Saturday, January 15, 2011

Many contexts

A great group show at SPSCC

The Weekly Volcano, Jan. 12, 2011
top: oil painting by Lisa Sweet

middle: "Bangalore" by Amy Oates
bottom: "Shirly Sherrod and Mohamed Alessa"  by Shaw Osha

I hardly know where to start reviewing the new show at South Puget Sound Community College, and I know I can't do each of the artists justice in the limited space of this column. The show is called "Contexts: Contemporary Image Makers," and it features works by Amy Oates, Jennifer Combe, Matt Hamon, Lisa Sweet and Shaw Osha - five artists who have little in common except that each has a unique vision and each is technically accomplished.

Oates' drawings in oil and charcoal of dense city crowds have the most immediate impact. The expressive drawing and harsh dark and light contrasts in her monochromatic works are highly dramatic. If they were abstract drawings and not people in crowds with all the emotional baggage that entails, they would still be powerful, which may be one of the most telling tests of artistic power - are the abstract visual elements as strong as the emotional appeal of the narrative content? In these works the answer is yes. With one exception. There is a print that is more detailed and more illustrational, and it is the weakest of Oates' works. She is also showing one very different piece in which the figures are cut out of paper and hung in front of the wall in a subtle play of white-on-white with shadows. It's very decorative and intricate but lacking the impact of the drawings.

Combe's "First Grade" is the most decorative and eye-appealing work in the show. It consists of six white boxes like sculpture stands with multi-colored abstract patterns on clear slide sheets attached in grid patterns on the tops. The forms are mostly derived from letters and numbers. The colors are clear and bright, and the mood is playful.

Lisa Sweet‘s paintings blend contemporary surrealistic imagery with religious symbols and a painting style influenced by early Renaissance art. One of the more striking is a portrait of a woman with short-cropped red hair and hands crossed below her breasts with words carved into her skin as if with a knife. The title is "Madonna of austerities," and some of the words and phrases on her arms and chest are (in all-caps): UNWORTHY SERVANT, LET ME HATE, WE ARE BEASTS and HAVE PITY ON MY SOUL.

I have long admired Shaw Osha's semi-abstract figurative paintings. I'm not so sure about some of the directions she's been going in lately. In this show she has a selection of 14 drawings in pencil, acrylic and pen on acetate. They are mostly portrait heads (and a car and a house) painted in delicate washes. The best of these is the house with its subtle shades of white and gray over a blue-gray background scene. There is also an intriguing group of digital prints from Osha, all aerial photographs of streets in Olympia taken over time to provide a record of changes in landscape and architecture.

Harmon has six untitled drawings in ballpoint on Mylar that are amazingly intricate, delicate and precise. Some of his drawings look like floating tumbleweeds of meshed wire. They are all surrounded by vast areas of white. The press release said he combines photographic and drawing elements. I can't tell that from looking, but the precision of his drawing is phenomenal.

This gallery continues to provide some of the best art exhibits in Olympia.

Contexts: Contemporary Image Makers
Tuesday-Thursday, noon-4 p.m. and by appointment, through Feb. 24, 2011, Minnaert Center Gallery South Puget Sound Community College, Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527,
Comments for "Many contexts" (1)

No comments: