Thursday, September 25, 2008

Forty Years

John McCuistion retrospective at the University of Puget Sound

published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 25, 2008
pictured: "X Marks the Spot," ceramic sculpture by John McCuistion

The title of John McCuistion’s show at Kittridge Gallery, University of Puget Sound, is Forty. It is billed as a 40-year retrospective, but the earliest work I saw was dated 1995 — significantly short of 40 years. OK, I’ll admit that I didn’t read every label. Not that any of that matters. What matters is that it is a really good show.

McCuistion is ceramic sculptor. The show includes about a dozen standing figures on sculpture stands in the middle of the gallery; another dozen or more platters decorated with images of plant life, sea life and insects; many masks; and a few other standing sculptures.

Many of them represent frightening figures; many more are humorous. Some are derived from ancient myths and legends or spiritual beliefs, and others relate to modern life as we know it.

There are a couple of strange bird sculptures that look like they are made of black marble encrusted with jewels of many colors. These are rough, organic-shaped creatures barely recognizable as birds, and they’re not really marble and jewels but ceramic clay glazed with many colors.

One of the strangest and most ominous looking sculptures is a piece called "Life Without Mother." It is a large pink heart with splatters of red and blue — something of a cross between a Valentine’s heart and the actual blood-pumping organ with bristling, wiry hairs extending outward from all over. A very disturbing image.

The standing figures in the middle of the gallery are of amazingly nuanced variety despite some obvious similarities. In most of them, the only details are in the heads. The bodies are shapeless shrouds or robes that hang from neck to toe. Some stand proudly; some lean forward in a sort of dejected pose, and at least one kind of squats. Some have masks for faces or skeleton heads, or their faces are recognizable as men or women, and at least one, called "Burke," has no face at all. ("Burke" is a mummy-like figure, and I suspect the name may refer to the Burke Museum, which houses some such figures. But that’s just a guess on my part.)

Two of the figures are military men shot through with bullet holes. They are titled "X Marks the Spot" and "POW."

The squatting figure is called "Pre-Columbian Ritual Figure" and is modeled on ancient fertility goddesses with their massive breasts and bellies. Her body is greenish black and very roughly carved, such as a primitive wood carving, and her face is a mask.

Other standing figures include one with a kitten’s face, and another that is a devil, and one called "Working Mom" that has a monkey face with big, skeletal teeth. There is a lot of macabre humor at work here.

While much prettier and more decorative than the standing sculptures, McCuistion’s platters are particularly interesting in their graphic technique. According to the artist’s Web site (, he uses a silkscreen technique coupled with layering, heating and washing the underglaze surfaces. The resulting graphic glazes look like a combination of loose ink drawings and rub-on transfer images of the type Robert Rauschenberg used in many of his collage images. The images include skeletons, fish, plants, and insects, and the surfaces are high-gloss (I personally do not like the shiny surfaces).

Sometimes there’s a clear distinction between works of art and craft objects, and sometimes not. McCuistion’s craft objects are art.

Showing in the smaller back gallery is Play Time, colorful constructions in tin by Bill Herberholz. As the show title implies, they are playful works employing commercial images and a look associated with sideshows and shooting galleries.

[Kittredge Gallery, Forty Years, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., through Oct. 8, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701]

Monday, September 22, 2008

Back at work

It's Monday morning and like all good workers I'm back on the job. We enjoyed our brief vacation. We spent a few days with Gabi's sister at Pacific Shores Resort on Nanoose Bay on Vancouver Island, right across the water from Vancouver. Now I'm back at work, and I've just posted my latest art and theater reviews, which were published while we were gone. Scroll down to see them.

Circle of Friends

Grand Impromptu Gallery shows invited friends

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 18, 2008
pictured (top) Rib Fiser's mixed media sculpture "AmeriKa" (bottom) untitled photo by Mary Holste

Rob Fiser’s AmeriKa: The Fourth Reich is the centerpiece of a large and varied group show called Circle of Friends at Grand Impromptu Gallery. AmeriKa consists of life-size game pieces in the form of clothespin portraits of members of the Bush regime.

