Thursday, October 22, 2009

Vital Signs

Joe Feddersen retrospective at TAM

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 22, 2009
Pictured: Joe Feddersen, "Urban Indian Series #95," 2003. Monoprint, 37 x 20 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Froelick Gallery, Portland, Oregon.
Joe Feddersen, "Mary Ann 8," 2007. Reduction linocut, 19 x 14 ½ inches. Courtesy of the artist.

I was knocked right out of my socks when I walked into the Joe Feddersen retrospective exhibition at Tacoma Art Museum. The first thing to catch my eye — and how could it not — was a monstrous wall-size print of multiple overlapping zig-zag patterns in brilliant colors and textures comprised of 500 square panels that seemed to frantically dance across the wall. And I’m talking a big, big wall. The piece is called "Okanagan IV," and it goes ceiling to floor and stretches across 58 feet of wall space. And, as if that were not enough, there’s a similar but somewhat smaller piece on the opposite wall that’s merely 90 panels and only 20 feet long. The beauty of these, beyond the sheer size, is due to the vibrancy of the patterns within patterns.

Feddersen retired this year from teaching art at The Evergreen State College. This show includes some 60 works stretching over a 13-year period and includes prints, collage, baskets and glass. All of Feddersen’s artworks are based on simple geometric patterns from his Native American heritage that combine traditional and contemporary approaches to design.

In some respects these works are like class projects for Design 101: Take a simple pattern and make 30 variations on it, and investigate all the ways you can apply these patterns to various media. It’s the kind of project he, as a teacher, most likely assigned to his students. In Feddersen’s hands the results are visually stunning.

"Urban Indian Series #95" (the title makes me think of Sherman Alexie) is a monoprint combining two dissimilar images. On top is a network of lines in red, green and black that meander like a PacMan game or like the squares and rectangles in a Mondrian painting. The bottom half is a patterned stickman figure on a yellow background. The top half represents an urban landscape, and the Indian figure on the bottom seems to be holding it up — an Indian Atlas. I particularly like the way the two halves are so utterly dissimilar yet work together as a balanced whole.

"Mary Ann 8" is a linocut with squares, zig-zags, diamonds, bars and a giant X over a bright blue background. This is one of the most jangled works in the show, as most of the others are more logically ordered, yet there is a kind of tricky order to this one, too. Each color is obviously on a separate plane — white over yellow over red over light blue — but then these patterned planes are disrupted by dark blue bars and diamonds that weave over and under the other patterns.

Personally I like the prints better than the baskets and glass vessels, but they’re all fascinating. The only ones I didn’t like were a few that used reflective metallic colors. I found those to be gimmicky and showy, and the reflective properties detract from the overall unity.

This is a show worth spending a lot of time with.

Feddersen will also exhibit his Pattern Recognition show Nov. 16-Jan. 13 in the Evergreen Gallery inside the Daniel J. Evans Library Building at The Evergreen State College. He will lecture on his Pattern works Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 11:30 a.m. inside Evegreen’s Lecture Hall 1. More details can be found at

[Tacoma Art Museum, Joe Fedderson: Vital Signs, through Jan. 10, Wednesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., $8-$9, free Third Thursday, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4258]

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