Thursday, July 19, 2012

Slice of summer at TCC

Two-person show embraces summer themes

"Deckside #2," by David J. Roholt
I really like Alain Clerc's paintings, although not so much the ones on the left as you enter the gallery at Tacoma Community College. He's in a new two-person show with David J. Roholt, who's work I do not like as much, except for a group on the right side wall in the back gallery including a couple called "Taper" and a wonderful painting called "Deckside #2," which is a kind of hybrid between Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" and some of Richard Diebenkorn's early work.
I've never seen works by either of these artists before, so it was a treat to visit this show.

Clerc's works are simplified still life paintings and landscapes and figures. Mostly still life compositions and mostly with bottles and plates and many, many, many watermelon slices rendered flat and highly stylized with minimal detail and very subtle brushwork. They are reductive to the point of being emblematic with just a few clues for recognizing the objects depicted. Tables, for instance, are flattened and viewed as if looking directly down from above, and the watermelon slices are crescents with dots to represent seeds.

The four paintings mentioned above, which are the first to greet visitors upon entering the gallery, are about the least interesting of the bunch. There's nothing particularly fascinating about his color choices or the arrangement of his bottles and potted plants and watermelon slices in these, and the flat paint application is boring. Every other Clerc painting is excellent, and perhaps none so much so as the very next painting after these four, the one that faces the front door. It's called "Passersby." Perhaps more than anything else in the show it conveys a sense of mystery, and there is a tremendous surface tension created by some very subtle but energetic brushwork within essentially flat areas of color. Similar brushwork is a hallmark of all of Clerc's best paintings in this show.

Whereas Clerc's paintings are flat in a Pop Art fashion, Roholt's are heavy with globs of impasto paint and gestural marks. He paints figures and scenes that practically disappear within his slashes of color. In some the paint is so dense as to look almost like a Jackson Pollock drip painting. This is the kind of stuff I normally like - all of this energy and richness of surface. But in most of Roholt's paintings it becomes too chaotic. An example would be the two figure paintings in the back gallery, each with a very similar single female nude in what could be a field of dense jungle foliage. In one the body is painted in natural flesh tones and in the other the body is painted with the same dark blues, greens and purples as the background. The one with the natural skin colors suffers from a cacophony of harshly contrasting colors; the other, which is almost a monotone, is a much better painting. You get the texture and the energy and see the figure without any of the clutter. His boat scenes and flowers in vases in the middle gallery suffer from the same kind of clutter.

By way of contrast, there is a group of paintings on the other side of the gallery of swimmers. You can't make out the figures, but you can see the splashes of water and the floats marking the swimming lanes. His frantic brushstrokes are held in check by a unity of direction and by restricting his colors to the blue-green side of the color scale. He creates the excitement of a race without being literal, and the near-monotone coloring helps unify the imagery. These are excellent paintings, as is another one called "Deckside #2," mentioned before, which has more color contrast, but the contrasting hues are confined within three large shapes. This may be the best of his paintings.

Among Clerc's best are "Pink Chair," a Matisse-like painting of two people in a pink chair, "Evening Swim," which employs a dramatic contrast between a big black shape and the blue of a swimming pool, and "Table With Centerpiece," a peach-colored table with a pink-on-pink color scheme and a watermelon slice. His color choices, composition and use of subtle surface markings in these paintings are masterful.

[Tacoma Community College, Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Aug. 16, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma.]

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