“This is the first game sanctioned by the Ministry of Propaganda and designed to teach you and your entire family the time tested techniques used to gain profit and control over the masses,” Fiser writes in explanatory notes accompanying his “game.”

Each piece is a separate figure which can be moved around, stood up, laid down, grouped and re-grouped. At Grand Impromptu they stand and lie in a large circle in the center of the gallery. The portrait faces are realistically rendered and easily recognized, even though figures such as Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft are quickly receding from public memory (the mind tends to block out unbearable memories).

As if further identification were necessary, each figure wears a name tag, but the name tags are all nicknames: Shrub, Rummy, Condi, and so forth. And they all wear clothes that associate them with their connections to the military-industrial complex, Big Oil in particular. “Shrub,” for those who may have forgotten, is what Molly Ivins called President G.W. Bush. The Shrub game piece has a Hitler-style mustache.

AmeriKa: The Fourth Reich is funny, inventive and well crafted.

The rest of the show is uneven in quality. There’s nothing bad, but there are a number of works that are not particularly remarkable. There are also some excellent pieces on display, most notably John McCuistion’s ceramic figures, Mary Holste’s photographs, and some new works by Janet Marcavage that take some of the imagery she showed last year at AOC Gallery in a slightly new direction.

McCuiston, who is also currently featured in a 40-year retrospective exhibition at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound, is a ceramic sculptor of skill and vision. Here he shows a group of three female figures that are fun, funky and somewhat ominous.

It is hard to describe Marcavage’s work. She’s showing three paper cut silkscreens with perforations and stitching. They are simple, emblematic figures such as might be seen in a child’s room, and they have an early Americana feel. I think there’s much more to these than meets the eye.

Holste’s photographs are colorful and dramatic, and they also depict Americana, but a different Americana. Whereas Marcavage’s Americana is of home and hearth, Holste’s is of the ‘50s-style commercialism that dotted America’s highways before the interstate system homogenized the country. Giant high heel shoes and skeleton heads and teapots combined with huge signs and random letters — the ghosts and skeletons of old tourist attractions. I love them.

The idea of the show, Circle of Friends, is that each artist-member of the co-op gallery invites one or more friends to show with them. The members are: Bill Colby, Becky Frehse, Bea Geller, Trinda Love, Dorothy McCuistion, Betty Ragan, LeeAnn Seaburg Perry and Peter Serko. The invited friends are: Fiser, (John) McCuistion, Marcavage, Holste, Deborah Greenwood, Joan Joachims, Jane Kelsey-Mapel, Fumiko Kimura, Nola Tresslar, Austin Smith and Elizabeth C. Otto.

Overall, I think the friends’ work outshines that of the members. Therefore, it would be really nice if some of these friends joined the gallery.

One other invited friend not highlighted above but whose work stands out is Greenwood, who is showing handmade artist’s books made of cut-up and re-arranged postcards in tin boxes and Lucite frames. The one other member artist whose work stands out in this show is Bea Geller, who is showing a group of photographs from this summer’s Tall Ships extravaganza. All but one of her photos are close-ups of reflections in water.

[Grand Impromptu Gallery, Thursday and Friday 4-9 p.m., Saturday 2-9 p.m., Sunday, 2-6 p.m. and by appointment, through Sept. 27, 608 South Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.572.9232,]

Published in The News Tribune, September 19, 2008
pictured Mark Peterson and Jennifer Marley, photo by Dan Lapin

Tacoma Little Theatre opens its 90th season with the Shakespeare comedy “Much Ado About Nothing.”

It’s not as well known or as popular as some of Shakespeare’s other comedies, and it’s not as outrageously funny. In fact, large portions of Act II are intensely dramatic. Characters we have grown to know and love in Act I are soundly abused by lies and scandals, but all the bad stuff is eventually exposed as both false and meaningless, and there is a happy ending. The lovers come together in joy and the bad guy gets what’s coming to him.

