Friday, March 30, 2007

Black is on fire

Visual Edge: jennifer combe brightens the black front gallery
published in the Weekly Volcano March 29, 2007
pictured "Pink Corner" by Jennifer Combe

Jennifer Combe's paintings at The Black Front Gallery are ablaze with color.

Anyone who has studied basic color theory knows that temperature is a primary element of color. Blues and greens are cool; reds, yellows and oranges are hot 3/4 all due to associations. For instance, we associate red with fire, and blue with water to put out the fire. It would take a lot of water to put out the fire in these paintings by Combe. Even her blues and greens look hot.

Combe works in series. If you look at her Web site (, you will see a series of paintings of animals, a series of paintings of small squares, and yet another of flower paintings. In this show, she presents a series of paintings of flowers. They're not the same flowers shown on her Web site. They are better. They are abstract and barely recognizable as flowers, consisting of groups of large circular forms that look like roses and clumps of different circular forms that look like snapdragons, all in fiery tones of red, yellow and orange on a background of loosely brushed square and rectangular shapes in a variety of blue and green colors dominated by a hot yellow-green.

It doesn't matter that the subject matter is flowers. In fact, the less they look like flowers, the better the paintings are. That's because Combe's real subject is color and surface, and the more these pictures look like flowers the more distracted the viewer is from the real subject.

The best painting in the show, by far, is a large painting called "Big Red Composition." The flower motif in this painting is almost nonexistent. It is painted on two panels and is approximately 5 square feet. The paint application is gutsy, raw, sloppy, and painterly with great depths of overlapping transparent brush marks. The dominant color is red. This painting is on fire.

Next to "Big Red Composition," I think the best painting in the show is "Blue," a painting that is very stingy with the title color. To the left is a stack of circles in various tones of red and red-orange. And to the right is a big red rose petal with scratched lines in the center. These forms rest on loosely brushed, chartreuse squares and rectangles. The flower stems are streaks of baby blue. I suspect this painting may have greater public appeal than "Big Red" because it is more decorative and more easily recognizable as a flower, which is, of course, why I like the other one better.

It takes only nine paintings to fill the tiny space to capacity. There are four large paintings, approximately 5-by-5 feet; three smaller paintings, about 3 square feet; and one odd rectangular painting. All utilize similar forms and colors. The larger paintings are much stronger than the smaller ones, allowing the hot, hot colors to breathe more and allowing for much greater depth and variety of surface markings. The smaller ones tend toward the overly decorative look of flowers painted on cheap ceramic plates 3/4 saved only by Combe's excellent manipulation of color and surface. She displays a sophisticated grasp not only of color temperature, but also of the tricky use of value keying 3/4 meaning keying all colors to a narrow range of dark and light 3/4 and an equally sophisticated understanding of how to handle varying degrees of opacity and transparency.

Take note: If you read this column on the day this fine rag hits the streets, you have only two more days to hurry down to The Black Front Gallery and see this show.
Showing in the adjacent "Black Front Boutique" are paintings, sculptures and various arts and crafts items by gallery artists Ann Ploeger, Bethany Hays, Comrade Clothing, Diane Kurzyna, Jenny Macc, Koko Jamison, Mary Cecelia Sieling, Molly Wolfe, Patrick Amarillas, Susan Shafroth, Susan Christian, Taryn Hammer, and Combe.

[The Black Front Gallery, through March 31 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., 106 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, www.theblackfrontgallery. com]

Monday, March 26, 2007

My Name is Rachel Corrie

Yesterday we saw a matinee performance of “My Name is Rachel Corrie” at the Seattle Repertory Theater. The one-woman play starring Marya Sea Kaminski is a look at the life of Corrie, a young woman from Olympia who was killed by a bulldozer in the town of Rafah in the Gaza strip while trying to trying to prevent a Palestinian home from being destroyed.

This is more than just a political play. It is a glimpse into the heart of an idealistic young woman of talent and vision. Corrie was an aspiring artist and writer who went to Palestine because of her commitment to peace and her compassion for the Palestinian people. Taken from her own writings in journals and emails, the play presents Corrie, in her own words, as a young girl, as a student, and as an activist.

