Thursday, November 19, 2009

Elek and CUD

Double whammy at Traver Gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 19, 2009
Pictured: jar from "abstract" series by CUD, courtesy William Traver Gallery

The latest show at Traver Gallery in Tacoma is a double whammy featuring relative newcomer to the Seattle glass art scene Jen Elek and a couple of old-timers, Robbie Miller and John Drury working collaboratively under the name CUD, which they said comes from what a cow chews and refers to work using recycled materials (and concepts).

Elek’s highly colorful glass art processes the associations we carry with traffic lights, billboards and the millions of dots that make up images on television. Her signature form seems to be either arrangements of big glass balls or elongated spheroids that jut out from the wall, either in a solid color, typically black, or in combinations of bright primary colors. The best of her works are the more minimalist pieces such as "Blanket," a grid of 135 spheroids in red, blue, pink, yellow, green, black and white (the form is minimalist but the colors are anything but) and a number of pieces that are solid black.

One of my favorite Elek pieces is, coincidentally, called "FAVORITE." It is a smaller version of Blanket with only nine spheroids tightly packed in a grid, with the one in the lower right corner drooping like a balloon that’s leaking air.

There’s one piece that is extremely ambitious consisting of an entire wall of colorful glass balls in every color of the rainbow and of various sizes. It looks like an explosion of balloons in no particular pattern. I applaud her ambition and technical skill in putting this piece together, but it doesn’t have much aesthetic integrity; it’s just showy. The same can be said for a wall piece with multi-colored blinking lights which, at a nighttime opening party, was blindingly distracting.

Miller and Drury’s collaborative works are much more fully realized artistically and conceptually. Plus, their history as a collaborative team is fascinating. They were pioneers at the Pilchuck School and studio and worked with such luminaries as Benjamin Moore and Dante Maroni. Plus they collaborate from opposite coasts and often without personally touching the materials with which they are working. From New York and Seattle and often using elements created by their students in studio glass classes, they recycle ideas and materials to create semi-abstract glass art pieces that are humorous and aesthetically challenging.

Works on display at Traver include blown glass stumps, a life-size cast glass sawhorse, and giant enamel painted glass Kool Aid jugs. Among my favorites are a couple of pieces from a series called "Hives." These pieces are stacked glass jars (jelly or peanut butter jars) with painted bottoms in a sickly acid green, white and black, and globs of white and black rubber in between the jars. They are funny and gritty and nicely designed. Other favorites include some large jars that are sloppily painted with large swathes of color like abstract expressionist paintings. The paint doesn’t look like fired or baked enamel but like house paint slopped on the surface — paint as paint, raw and pure, not as decoration. Some of the painted jars, however, have smiley faces, which make them gimmicky and cutesy, thereby destroying the raw painterly quality.

There’s a lot of variety in this show, some excellent art and some that is too showy or cute.

[William Traver Gallery, Tuesday-Sat 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m., through Dec. 6, 1821 East Dock St., Tacoma, 253.383.3685]

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