What should also make the audience happy is that this is one of the easier to understand of Shakespeare’s plays. With his dense language, love of mistaken identities and complex plot structures, Shakespeare’s plays are often hard to follow, and simply keeping track of who’s who in many of his plays is a daunting task. But this one is easy.

Leonato, the governor of Messina (Michael Griswold) would like to find husbands for his daughter, Hero (Chelsea A. Lechelt) and his niece, Beatrice (Jennifer Marley). Enter Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon (Mark Peterson), Count Claudio of Florence (Joseph Espinoza) and Signior Benedict of Padua (Bryan K. Bender).

Claudio falls in love with Hero at first glance, and Pedro intercedes on his behalf to arrange a marriage between them. So far, so good. The arrangements go exactly as planned; the lovers are to be wed, and everyone is happy. But not for long.

Back to Claudio and Hero in a moment. But first for the other lovers in this story: Beatrice and Benedict. They are both intelligent, witty, independent and cynical. They do not trust in love and marriage but manage to fall in love with each other despite it all and with the help of deviously plotting friends who whisper secrets meant to be overheard – planting in each of these reluctant lovers’ minds the thought that the other is in love with them.

By far the funniest scenes in the play are first when Benedict sneaks around and hides behind garden trees to eavesdrop on Pedro and Claudio, who are talking about him (with full knowledge that he is eavesdropping but pretending they don’t know he’s there) and then an almost identical scene with Beatrice eavesdropping when her cousin and her handmaiden are talking about her. Their attempts to hide are absurdly funny, and both Bender and Marley display an amazingly funny range of visual expressions and physicality that verged on mime.

All of this hilarity and comic intrigue turns sour when Don Pedro’s bastard brother, Don John (James T. Patrick) plots with his lackeys, Borachio (Joseph Fries) and Conrade (John C. Finch) to make it appear to Claudio that his beloved Hero has had affairs with other men, and thus is no virgin. Their method is to dupe Hero’s gentlewoman, Margaret (Maren Ham) to pretend to be Hero and set it up so that Claudio sees her in her window and overhears her talking to her illicit lover. Margaret is innocent in all this. She doesn’t know she is being set up.

The major actors are terrific, especially Bender and Marley. Griswold is absolutely believable and natural as Leonato, as is Ham as the very likeable Margaret. Lechelt and Peterson do not particularly stand out, due to the nature of their characters, but certainly do a good job as Hero and Don Pedro. Other characters not yet mentioned who are great fun to watch are Blake R. York as the comical constable Dogberry and his bumbling deputy, Verges (Kerry Bringman) and Michael Dresdner, who is lovable as Leonato’s brother, Antonio. Not so terrific, unfortunately, are Patrick as Don John, who dropped a few lines on the night I saw the play, and Fries, who overacted and seems to be posing too much as Borachio.

The set is simple but effective, and if you are put off by the fake-looking trees, which do not seem to fit stylistically with the rest of the set, be patient; you will discover there’s a good reason for that.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sundays through October 5
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $16-$20
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Theater hiatus

I'm going to take a small vacation. My regular community theater column in The News Tribune will not be printed the week of Sept. 26. My Sept. 19 column will appear as scheduled this Friday, but I will not be able to post it on this blog. My review for this Friday will be on Tacoma Little Theatre's "Much Ado About Nothing." You can pick up a print copy or find it online at

I reviewed an art exhibit ahead of time for the Weekly Volcano, so my Visual Edge column should appear as regularly scheduled, although I may or may not have time to post it on this blog. This week's art review will be on the "Circle of Friends" exhibition at Grand Impromptu Gallery. You can find it online at

Next week I'll review John McCuistion's show at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound. If all goes as planned it should appear in the Weekly Volcano and on this blog as scheduled.

Friday, September 12, 2008

It’s not serious theater, but it sure is a lot of fun

Published in The News Tribune, Sept. 12, 2008
Pictured, top: opening number; bottom: Vince Wingerter and Leischen Moore, photos by Dean Lapin

Lakewood Playhouse opens its season with “Lucky Stiff,” a bizarre little comedy billed as a musical murder mystery. This was the first play written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the team that brought us “Seussical,” “Ragtime” and “Once Upon this Island.”