“My Name is Rachel Corrie” was the winner of the Theatergoer’s Choice Award in London, where The Guardian wrote: “Theatre can't change the world. But what it can do, when it's as good as this, is to send us out enriched by other people's passionate concern ... you feel you have not just had a night at the theatre: you have encountered an extraordinary woman.”

The play was co-edited for the stage by director Alan Rickman, best known for his roles in the Harry Potter series of films and New York stage productions of “Les Liasons Dangereuses” and “Private Lives,” and Katharine Viner, features editor of The Guardian newspaper in London.

The production opened at London’s Royal Court Theater to critical acclaim in 2005. More recently it was scheduled to open last March at the New York Theatre Workshop, but six weeks before opening night the theater announced it was indefinitely postponing production. They cited the current political climate as the reason for the cancellation. The production was later moved to New York’s Mineta Lane Theatre where it completed an 11-week run.

The play is 90 minutes long with no intermission. It runs through April 22. Ticket prices range from $15 to $48. For tickets or more information, call the box office at 206-443-2222 or go to the Seattle Rep Website.

After the play’s run at the Rep it will come to Olympia for performances April 27 and 28 at 8 p.m. and April 28 and 29 at 2 p.m. as part of the Evergreen Expressions Visiting Artist program. Tickets are $30 for general admission and $20 for seniors and students. They will go on sale at noon on April 2 at Rainy Day Records, The Evergreen College bookstore, online at, the Communications Building box office, open from 12 to 3 p.m. daily, or by placing a phone order at 360-876-6833. A special preview performance will also be presented free of charge to Evergreen students. There is a $1.25 parking fee Friday only.

“We are very excited about bringing this professional production to Olympia, but also presenting it where Rachel’s story began,” said John Robbins, Performing and Media Arts Manager and producer of Evergreen Expressions. “In many ways she represents the quintessential Evergreen.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ain't Misbehavin'

There are two fabulous shows running in Olympia right now -- Capital Playhouse’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Harlequin Productions’ “The Ladies of the Camillias.” I reviewed “Ladies” in my weekly column in The News Tribune (published March 23 and posted on this blog -- see below), but I was unable to review “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

That’s a shame, because it is great. So great, in fact, that you should stop reading right now and call the theater for tickets before they sell out (360-943-2744).

Surely everyone is familiar with the music; many of you may have seen it at Tacoma Little Theatre last year; and if you’re like me, you might even recall excerpts from the Broadway musical that aired on TV way back in 1978. If you're really lucky, you saw it on Broadway. But believe-you-me, you’ve never seen it quite like this. Capital Playhouse has pulled together the perfect cast, set and orchestra -- featuring the one and only Troy Arnold Fisher playing all those great Fats Waller tunes on an upright piano.

“Ain’t Misbehavin’” celebrates the life and times of Waller and beautifully recreates stylized versions of the Harlem night life beginning in the late 1920s.

Starring are Geoffrey Simmons, Troy Scarborough, Marlette Buchanan, Antonia Darlene and Marisa Kennedy. They are all wonderful singers and dancers whose outlandishly comical gestures and expressions make this show much more than just great music. Readers may recall that I picked Simmons as Best Actor in a Musical in my Critic’s Choice column last year for the same role in the TLT production. You may also remember him from Harlequin’s “The Twelfth Night of Stardust.” Darlene was also in “Stardust.” Scarborough is a professional actor from New York who appeared in Olympia in the national tour of “The Full Monty.”

Simmons brings the house down on “The Viper,” aka the reefer song. He slithers, he slides, his tongue grows to enormous proportions as he dreams about “a reefer five feet long.” Scarborough’s mouth seems to stretch from chin to forehead and his eyes roll up to heaven on the rockin’ comic tune “Your Feet’s Too Big.” All three of the women are good singers. Both Kennedy and Darlene have powerful voices and great range. Buchanan is more of a classical jazz lounge singer whose voice lends itself to sultry ballads.

The Capital Playhouse is a small space with an intimate feel. The set evokes a jazz era nightclub with an archway in the form of piano keys. In a cabaret setting such as this you feel like you're right there with the performers sharing a drink or a piano stool. Both the orchestra and the separate piano are on rolling platforms, an innovation that enhances the feeling of being right in the action. I guarantee you'll be humming these wonderful tunes for days to come.

