragged and sheer curtains that allow for shocking set changes, the creation of the monster and even a hanging without having to resort to expensive special effects.
Warning: there are loud sound effects, strobe lights and simulated gunfire.
The play is 90 minutes long and is presented without an intermission. Seats are not cushioned; I noticed that some audience members brought their own cushions, which is a good idea. There were plenty of available seats the night I attended, but the space in its current configuration seats only 20, so purchasing tickets online is recommended.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 20
WHERE: Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma
TICKETS: $10-$15

Friday, August 11, 2017

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug.10, 2017

A mile away from the Northwest Detention Center where immigrants are held while awaiting deportation, Spaceworks Gallery is holding their second exhibition focusing on immigration, Immigration: Hopes Realized, Dreams Derailed. This follows Scars and Stripes, this past spring’s exhibition on Cambodian refugees and the U.S. involvement in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
So much is covered by this exhibition of film, paintings, drawings, sculpture, found art, poetry and other documentation of immigrants’ lives. A Spaceworks essay by Susan Noyes Platt says, “Behind these facts and statistics are the personal stories of mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles, grandmothers and friends who live in fear every time they wake up in the morning...” This show “suggests some of those stories of courage, of defiance, of perseverance, of hope and dreams, as well as including the dark side of immigration, most specifically here in Tacoma, at the Northwest Detention Center itself.”
When I visited the gallery, artist David Long was still working on his mural about the hunger strikes at the Detention Center. His mural covers one wall in an alcove. It is a hand-lettered copy of a letter outlining the demands of the strikers, none of which have been met. The words are printed in black and gray, and many of them are partially obliterated by thin coats of white paint. The words are easily read through the drippy white paint. I take it that this partial obfuscation is meant to symbolize that their demands are not being listened to.
Nearby are is a pair of acrylic paintings by Ami Adler called “Ushering In” and “The Welcome,” depicting immigrants being welcomed into the Detention Center. The men and women in the paintings look neither welcomed nor happy. They are painted in a style reminiscent of protest art from the 1930s and ’40s, with hints of cubism, painted in dull tones of gray and earth colors. These paintings evoke sadness and anger, as do many of the works in this show.
Ricardo Gomez is showing a series of works called “Portrait of a Migrant.” They are hinged boxes, one an old shoe-shine box, that open to reveal a surprise portrait of an immigrant. The surprise element is important to the appreciation of these works, so I will not say what is found inside the boxes, but shall only say that his point is well made.
A companion work by Gomez called “Two Sides of the Wall” starkly illustrates the us-versus-them nature of our current immigration policies. It is a sculpted wall piece based on a pinball hockey game with mazes and little Lego-like players and weapons. Slicing across the board at a harsh angle is a hand saw that divides the two sides. It is beautifully crafted and makes the point emphatically.
For aesthetic excellence, you can’t beat Janice La Berne Baker's mixed media painting "Immigration." The chalky dull green and red and gray complement each other nicely. There is a layered, shrouded figure that looks like a collage of old billboards that have been exposed part-by-part as layers are ripped off, and there are two figures whose bodies are obliterated by the dull pea-green of the background. The artist explains that it is about the separation of family and about having to hide who you are from those you love. "It is dedicated to two wonderful women I know who are Dreamers and who deal with the uncertainty about the future every day," she says.
The few works mentioned here are a tiny fraction of what is to be seen in this show. The exhibition provides an intriguing mixture of works by professional and amateur visual artists, poets and filmmakers, including works by detainees at the Detention Center. It also offers a balance between aesthetic considerations and political and social commentary. Please stop by Spaceworks Gallery to see this show.
Immigration: Hopes Realized, Dreams Derailed, 1-5 p.m., Monday-Friday and 1-9 p.m. Third Thursday, through Aug. 17, Spaceworks Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Perpetual Irrelevance: Masahiro Sugano installation at Feast Art Center

