Thursday, May 7, 2009

Frasca and Gumaelius

Birds of a feather

Published in The Weekly Volcano, May 7, 2009
Pictured: "After Raphael II" pastel on monoprint by Marilyn Frasca

The current show at Childhood’s End Gallery is one of the better shows they’ve had in a long time. Featured artists are Robin and John Gumaelius, ceramic and mixed media, and Marilyn Frasca, pastel on monotype.

Frasca’s drawings are wonderful. They picture fantasy people (some borrowed from Renaissance and medieval art) and animals (including some human-animal hybrids) on beautifully textured surfaces. Frasca works with a delicate balance of opposing forces and objects or figures placed in odd relations to her backgrounds. And I use the term “background” loosely because ground and sky are seldom behind the figures; they are brought forward in the best modernistic tradition to share equal weight and importance with the figures.

"Expert Guide" pictures a boy with donkey ears riding an ostrich. The ostrich’s body is the rich black of charcoal. Its jutting wing reflects the shape of the boy’s ear, which reflects the shape of a tree on a hilltop behind him. The figures are fascinating because of their inventiveness. Do they represent some mythological story, or are they figments of the artist’s imagination? Either way they are fun to contemplate, and the shapes seen as pure abstraction represent masterful placement and balance.

"Lovers, Once," a title with mysterious implications, is notable for the four stone-like forms in the background, which are roughly textured and look like concrete blocks floating in a black abyss.

Another drawing depicts a seated gorilla, looking sad and lost in front of a very busy gray background that looks something like the rough face of a mountain and simultaneously like a stormy sky. In these and many other drawings, texture is of overriding importance.

"Rock Faces" is a series of 10 tiny drawings done by lightly sanding and drawing into Polaroid photographs of textured surfaces in tones of burnt sienna and burnt orange.

Also of interest are two drawings in homage to the Renaissance artist Raphael, "After Raphael I" and "After Raphael II." The first of these pictures a woman floating in air with flowing gowns, perhaps an angel from one of Raphael’s religious paintings. Next to her is a monolithic dark triangle. The stark contrast between Renaissance figure and modernist abstraction is graphically powerful. The second pictures a single figure taken from one of approximately 50 figures in Raphael’s large painting, "The School of Athens." The placement of the figure makes it look like a collage, and the linear perspective has been slightly reversed to flatten the figure in a manner reminiscent of Cezanne (Google Raphael School of Athens to compare the two).

The Gumaelius ceramics fit well as three-dimensional contrasts with Frasca’s two-dimensional drawings. Like Frasca, their works are filled with fantasy creatures and human-animal hybrids. But whereas Frasca’s drawings are serious in intent and lofty in aspiration, the husband-and-wife team of John and Robin Gumaelius are lighthearted and frivolous. Their ceramic sculptures are of people with bird heads or people with birds perched on their heads or birds and other creatures with people heads. They are comical, bizarre and highly inventive; and they are technically laudable because of the intricacy of forms, the monumental size of some of them, and the very complex decorative glazes (or painted surfaces, I can’t tell which). I hesitate to call these art. They lack the awe-inspiring or transformative quality of great art. But they are great crafts objects. Gumaelius ceramics must make fabulous conversation starters in the homes of those who can afford them.

[Childhood’s End Gallery, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through May 31, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724]

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