Performances continue Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 PM through April 7. Matinee performances are scheduled on March 25, and April 1. Tickets range in price from $21 to $31. Groups rates are available.

For tickets or information, contact the box office at 360-943-2744. Box office hours are Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Pictured above, left to right: Marlette Buchanan, Troy Scarborogh, Antonia Darlene, Geoffrey Simmons and Marisa Kennedy; photo by Glen Raiha.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Laughs abound with ‘The Ladies’

Published in The News Tribune, March 23, 2007

Theater at its best can be a transcendental exper­ience that lifts you out of your everyday existence and into a magical place where you see more clearly, think more vividly and feel more fully. That is the underlying theme of Harlequin Productions’ latest show, “The Ladies of the Camellias.”

I can’t imagine how anyone can see this wonderful play and not experience at least a moment of that transcendental magic. Plus, it will make you laugh uproariously.

“Ladies” is a period comedy written by Lillian Groag based on actual events that took place in Sarah Bernhardt’s Theatre de la Renaissance in Paris in 1897. At the time, both Bernhardt and her archrival, the Italian actress Eleonora Duse, were superstars. Each was famous for her portrayal of Marguerite in Alexandre Dumas’ “La Dame aux Camellias.” As unbelievable as it may seem, the two divas had the same agent, and Bernhardt agreed to let Duse perform in Dumas’ play in her theater. The two were going to play the same role in the same theater on two consecutive days. They were in the theater together, along with Dumas, who was frustrated by both divas because they refused to play their parts as he wrote them. (Duse argues, “You only wrote her. I invented her.”)

Until this point Groag’s play is historically accurate, but here Groag’s imagination kicks in to invent what she calls a divertissement – a wild flight into absurd comedy mixed with heady philosophical arguments on the relationship between art and politics. This divertissement arrives at the theater in the person of Ivan, a Russian anarchist with a gun and a bomb who threatens to blow up the theater unless two of his fellow rebels are released from the Paris jail.

This poor, discombobulated anarchist doesn’t understand or appreciate these theater people who seem to live in a make-believe world where guns and bombs are mere theatrical props, and where the desperate anarchist’s threats amount to little more than bad acting. But there’s much more to it than that: Ivan the anarchist, it turns out, is not who he seems to be. But that is a plot twist I shall not give away.

Director and set designer Linda Whitney, her technical crew and her entire cast do a wonderful job with this complicated and demanding show. The interior of the State Theater is transformed into a believably ornate turn-of-the-century theater. Bernhardt’s and Duse’s costumes are gorgeous. The lighting (Nat Rayman) and sound (Gina Salerno) are impeccable. And seldom if ever in the South Sound area have I seen so many top-notch professional actors on a single stage.

Becky Wood, in her Harlequin debut, plays Sarah Bernhardt as regal and imperious – but believably gracious despite her self-absorption. And Mari Nelson – who has performed on Broadway in “Six Degrees of Separation” and “Guys and Dolls” and in the New York Shakespeare Festival in “Twelfth Night” and is well known to Harlequin audiences for her roles in “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream,” “The Constant Wife,” the “Stardust” series and other productions – is a commanding presence on stage as the beautiful but aloof Eleonora Duse. Both actresses make their characters lovable despite their haughty eccentricities. Through them, we see why Bernhardt and Duse were so loved throughout the world.

Harlequin veterans Russ Holm and Brian Claudio Smith are hilariously physical as the competing male actors Gustave-Hippolyte Worms (Holm) and Flavio Ando (Smith). These two would definitely steal the show if the other actors on stage were not so good. Smith, in particular, does pratfalls that I would not have believed humanly possible if I hadn’t seen them.

Jason Haws is perfectly cast as Ivan the anarchist, and Amy Hill is sweet and sassy as the young actress Gabrielle Réjane.

Mark Bujeaud’s athleticism is quite impressive as he swings in on a rope as Benoit Constant Coquelin playing the part of Cyrano de Bergerac; Steve Manning plays a blustery and indignant Alexander Dumas, fils; and Phillip Mitchell holds everything in check as Benoit, the only calm presence in the play.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through March 31
WHERE: State Theatre, 202 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: $12-$33; rush tickets available half-hour before curtain
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Glass eye

Jeremy Lepisto's kiln-formed glass

Published in the Weekly Volcano March 22, 2007
pictured: "Clearing the Way," kiln fired glass

I could criticize Jeremy Lepisto's kiln-formed glass blocks at William Traver Gallery for being gimmicky, but I won't. They're gimmicky in the way of snow globes and flies in plastic ice cubes and other such curios sold in gift shops. I can even envision them a few years from now being mass-produced and sold at Target. But they are not mass-produced. They are individually and exquisitely crafted with an artist's sensitivity to light and space.

