Friday, January 20, 2017

Cat People, Dog People at Tacoma Community College

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 19, 2017

“Blue Point” acrylic painting by Denise Levine, courtesy Tacoma Community College

“Big Cats Play” pastel by Rick Hall and Ron Schmidt

I must confess: I went to this show expecting it to be the art show equivalent of one of those Facebook posts that say the world is going to hell and everybody’s dying, so here’s a cute picture of a cat. And there were quite a few bland photos, drawings and paintings of cats and dogs, not to mention a few funky little statuettes that belong in a gift shop rather than an art gallery.
But there was some very fine art too — much more than I expected.
I won’t bother to comment on the trivial wall clutter but will write about some of the excellent art in this exhibition, starting with Denise Levine’s small acrylic painting “Blue Point,” which was awarded first place in the show. It is a simple but mesmerizing image of a blue-black cat in a city apartment window. It is a sleek, thin and muscular cat climbing down or pointing one paw downward. Outside the window can be seen the side of a neighboring building. The building is orange, and its windows are black. There is an illusion of upward movement as if the large window the cat is in is an elevator going down, thus creating the feeling that the blackened windows across the way or accelerating upward. This up-down contrast combined with the complementary colors creates a strong sense of controlled tension.
Speaking of complements, two of the stronger paintings in the exhibition hang next to each other and have in common that they each reflect on famous paintings from art history. “Big Cats Play” by Rick Hall and Ron Schmidt depicts a leering, big-tooth cat on top of a naked man lying in a field. The cat is almost as large as the man. It is a horrifying image that for reasons I probably couldn’t explain reminds me of “The Sleeping Gypsy” by Henri Rousseau. The other one is “Carol Flying Home” by Richard A. Turner, which pictures a cat and a dog with a human figure recumbent on the ground and another human — “Carol” I presume — flying in the air above. This painting clearly brings to mind works by Marc Chagall. It is painted with an oil-resist method that creates a look like stained glass.
Marit Berg’s two large charcoal drawings, “White Poodle” and “Black Poodle” are separate paintings but look perfectly right together. Due to their placement, the two dogs are facing off nose-to-nose as if in a single painting. It would be a shame if they were sold separately. Berg’s use of rich blacks, glowing whites, and subtle gray tones combined with the highly energetic strokes of the charcoal is outstanding.
Barbara L. Ritter’s five little paintings in oil on paper mounted on canvas share this in common with Berg’s charcoal drawings: they are multiple works that hang together as a single group, and the brushstrokes in the dog’s hair are fast and rhymical like the charcoal strokes in “Black Poodle” and “White Poodle.” Ritter’s paintings are of the same little white dog with long hair painted on a cream-colored ground. They are called “Babe Pointing,” “On Point,” “Pirouette,” “Tail on Fire,” and “Running.” The high energy and the subtle changes in similar pictures of the same animal are exciting. The set should not be broken up.
There is a surrealistic feel and terrific spatial treatment and cropping in Sharon Styer’s two photo-collages. They are photos of cats collaged into a photo of the steps and cone of the Museum of Glass in one picture, and in the other a city scene of an abandoned industrial building overrun with cats. Depending on how your mind works, you might easily see these as nightmares of feral cats taking over the world.
There are five or six other works that should be seen and studied closely, including those by Robyn Chance, Sherry Hanafee and Frank Dippolito.
Cat People, Dog People, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through March 23, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

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