Thursday, June 12, 2008

Multipurpose house

Add Art House Designs to successful galleries list

Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 12, 2008
pictured, untitled oil on paper by Janet Richardson Baughman

I didn’t mention Olympia’s Art House Designs in my cover story about avant-garde galleries last week, and it does warrant mentioning as a South Sound gallery that has been very successful. Not as much on the cutting-edge as some of the other galleries mentioned in that article, it nevertheless has had some shows that make you sit up and take notice. Plus Art House offers top-notch entertainment and presentations on topics of current interest and a large framing business onsite. It has not one but two showrooms for gallery exhibitions. The front gallery is small and intimate, and the back gallery, which doubles as a performance space, is huge by local standards.

I stopped by Art House to see what’s on the walls and saw a large display of art by local and national artists, mostly modernist decorative art. I won’t write about all of it; there’s too much for that, but I will mention three artists whose work I enjoyed: Jean Tudor, Phyllis O’Gara Currens and Janet Richardson Baughman. Tudor and Currens are local; Baughman hails from Michigan.

Tudor is an enamel artist. She makes decorative and colorful little enamel pieces that are inspired by the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi whose famous buildings Casa Mila and Casa Battla in Barcelona are so famous for their strange shapes and modern gothic decoration that his name gave rise to the word gaudy (look it up if you must). Unlike Gaudi’s ceramic decorations, however, Tudor’s enamels are pretty and jewel-like. They are semi-abstract forms based on architecture in circular shapes mounted on what appears to be either black enamel or marble boxes. They also have an early American crafts feel about them but are more highly polished. I don’t think the early American look is intentional; it’s just the feeling I get from them.

Currens is showing a group of mixed-media collages inspired by landscape. They consist of densely packed and somewhat rough and jagged shapes painted in bright hues and cut out of canvas and collaged in patterns that simulate rock-strewn scenes without actually looking like specific scenes. As landscapes go, these represent untrammeled and hard-to-traverse terrains filled with rocks and fallen limbs, not the kind of bucolic landscapes we see too much of in popular art. My favorite is one called Stones from Spain. It depicts in abstract terms a forest scene with a kind of window in the sky opening onto yet another scene with a bright blue sky.

Speaking of bucolic, Baughman’s oil on paper paintings are just that. She has three paintings on display; each of them is long and thin, one vertical and two horizontal. They are simple abstract forms broken into square shapes in soft colors. The paint is applied like a thick paste, scraped and gouged in some areas and slick as an ice skating rink in other areas. Her paintings look almost like polished ceramic surfaces, which makes sense because she is a ceramicist as well as a painter. I particularly like the rough, Zen-like circular shapes in a couple of her paintings, which remind me of Robert Motherwell, and the soft glow of red and violet against white and cream backgrounds. They are contemplative and restful.

Tudor and Curren’s work will remain up through the month, and they will be showing with local artist Laraine Wade beginning June 27. That show will be kicked off with a performance Friday, June 27, by R&B recording artist and Broadway musical star Shoshana Bean. There will be an artists’ reception that night from 5 to 7 p.m., and Bean’s performance will start at 8 p.m.

[Art House Designs, through June 27 with Currens, Tudor and Wade continuing through July, 420 B Franklin St. S.E., Olympia, 360.943.3377]

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