Lepisto forms his glass blocks by fusing anywhere from 10 to 16 thin sheets of glass in a kiln. Parts of images are rendered on each layer in a process that can best be described as printing with enamel on glass. For example, he may print contour lines on one sheet of glass and shadows on another. Various elements of a scene - stars, clouds, figures, buildings, telephone poles - are printed on separate layers. When fused together, the result is a constructed illusion of depth that walks a fine line between artistic inventiveness and optical trickery.Lepisto spreads the various parts of his scenes across a series of blocks that he puts together in various configurations. Typically they are connected in a long horizontal line, but in one called "The Stories" they are stacked vertically, and in one called "A Bit of Clarity" (one of my favorites) eight blocks are stacked together in a square. The image in "Clarity" is an urban scene with industrial buildings, one with a water tower on the roof. Seven of the eight blocks are a smoky gray, but right in the middle is a block of clear glass - the bit of clarity from the title - with an image of a single window. Very effective.

Most of Lepisto's scenes depict warehouse or industrial districts of small cities. Some are more rural. Buildings, railroad cars and light poles being strung across the countryside are common. Some are historical illustration showing how things used to be. People play a small role in these scenes. Most of his streets and buildings are empty. A haunting sense of loneliness abides. In one piece there are scenes of loggers at work printed in cloudy blocks of glass on wheels that are connected to create a long train with scenes painted on the side of boxcars. I like this piece despite it being the most blatantly commercial piece in the show. And I love the coincidence that a train track can be seen through the windows behind it and that trains on that track, so I'm told, pass within a few yards of Lepisto's studio in Portland. Talk about serendipity-doo!

A different group of works consist of four wall pieces Lepisto calls "sliders." Each is a two-part picture connected by a bar with a sliding figure on it. Viewers are invited to slide the bars to create different configurations. One of the most intriguing of these is called "Toward a Greater Union." It shows two cities, each on an island. On the slider bar that connects them is a picture of a bridge. Viewers can slide the bridge to connect or disconnect the two cities. Cleaver, huh?

Conceptually, these works may wear thin in a great big hurry, but visually they keep yielding new treasures the longer one looks at them. Lepisto's use of space is excellent, not only in his use of illusory depth, but in his sensitivity to interspersing space between images. He also shows a good feeling for combining line and mass and an intelligent use of positive and negative shapes. Especially interesting are his use of white cast shadows or negative contours. Viewers should take their time and study these pieces carefully. Study them from all sides and play close attention to cast shadows and reflections, some of which are drawn into the images and some of which occur naturally in the gallery setting.

Lepisto's work is full of visual surprises that reveal themselves only upon careful scrutiny. I think they definitely deserve that careful scrutiny.

[William Traver Gallery, "Jeremy Lepisto: A Place In Between," through April 8 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, 1821 E. Dock St., Tacoma, 253.383.3685,]

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

More opening photos

I forgot to bring a camera to the opening of my show at South Puget Sound Community College. Luckily, others did bring a camera. These shots are courtesy of Catherine Swanson and her husband, David Goldberg, owners Art on Center Gallery in Tacoma.

Jason Seiling from Black Front Gallery, left, talking to me; my son Noel, far right. In the background are actor and director Pug Bujeaud with Cassie Welliver, manager of the Fine Arts Center at SPSCC.

I think this is painter Bill Fleming sitting with me. I met him at the opening, I'm not sure if I remember his name correctly. If I'm wrong, somebody please correct me.

Artists June Kerseg-Hinson, Catherine, and Ron Hinson.

June being playful.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Photos from my latest exhibition

The installation shots (above) of my exhibition at the gallery at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia were sent to me by Jane Stone, head of the art department at SPSCC. Thanks, Jane. She included a number of shots of individual paintings but of those I am posting only one, "Window Bill" (see below). Each of the other paintings are posted on my website.