This comic romp does not represent the team’s finest hour, but it certainly has its moments. On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for offbeat humor, director Micheal O’Hara and his crew offer a concoction of insanity that is sure to delight.

One of the strangest things about this play is that, despite all the singing, it doesn’t seem like a musical at all. Lines that were sung could have been spoken and nothing would have been lost. The best things are the nonmusical parts, in particular O’Hara’s direction, the complex movement throughout (which must be credited to both O’Hara and choreographer Heather Malroy) and the over-the-top acting by the supporting cast.

Note that I specified the supporting cast. That’s because there is a marked difference between them and the leading man (Vince Wingerter as Harry Witherspoon) and his leading lady (Leischen Moore as Annabel Glick).

Wingerter and Moore play their characters as the boy and girl next door. Their acting is underplayed, their characters have no real conspicuous quirks, and their singing is pleasant but not outstanding.

The supporting actors, in strong contrast, are outlandishly exaggerated characters. There’s a dead guy (played quite deadpan by George McClure); the blind Brooklyn Jewish adulterer and murderess, Rita (Kae Blum); her nerdy, bumbling optometrist brother, Vinnie (Lucas Blum in a comically masterful role reminiscent of Peter Sellers); the sexpot chanteuse, Dominique (Heather Malroy); and an assortment of nurses, Southern belles, drunks, blowhard Texans and other weird characters played by, in no particular order, Chris Serface, Carol Richmond, Sharry O’Hara and Kody Bringman, all of whom play multiple roles.

The staging of all these characters entering and exiting in various costumes designed by Frances Rankos is amazing. A playful set (by O’Hara) and lighting effects by Scott C. Brown go a long way toward making all these little cameos work.

The most outstanding lighting effect, however, is defeated by a too-visible audience. It’s a dream sequence under black lights. Cast members wearing white hats and gloves dance around a sleeping Wingerter, their bodies invisible and their hats and gloves glowing under the black lights.

It’s a wonderfully creative touch and probably would have worked well on a traditional stage, but when done in the round, all the light-colored clothing in the audience glows in the dark too, which becomes terribly distracting.

So far I haven’t even mentioned the plot. It’s a silly plot. Harry Witherspoon is stuck in a dead-end job as a shoe salesman. His uncle is murdered, and Harry is supposed to inherit $6 million. But there’s a catch. In order to get his inheritance he must take his dead uncle, who has been stuffed by a taxidermist, on a weeklong vacation to Monte Carlo and do all the things the uncle wanted to do there, from gambling to sky diving to scuba diving. If he fails to do any of the stipulated things, the money goes to a home for stray dogs. Hot on the trail of Harry and Uncle Tony are Annabelle Glick from the dog shelter and Rita and Vinnie, who think Harry and Uncle Tony has a box full of stolen diamonds.

The supporting actors do a great job of parodying stereotypes. With her low-cut red dress and hula-dancer hips, Malroy does a hilarious takeoff on a stereotypical sexpot. Serface uses his great talent for voices to play many roles, most notably a sleazy nightclub emcee. Richmond staggers stupidly as the drunken maid. Bringman does a good job of bell hopping, and Sharry O’Hara is equally charming as a British landlady, a Southern belle and a French maid.

This is not great theater. At best, it was kind of practice for Ahrens and Flaherty, who later developed into great writers. But it’s a lot of fun, and O’Hara and company do it well.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 5
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $24 general admission, $21 senior and military discount, $18 under 25, $16 under 15
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thoughts about criticism

I bumped into the actor Scott C. Brown and his fiancĂ©e, director, stage manager, costumer and all-around backstage magician Naarah McDonald, in the lobby of the Lakewood Playhouse. I’d never met either of them but had reviewed their work — sometimes in glowing reviews and sometimes in not-so-flattering commentary. The gratifying thing about our brief conversation was that they expressed thanks for both my kind words and my critical commentary. I, of course, am not surprised when actors and directors express appreciation when I praise their work. But what really boosts my ego is when they agree with my criticism.

