Thursday, September 27, 2007

Walks on water

Kyle Dillehay succeeds with oceanic looking sculptures at a.o.c. gallery

published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 27, 2007
pictured: "Earth and Water," mixed media by Kyle Dillehay; “People Say I’m Deep,” ink and wax, by Ellen Picken.
photo courtesy a.o.c. gallery

Kyle Dillehay rules the roost at a.o.c. gallery this month. The other two artists — Ellen Picken and Jason Sobottka — are not too shabby either, but Dillehay’s the main man. As you walk into the gallery, the first thing you notice are clumps of rusted steel, driftwood, rock and moss hanging from the ceiling, jutting out from the back wall and in random groupings on the floor like beach detritus on an alien planet, like the eerie closing scene in “Planet of the Apes.”

Dillehay’s sculptures work together as an installation because each of the pieces have a vaguely oceanic look.

“Deprivation,” a hanging sculpture in wood and bronze on the back wall, looks like driftwood. “Sacred Balance,” a group of podlike forms in iron, bronze and soil, lie on the floor like washed up sea pods or moss-and-coral-encrusted rocks. “Disconnected” is a big, elliptical glob of dried soil wrapped in coral like tentacles of oxidized bronze. And “Sacred Balance” is a canoe-shaped frame of rusted steel hanging from the ceiling by a heavy chain with the canoe seats being shelves of oxidized bronze with rectangular spires jutting out like so many models of city skylines.

I don’t think the maritime theme was intentional. But it works. These sculptures are imposing and gritty, and they stimulate the imagination.

Dillehay is a recent arrival to the Pacific Northwest. He grew up and went to college on the East Coast and, according to gallery owner CJ Swanson, was a major figure in the Atlanta-area art scene before relocating here. I suspect he will soon be considered of major stature out here as well.

Sobottka is showing a group of relief constructions in mixed media. They are all rather small, averaging around 12 to 16 inches in width and height. They are basically flat and read as paintings or collages with materials that protrude no more than an inch or two from the wall. There is very little color in these pieces — mostly earth tones. I was told that his work is very popular, but I have a hard time getting excited by these works because the imagery is something I’ve seen a little too much of: Native-inspired images of crows and skulls and other animals.

On the other hand, I like the heavy look of most of his pieces and his use of stenciling negative images. The heavy look comes from using a lot of old wood, dirt and discarded building materials. The stenciling is most noticeable in one piece with a white horse silhouette and another with a squirrel stencil.

Picken’s drawings and paintings in ink, acrylic and wax are startling in their imagery and filled with a kind of macabre humor. Her surfaces are rich. Her drawing is competent, but there is a crude quality that is off-putting at first glance. (It grows on you.)

“Nothing Hugging Something,” ink on paper, is a white figure on a black background. The very subtle and ghostly markings within the figure look like erased vine charcoal, but it’s not; it’s ink. The slight contrapposto of the figure gives it a look of contained energy. This is simply an outstanding drawing.

“As Is,” monotype and ink on paper, combines very childlike drawings of clouds with heavily outlined line drawings of a field of reeds that is cut and pasted. At the bottom is scrawled: “Hey, That Cloud Looks Like Something.” This is a nice combination of different styles in a simple landscape.

“People Say I’m Deep,” ink and wax, is simultaneously hilarious and disturbing. Two gnarly hands reach out of the deepest black hole you’ve ever seen. The subject, ostensibly the artist, has fallen into the hole and is clutching at the ground in an attempt to get out. But the circumference of the hole is not big enough for a human body to fit in. The heavy wax surface works particularly well on this one and on “Dead Trees,” which hangs in the gallery window.

[a.o.c. gallery, through Sept. 29, Tuesday and Wednesday 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday 12-5 p.m., 608 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.230.1673,]

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