The exhibition continues until March 31, so if you haven't seen it yet, please do.

"Window Bill" and the golden mean

It was Christmas morning, the winter of '88, our first year in Olympia. It had snowed the night before. The boys got up early. We were waiting for our friend Catherine to arrive before opening the Christmas presents. Our youngest son, Bill, started wiping the condensation off the window in a sweeping motion as if his hand and arm were a large windshield wiper. Gabi grabbed her video camera and filmed him, and later she used that footage in her senior project film at The Evergreen State College. She titled the film "Window Bill." It combined live action and animation.

images from Gabi's film "Window Bill"

Years later, I was invited to participate in an art exhibition based on the idea of the golden mean, a formula for proportions the classical Greeks considered the ideal. I think it was the only time in my life I ever painted a picture specifically for a show. I drew a grid on the canvas based on the golden mean and painted to the grid. The final result reminded me of the windshield-wiper motion of Gabi's film -- thus the title.

"Window Bill" oil on canvas by Alec Clayton

Friday, March 16, 2007

TMP’s fine ‘Big River’ rolls right along

Published in The News Tribune march 16, 2007
Pictured: Colin Madison as Huck Finn and Laird Thornton as Jim in "Big River," photo by Kat Dollarhide

“Big River” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse is a big musical with an intimate feel. I would rank it up there with “Ragtime” as one of the best musicals I’ve seen at TMP. It is Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn told to the strains of a good old fashioned, foot-stomping hoedown, with a smattering of blues and gospel thrown in for good measure.

Like Twain’s classic tale, it can be appreciated on multiple levels: as an exciting adventure story, a ludicrous comedy, and as a dark but insightful look into a period of American history that opens the old wounds -- never fully healed -- of America’s racial strife.

Ernest Hemmingway said, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” It is undoubtedly one of the greatest of all American stories. But it is an extremely controversial book that has been banned and reviled -- mostly because of Twain’s use of the N word.

The more controversial elements of the story are not glossed over in this musical rendition. Twain’s language is intact, and the institution of slavery is presented with naked realism.

Music and lyrics are by the incomparable Roger Miller -- who, in my opinion, is one of America’s most underrated songwriters.

The sets are designed by Judy Cullen, scenic design by Dori Conklin. It is good to see Cullen’s work again. She has a wonderful flare for color and texture. The set, while being dramatically stylized, has a warm and natural feel and allows for a variety of settings up and down the great Mississippi River without having to resort to complicated and distracting set changes.

The warmth and beauty of the sets are augmented by excellent lighting, designed by John Chenault. His lighting of silhouetted background figures is especially good. The only problem area is downstage left. When actors are spotlighted in that area, the bright spots wash out their faces.

Jon Douglas Rake does his usual excellent job of choreography. The dance numbers, while minimal, are exuberant -- especially those by Tom Sawyer (Jon Huntsman) and his buddies.

Colin Madison downplays the lead role of Huck Finn. Despite the straw hat and turned-up jeans and country-hick dialect, he comes across as a sweet and sensitive soul. Madison never intentional draws attention to himself. He sings with a soft country drawl that fits his character flawlessly.

Laird Thornton plays the runaway slave, Jim with quiet dignity. He is a big man with a deep baritone voice. On some of the gospel and rhythm-and-blues songs his singing is like a toned down Paul Robeson. Thornton and Madison’s quite different styles mesh nicely on their duets, most beautifully on “Muddy Water” and “Worlds Apart.”
Whereas Madison and Thornton downplay Huck and Jim, Huntsman takes an opposite tack, playing Tom Sawyer as an overblown parody of a country bumpkin who is quite taken with himself. His wild gestures are perfect, and he dives into his song and dance numbers with great glee. But he needs to calm down a bit when he speaks. He rushes his words so much that he’s sometimes hard to understand.

Outstanding in minor roles are Andrew Fry as Pap Finn (who also doubles as Sheriff Bell) and Jennifer Greene as Joanna Wilkes. Greene’s vocal range goes from country crooning on “You Oughta Be Here With Me” to operatic on “Leaving’s Not the Only Way to Go.”