A critic is supposed to expressed his or her opinion — ideally an informed and reasoned opinion. When I feel like I have to point out flaws in a performance, I try to do it as a good and compassionate teacher would so as to be helpful and not mean spirited.

As well as I can remember, I have twice picked Brown as Best Actor in a Drama for my Critic’s Choice award column: first for his role as Salieri in “Amadeus” and then as R.P. McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” But I was less than flattering for his performance in “Holes,” and I was did not give that play a good review. I said “These fine actors are wasted in these roles,” referring to Brown and co-star Christie Flynn.

When I met Brown and McDonald, I did not remember that she had directed “Holes.” He reminded me, and she laughingly apologized for that play, which she acknowledged was not, shall we say, the best thing she has ever done. What is the best of her works that I have reviewed was “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which she directed. She’s also done the costumes for a whole slew of plays I’ve reviewed.
I do not get a lot of feedback from my reviews, so it is always nice to hear from people like Brown and McDonald.

By-the-way, I was at the theater to see “Lucky Stiff.” My review of it will be published in The News Tribune tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 12). Brown was there because he designed the lighting — and did a fine job of it, I might add (with one caveat, which you will find in my review).

My take on Maddock

Jeremiah Maddock shows at Mineral

published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 11, 2008
pictured: Bombfroilcatnek, Jeremiah Maddock

You’ve probably already heard of Jeremiah Maddock. You may have seen some of his work already. You most likely read Daniel Blue’s article about his latest show at Mineral (Mineral is good for you, Weekly Volcano, Aug. 28).

Now I offer my take on it. It’s pretty good. I might even say it’s very good.

I did not inquire as to media, but the works appear to be mostly ink and watercolor on paper or on what appears to be vellum. A press release said he uses aged book covers as a template for his drawings. Whether they’re called paintings or drawings probably doesn’t matter, but to me they are drawings because the linear quality predominates with color being little more than decorative tinting.

The drawings look old, like pages from a medieval manuscript from Egypt or the Ottoman Empire or like hieroglyphics. But upon closer examination, the imagery becomes thoroughly modern and personal as Maddock draws highly personal symbolism in intricately repetitive patterns. The repetition creates harmony and unity, but the fascination is in the details. Things that look like one thing become, upon close examination, something entirely other.

Typical of the kind of density of repetitive patterning and the largest work in the show is This Place is Getting the Best of Me and is Still Receiving, a densely packed drawing of multistory buildings in brown and gray with a few peach colored lines. From a distance of seven feet or so, it looks like a modern city skyline but with one of the tall buildings curving over the others like a bent tree limb.

On closer inspection, we see that this building is a snakelike creature hovering over the city, and we notice strange details such as shapes that look like doors and windows that are actually tiny robots and spacemen, and the spire atop one of the buildings is a rocket ship taking off.

Jacko Head Trophy Doll Chimes pictures three figures. In the center is a female figure standing erect. She looks like a totem pole. Flanking her are men whose bodies vanish. We see only heads, arms and hands.

A similar picture is Poor Henry, a line of standing men being engulfed by what looks like a swarm of bees. Each “bee” is actually a letter of the alphabet. Of the men, we see only three full figures. The others vanish into ghostlike bits of bodies with only heads and feet and nipples showing.

One of the most intricate and complex pictures is He Hem Th Hen Te Hey Hay! (You have to love his titles — and no, there or no typos.) This drawing has a military theme. In the center is an airplane that also happens to look very much like a totem pole. Standing guard in the four corners are soldiers. There are also tanks and oil derricks, machines that look like a combination helicopter and construction crane, and a hooded figure that looks like one of Philip Guston’s Klansmen.

The drawings are tightly controlled and precise except for one work that stands out as totally different, being gestural with lots of open space and none of the density of the other works. It is titled Zoanthropy 3 and pictures three deerlike animals, one with a man’s head, one with a woman’s breasts, and one that looks something like a shrimp.

