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 clich├ęd 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,