Stacie Pinkney Calkins plays the part of the slave Alice. She was unable to perform opening weekend due to a death in her family. Sarah Edwards filled in for Calkins. Edwards is a Centralia College student who played this role in a high school production last year for which she won a 5th Avenue High School Musical Theater Award nomination. She did an excellent job of filling in on short notice. Calkins -- a show-stopping performer at TMP as Effie in “Dreamgirls” and Sarah in “Ragtime” -- will play the part of Alice in subsequent performances.

This show runs slightly more than two and one-half hours with a 15-minute intermission. But it doesn’t seem that long.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through March 25, additional performances at 2 p.m. March 24
WHERE: The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave.
TICKETS: Adults $23, students/military $21, children 12 and younger $16
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Friday, March 9, 2007

A voice from Dixie

This post is filled with small-world type coincidences.

I recently received a notice from Paul McCall that he has a couple of paintings in the Bi-State Art Exhibition at the Meridian Museum, Meridian, Miss. Paul recently moved to Hattiesburg, Miss. from Tacoma. Almost 20 years ago I moved from Hattiesburg to Olympia (and now work in Tacoma -- see the small world stuff). When I was in Hattiesburg, I was also selected to be in that same show.

Paul tells the story of one of his paintings ("Happy Birthday" acrylic on canvas, pictured here):

This piece was inspired by a recent trip to the Hattiesburg City Hall. Upon arriving at City Hall, I found a notice posted at the main entrance stating "City Hall will be closed on January 15, 2007 in observance of Robert E. Lee's and Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday".
Later, I was informed that the only way the State of Mississippi would observe Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday was by attaching Robert E. Lee's name to the observed holiday.

I was shocked and dumbfounded. To my knowledge, Mississippi is the only state that requires the celebration of Robert E. Lee, the confederate general, on the same day as Dr. King's. Robert E. Lee's birthday is not even on the same day!

Robert E. Lee was a warrior, a matador, and a bigot.
Dr. King was a man of peace, and a religious leader who loved all people, especially the poor, and ultimately sacrificed his life for the cause of peace and equality of all people.

McCall has also been working on a series of portraits of survivors of Hurricane Katrina. He has donated four framed charcoal portraits from the series to "Unmasking New Orleans," a home- grown multimedia experience and silent auction in Portland, Ore., benefiting The Alliance for Affordable Energy - a 20 year old New Orleans nonprofit dedicated to green building and wetland restoration.

The 34th Annual Bi-State Art Exhibition & Competition will run from March 17 through April 14, at the Meridian Museum of Art (628 25th Ave. Meridian, MS).

Unmasking New Orleans takes place March 10 starting at 7p.m. at the AudioCinema (226 SE Madison St. Portland, OR).

Mike Moran at TESC

Published in the Volcano March 8, 2007
Pictured: 'Women With a Snake' by Mike Moran

The Mike Moran exhibition continues through March 16 at Evergreen Galleries, Gallery IV in Olympia. The survey of works created between 1982 and 2007 covers the time Moran has managed the ceramics studio and taught art at TESC and includes ceramic and concrete sculptures, paintings, drawings and prints.

Moran is celebrated for his expressive sculptures of female figures and animals, but I feel his paintings are better than his sculptures. His elongated and emaciated sculptures have been compared to the work of Alberto Giacometti, who I think has always been overrated. Giacometti is celebrated for expressing human pathos and alienation in his sculptural figures. They are undeniably expressive and dramatic as are Moran's figures and ceramic vessels (the latter of which look like Etruscan urns with painfully pinched human heads on top). But beyond his obvious dramatic flair and expressive surfaces, I don't believe Giacometti's sculptures live up to the hype. I have similar feelings about Moran's sculptures.

His paintings, on the other hand, combine emotional and aesthetic impact in ways the sculptures don't. The same can be said for his prints and for the three ceramic plates in this exhibition, which combine many of the best aspects of his paintings and sculptures.

All of Moran's paintings are of women - naked women, not nudes. Nudes are idealized, sanitized and objectified. Moran's women are naked and vulnerable. They are sexual but not sexy. They feel pain and carry heavy burdens. They feel real without being realistic. Most notably in his later paintings there is a feeling of living flesh over muscle and bone even though the modeling is not highly polished. They are not fully volumetric but seem to be caught in a no-man's-land between the flatness of the canvas and the rounded form of fully modeled figures. They seem to be trying to burst out of the flat canvas. In the latest paintings, the figures are all done in shades of brown with a fleshy under glow of pink. Their torsos are rounded, but their legs and arms are flattened out and often cut off abruptly.