The show is called Bombfroilcatnek, which seems to be “bomb for oil” combined with “catnek,” whatever that may be. It is surrealistic, comical, and packed with meaning that is only hinted at but up to the viewer to interpret.

[Mineral, hours vary, call ahead, 301 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, 253.250.7745,]

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Local theaters line up shows for fun season

published in The News Tribune, Sept. 5, 2008

Tacoma Little Theatre kicks off its 90th season with a plea for financial help and an uproarious comedy by the greatest playwright of all time, William Shakespeare.
TLT was founded in 1918, making it one of the oldest theaters not only in the Puget Sound region but in the nation. And they are now in serious financial trouble, but under the new and capable leadership of Doug Kerr should weather the storm quite well. They are pleading for people to purchase season tickets, and it looks like a season with plenty to “ado” about, starting with one of Shakespeare’s more insane comedies featuring crazy clowns, “star-crossed” lovers, and a wedding gone wildly awry.
“Much Ado About Nothing” opens Sept. 12 and runs through Oct. 5.
Other plays coming up this season at TLT include the touching and very popular “On Golden Pond,” April 3-26, and Arthur Miller’s classic witch-hunt drama “The Crucible” in February. And their season ends with the May-June production of the rousing musical “The Buddy Holly Story” celebrating the 50th anniversary of “The Day the Music Died.”
For more information about Tacoma Little Theatre and their 90th season campaign, visit their Web site at
Tacoma Musical Playhouse will offer a slate of big-production musicals guaranteed to please the public, including a number of longtime favorites and a couple of new plays that look intriguing. The season opens with one of the most popular musicals of all time, “South Pacific.” Now in revival on Broadway, “South Pacific” won a whopping seven Tony Awards this year, including Best Revival of a Musical. It tells a big dramatic story and includes such great songs as “Some Enchanted Evening” and “Nothing Like a Dame.”
“South Pacific” runs Oct. 3-26.
Other crowd pleasers coming up include “The Producers” in April and May and “The Wizard of Oz” next summer. For more information on TMP’s season, including Tacoma Children’s Musical Theater,” go to
The new season for Lakewood Playhouse kicks off tonight (((Sept. 5))) with a musical murder mystery called “Lucky Stiff.” This insane comedy about taking a dead guy on a weeklong vacation to Monte Carlo was the first collaboration between Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the team that brought us “Ragtime” and “Once on This Island.” The show runs through Oct. 5.
Next up is The Scottish Play (we can’t say the name, it’s bad luck, but you know what we mean; it’s one of the greatest plays of all time). For Christmas, Lakewood Playhouse will be doing the perennial favorite “A Christmas Carol,” followed in January by the epitome of small town humor, “Greater Tuna.” In March comes Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” and the season winds down with the Kaufman and Hart comedy “Once in a Lifetime.”
More information is available online at
From Tacoma, let’s head north to Federal Way to Centerstage, which opens Sept. 12 with their annual fund-raising murder mystery “Spinster in a Handbag” at the Twin Lakes Country Club. Next up is a musical tribute to an American treasure, “Always…Patsy Cline.” What more need be said? To know Patsy Cline is to love her. This musical treat opens Sept. 26 and runs through Oct. 12.
Over the past two seasons Centerstage has made the British Christmas panto a South Sound tradition. This year they continue the irreverent and absurd tradition with “Aladdin.” If you’re still not familiar with the English panto, you have to see it. It is formulaic comedy filled with gender-bending slapstick that pokes everyone in the eye.
In February, for two nights only, Feb.7-8, Lance Brown portrays the great Will Rogers in the one-man show “Will Rogers Now!” Then comes a Sherlock Holmes mystery, “Crucifer of Blood” and finally Centerstage’s own original musical adaptation of “Carl Sagan’s Contact.”
See Centerstage on the Web at
In Olympia, Capital Playhouse opens with the dark modern classic “The Threepenny Opera” by Bertolt Brecht, Oct. 9 – Nov. 1. Also coming up at Capital Playhouse this season are the popular musicals “Jesus Christ Superstar” and Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.” More information can be found at
Harlequin Productions always starts the season off with an original musical from their “Stardust” series for Christmas. But first they wind up the previous season with Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra.” As always, Harlequin has a challenging and eclectic lineup, this year including “Sins of the Mother,” “The Elephant Man,” “Batboy the Musical” and “Mating Dance of the Werewolf.” Find out more at
These are just the big community theaters in the area. Smaller theater companies such as Encore! (, Theatre Artists Olympia (, Olympia Family Theater (, Manestage in Sumner (, Paradise Theatre in Gig Harbor ( and Breeders Theater in Burien ( also offer excellent theatrical entertainment.