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 3, 2017
by Alec Clayton
Detail of installation by Masahiro Sugano, courtesy Feast Art Center
Masahiro Sugano’s installation at Feast Art Center is as gutsy as anything you’re likely to see, and I mean that both literally and metaphorically. It is gutsy in the sense of taking chances and — slightly more literally, as you will see — in the sense of the popular basketball-metaphor of leaving it all on the court. Literally there are blood-red sculptural intestines and hearts and spleens and other body parts all over the floor and blood splatters everywhere.
Sugano is an award-winning filmmaker. His 2013 series Verses in Exile about Cambodian deportations was broadcast on PBS online, and his documentary Cambodian Son won Best Documentary award at the 2014 CAAMFEST and a Special Jury Prize at Cultural Resistance Film Fest of Lebanon. In this exhibition, he exhibits artifacts from his more than 25 films.
the front of the gallery is a sculpture of a man, presumably Sugano, on his knees and penetrated by a metal rod. The sculpture is crafted from wood and mannequin parts. From here the artist “spills his guts” in a stream that crosses the gallery floor to a rough wooden workbench laden with piles of detritus from his career in filmmaking: reels, DVDs, books, clothing, a boot and a United States flag. The significance of the flag, which some viewers may see as a desecration, is that much of his art and many of his films are about refugees to the U.S., their lives here, and their treatment at the hands of our country, including the deportation of Cambodian-Americans who have been here since early childhood, as documented in Cambodian Son, a film about Kosal Khiev, a refugee from Cambodia at the age of one-year-old. Khiev became a well-known poet and was deported back to Cambodia at the age of 32, a country he knew nothing about and where he couldn’t even speak the language. 
The gallery at Feast Art Center is a long, narrow space with a doorway on one end and a window on the other, meaning there are only two walls for hanging paintings, drawings and photos. Sugano utilizes these two walls to display two lines of photographs, mostly film stills documenting his many films. Included are photos of performance art pieces by his wife, Anida Yoeu Ali, who curated this show. Also on the walls are small and excruciatingly precise charts labeling each photograph with titles and notations on what film or performance piece each is from.
The blood splatters (red paint) is heavy on the floor and is slung up both walls. It is more controlled than it might at first appear, heavy where it needs to be and lighter where other things need to be seen. The splatters go under the photographs and directionally lead the eye through the various parts of the installation and serve as a visually unifying element.
In a written statement, Sugano states, “(Americans of all colors) cannot figure out what to make of me — a Japanese dude doing something in the U.S. But their eyes light up and the apprehension dissipates when I say I used to make sushi. Sushi is absolutely irrelevant to me but to this day it defines me. I fear sometimes that my filmmaking existence is as irrelevant to America. This show is about the stuff I have been doing over 25 years and will be doing until the moment I die.”
I suspect visitors who take the time to carefully view this work will indeed figure out what to make of this Japanese dude who has lived in three different countries and now lives in Tacoma.

Perpetual Irrelevance, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, and by appointment, through Aug. 11, Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Basketry in the 21st Century at American Art Company

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 28, 2017
"Save Our Children” basketry by Andrea DeFlon, courtesy American Art

If your idea of basketry is mired in the 19th century, you need to visit All Things Considered: Basketry in the 21st Century at American Art Company for an eye-opening.
This is not your grandma’s basket weaving; this is contemporary sculptural art,  free of all traditional restrictions as to what a basket can or should be. There is a wide variety of materials including wood, glass, beads, gut, metal and various found objects. Approximately half of the pieces in the show are shaped like various types of vessels — boxes, bowls, purses, seed pods. The rest are more like free form sculpture. Some are tiny, delicate and jewel-like, while others are massive and monumental in concept.
In the front window, there is a piece called “Garlic” by Pat Hickman that looks like long, flat, wide strips of sea kelp shaped into a huge clove of garlic standing about four feet tall. Any verbal description I can think of will sound ugly; it’s squat, dull of color and rather lifeless, yet there is beauty in it and an undeniable strong presence, like a boulder thrown in your path.
The same can be said of Andrea DeFlon’s “Save Our Children,” a series of three boxes made of a dark, translucent   substance, one box with an open face allowing viewers to see the fiery red floor and dark face inside. The boxes are stitched with darts of red thread. On the fronts and tops of the boxes are printed the gray faces of men and women — possibly children, it’s hard to tell. They are gaunt, with dark shadowed eyes, and they appear ghostly and sad. This one is emotionally draining to contemplate. Celebrated Tacoma artist Jill Nordfors-Clark is represented by a couple of large pieces in needle lace embroidery, hog casing, reed, acrylic paint, and yarn. Her large piece “When a Tree Falls in the Forest” is a series of open-weave tubes in a brilliant golden color representing trees standing proud in a forest, with a single tree fallen and resting at an angle. This piece is powerful due to its size and upward thrust, yet extremely delicate in its construction of fine, see-through lace. Unfortunately, a colorful quilt stands behind it. There are quilts throughout the gallery, which are beautiful and complement the basketry well, but in this case the quilt conflicts with the basketry. This piece needs to stand in front of a blank wall.
“When a Tree Falls in the Forest”  needle lace embroidery, hog casing, reed, acrylic paint, and yarn by Jill Nordfors-Clark, courtesy American Art

One of the least basket-like pieces in the show is Leah Gerrard’s “Cycles,” steel wire and found object. Gerrard hails from Vashon. This piece reminds me of Marcel Duchamp’s “Bicycle Wheel.” A woven rope of steel wire that looks like intestines hangs from a pulley wheel, combining industrial strength with organic life. It is audacious and in-our-face, and like Nordfors-Clark’s trees, it blends strength with delicacy.
Another local area artist is Barbara De Pirro from Shelton who is represented with a couple of modest pieces, “Bloom 2” and “Radiate.” Both are made with what appears to be hundreds of “leaves” of white plastic that are layered like fish scales on wire mesh frames. “Bloom 2” hangs from the ceiling like some kind of nest or pod and “Radiate” is a circular form that seems to want to expand outward. Both are beautiful in their shining whiteness — a tribute to organic nature made with waste plastic, an intelligent concept beautifully executed.
This is the ninth installment of this biennial juried exhibition presented by the National Basketry Organization.
All Things Considered: Basketry in the 21st Century, Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Aug. 26, American Art Company, 1126 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma, 253.272.4327,