In "Women With a Snake," three women stand along the bottom edge of the canvas. Their bodies verge on realism, but there are few details in their faces, and their arms and legs are sticklike. Floating in a brown sky above them is a woman whose face is cropped by the top edge of the canvas and whose arms and legs are chopped off. Her visual relationship to the shape of the canvas is emphasized by the harsh angle of her shoulder and the straight line from shoulder to hip, and the distribution of darks and lights is simply exquisite.

A similar painting that has a wonderfully fleshy under glow is "Poolside," which has two large standing figures that are almost realistic and other figures that are iconic and stylized.

In all of Moran's two-dimensional work there is a sense of foreboding. They are dark and menacing, and almost devoid of color. Whereas the later paintings are all done in shades of brown, the earlier ones are mostly gray. The earlier ones have less modeling. The figures are more emblematic and iconic. Some of the best early works are prints. Particularly good ones include a small monotype called "Shadows" and an engraving called "Little Intimacies." There are also two excellent collages from the 1980s.

Among the best sculptures is a group of four horses that stand on a single stand but are labeled as separate pieces. The relationship between the four, their cast shadows and the subtle variations between similar forms make the grouping more attractive than I imagine any of the individual pieces would be alone.

[Evergreen Galleries, Gallery IV, through March 16, fourth floor library building, The Evergreen State College, 2700 Evergreen Pkwy., Olympia, 360.867.5125]

Saturday, March 3, 2007

1936 comedy stands the test of time

Published in The News Tribune, March 2, 2007

Few plays can match the longevity of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s “You Can’t Take it With You,” which premiered on Broadway in 1936 and has been playing the college and community theater circuits for 70 years. Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem at all dated. All right, such things as mentioning a $3,000-per-year salary may date it somewhat, but the themes are universal and the enjoyment of observing the antics of the whacky Vanderhof/Sycamore family should never go out of style.

The performance at South Puget Sound Community College is ably done by a mixture of student actors and seasoned community theater actors under the direction of Ron Welch -- twin brother to SPSCC theater professor Don Welch and an accomplished professional with acting and directing credits on Broadway and network television.

The acting, for the most part, is purposefully stilted, with the characters coming across as parodies of themselves. Michael Althauser, for example, is a young man playing the decrepit grandfather, Martin Vanderhof, without the use of ageing makeup but with an exaggerated limp and shake, and the too-loud voice of a deaf man. Scott Benson as the proud Russian immigrant, Boris Kolenkhov, towers over everyone else and speaks with a rolling thunder voice. And Ingrid Pharris as Essie Carmichael the clumsy ballet wannabe lurches about stage like a drunken elf trying to dance (it takes a good dancer to lampoon bad dancing so well).

The entire play takes place in the home of Grandpa Vanderhof. It is a very lavish New York apartment with an elegant staircase, plush furniture, a xylophone and a small printing press in the living room, collections of African and Japanese masks, stuffed deer heads and snowshoes on the walls, an aquarium with a pet snake in it. (The set designed by Jerry H. Berebitsky is simultaneously comforting and exotic, with warm colors and elaborate attention to details.)

The family is a little bit crazy. Grandpa, who walked out on a lucrative career many years earlier, collects snakes and spends his time going to college commencement exercises. Essie, a candy maker who studies ballet with the Russian Kolenkhov, never stops dancing. Her husband, Ed (Nolan Otto, an SPSCC student via Olympia High School’s Running Start program) plays the xylophone and is obsessed with his printing press. Penny Sycamore (Karen Johnson) is an aspiring playwright who never finishes any of the plays she’s been working on for eight years, beginning when a typewriter was delivered to her home by mistake. Mr. Sycamore (John Baughman) makes fireworks in the basement with his assistant, Mr. De Pinna (Jessie Ruiz). The most “normal” person in the family is the daughter, Alice (Amber Blevins), who works in an office and who loves her family but is embarrassed by their eccentricities.