Friday, September 5, 2008


The old and the new at Gallery Madera

Pictured: "PAZ," acrylic and mixed media painting by Fred (Angel) Matamoros.
Photo courtesy Gallery Madera

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 04, 2008

You could call this show the old pro and the hot new upstart. Gallery Madera calls it Apophenia, which according to the gallery Web site means “the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness in unrelated phenomena.” According to Wikipedia, it means “the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.” To me it just means two damn fine painters in the abstract expressionist tradition — Dale Witherow and Angel (Fred) Matamoros.

Witherow has been painting just about as long as Matamoros has been alive. He retired from teaching after 30 years as an associate professor of art on the East Coast. Mostly known for colorful abstract paintings with rich surface textures, in this exhibition he is showing both abstracts and traditional landscapes. Most of his paintings are solidly constructed with organic forms in an open grid structure, rich textures and strong dark and light contrasts. Influences from Kline and Motherwell are in evidence, especially in works such as Crucible, in which dark organic forms snake around and through a light central area. It is almost like looking into a cave but with the interior space being light and the forms inside being dark.

Another interesting — and stylistically quite different painting — is Boundaries, in which flat asymmetrical forms in bright, dark colors are arranged on a surface that modulates from light blue to gray to white. The forms here are very tightly controlled and remind me a lot of Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series.

In previous shows, Witherow’s paintings have been more brilliantly colored and slightly more bombastic. These are toned down a bit with more emphasis on structure than color. His landscapes are serene and simple.

Matamoros is the newcomer. Experienced as a photographer and graphic designer, he is relatively inexperienced as a painter. I know from talking to him that as recently as a couple of years ago he saw himself as a rank amateur. But you’d never believe it from looking at his paintings in this show.

This work is as strong as that of any of the more experienced painters around here or anywhere else. If he lacks training and experience, he makes up for it with an innate sense of color and design and a feel for the edge and surface qualities that define good painting.

Matamoros shows works in three similar but distinct styles: printed and collaged words (much in Spanish or Latin) embedded in textured surfaces with washes of semi-transparent paint, minimalist paintings with large bands of color juxtaposed with flat rectangular shapes, and atmospheric paintings with monochromatic color schemes. The atmospheric paintings are the least interesting — soft and mushy in comparison to the others. The works employing printed words are delicate and intricate and, for people like me who know only a smattering of Spanish and Latin, mysterious. In some of these he combines delicate transparencies with solid slabs of color, most noticeably in paintings such as Paz, which has layers of bright blue over an orange field and below it a square of soft, milky violet. His strongest works by far are the minimalist paintings with big, flat bands of color. My favorites are Suspiro Del Moro and Rue St. Philip. The first of these features three light blue squares floating in the upper right quadrant of a large field of muddy brown paint. The blue squares seem to hover in space and yet, at the same time, appear to be solidly locked into the ground. Rue St. Philip is three simple bands of solid color: orange, yellow and green. These two paintings have a lot in common with Cory Ryman’s sculpture, which was seen at Traver Gallery and which I picked as this year’s best gallery show in the Best of Tacoma issue of the Weekly Volcano.

Also showing at Gallery Madera through September is the ceramic art of Anne Reilly featuring sculptural and functional stoneware.

[Gallery Madera, Apophenia, through Sept. 27, 2210 Court A, Tacoma, 253.572.1218,]