Alice falls in love with the boss’s son, Tony (Alex Rivera in his first acting gig). They invite Tony’s parents to dinner at the Vanderhof house with expected results. The uptight Kirby’s (Wayne Messer as Mr. Kirby and Hannah Baker, who doubles as the maid, Rheba, as Mrs. Kirby) are horrified by the eccentricities of Alice’s family, but it is very clear to the audience -- as well as to Tony -- that these apparently crazy people are happier and more well adjusted than the so-called normal Kirbys. Of course, things go awry at the dinner party. Penny initiates a parlor game that leads to marital strife between the Kirbys, fireworks explode in the basement, and federal agents descend on the house and arrest everyone.

It is a fast-paced play that runs about two-and-a-half hours with two intermissions. It reaches its height of hilarity at the end of Act II, then becomes more serious in Act II, culminating with a speech by Grandpa Vanderhof that, while still brimming with wisdom, is probably not as profound as it was 70 years ago. On the other hand, if I could see this play with the eyes and ears of a 20-year-old, I might be surprised at how profound its lessons are.

WHEN: 8 p.m. tonight March 2-3, and 2 p.m. March 4
WHERE: South Puget Sound Community College Center for the Arts
TICKETS: $10 general admission and $5 for students, staff and seniors, tickets available on the Web at
INFORMATION: 360-596-5501

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Ron Hinson at Art on Center

Published in the Volcano, March 1, 2007

If you see Ron Hinson’s show at Art on Center Gallery, you might think it is simply a rehash of the show he had there in August 2005. The painted constructions look identical to the ones he showed then. That is, if you don’t look too closely or don’t remember too clearly. He uses a lot of the same shapes and colors and, in general, mines the same vast vocabulary of visual tropes. Yet, if you were to compare work for work, you’d see great differences.

Likewise, Hinson’s acrylic illustrations of children’s stories in this show are stylistically identical, in many ways, to his illustrations from Aesop’s Fables in his earlier show. He uses a similar palate and similar lyrical lines over a modulated and stippled background, and he brings into play the same kind of humor.

Hinson’s painted constructions are made mostly from wood. Curvilinear and rectangular shapes radiate in all directions and extend a foot or more away from the wall. Most of the shapes are derived from nature, predominantly flowers and other plants, and human bodies abstracted beyond recognition. In some areas the surfaces are smooth, and in others they are as craggy as mountain ranges. His paint application has an expressive and loose appearance, but is more highly controlled than it looks.

His paintings pit visual contrasts against one another -- contrasts between open and closed forms, between balance and imbalance, chaos and cohesion, unity and variety. He pushes the edges of controlled chaos so far in some of his painted constructions as to be almost uncomfortable to the viewer. One large painting on the back wall of the gallery (they are all untitled) looked too chaotic to me until I backed up and viewed it from a distance. The top section consists of circular and angular forms in tones of red, yellow and orange, with one feather-like shape (like an old fashioned writing quill) that goes flying off to the right. Large blue shapes below that are separated by a bright yellow form. There are curlicues and fans and circles, in a cacophony of colors that jangle the eye when seen up close. But when seen from a distance, every shape leads the eye to another shape.

A smaller construction on the right-hand wall is much more unified in form and color. It is one of my favorites. Organic forms reminiscent of human organs radiate in all directions from a central X-shape made from flat boards painted in broad stripes like a barrier at a railroad crossing. Painted in muted tones of gray and brown, with touches of red and yellow, this is the most cohesive piece in the show, with everything densely compacted into the center.

The largest of his painted constructions dominates the left-hand wall. It is an open design with large spaces between shapes. It looks as if it is ready, at any moment, to fly off the wall in every direction. Hinson has thrown nearly all of his tricks into this one piece. In the center, holding everything together, is a large exclamation point of rough wood built up with molding paste or plaster and painted to look like a burnt club or perhaps remnants of some South Seas tribal totem.

His illustrations from children’s stories -- “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” Rapunzel” and others -- are decorative paintings in acrylic on paper. All of them have densely textured backgrounds with subtle color variations and decorative borders. The figures are highly stylized, and the stories are illustrated with a minimum of images and sly humor. These are both light-hearted and light-weight compared to the high seriousness of Hinson’s painted constructions. But they are all visually enchanting.

This exhibition runs through March 24. Art on Center is located at 1604 Center St. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. or by appointment.