Saturday, October 20, 2012

Drawn to Abstraction

Abstract art exhibition at South Puget Sound Community College
reviewed by Alec Clayton
for the Weekly Volcano

In my lifetime abstract painting has gone from something audacious, controversial and challenging to safely banal wall fodder suitable for the halls and lobbies of corporate headquarters, banks and hospitals. Not al abstraction but far too much.

Drawn to Abstraction, the current exhibition at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery at South Puget Sound Community College, features the works of a quartet of abstract artists: Laura Ahola-Young, Lois Beck, Becky Knold, and Mia Schulte. All four are competent artists, and there’s not a bad painting in the show. But of the four only one, Becky Knold, shows hints of the kind of audacity and guts that made American abstract artists the most respected artists in the world half a century ago.

Knold paints organic shapes in primarily black and gray on mostly white backgrounds with just a few hints of color here and there. She displays a particular penchant for circular shapes, and her painting style is in the vein of Kline and Motherwell and Gottlieb. She’s all about big, sweeping gestures which are, unfortunately, consigned to small formats — these paintings are large in concept but small in scale. Only one of her pictures, “Coalescence,” is large enough for her gestures.

There’s a nice sweep of burnt sienna across the top of “Chaos 2” and a few touches of dull yellow and green in others, but for the most part her works are without color.

“Dispersion” gets away from the circular forms with large slashes of paint coming from all directions and converging toward the center of the canvas and across the top a few slashes of gold. This is a highly energetic and agitated painting. Also very agitated is the layered surface of “Dangerous Summit,” a white-on-white painting with delicate transparencies balanced off against heavy impasto and rough charcoal and graphite marks reminiscent of Cy Twombly.

Mia Schulte is showing a group of small ink and pastels that are nature-based abstractions with lovely colors and rich surfaces. The images are evocative of trees and mountains. There’s one, “Lost in Blue,” that looks like an underwater scene of the interior of an ice cave. Another, “Through the Windshield,” looks like a group of ominous, shadowy figures in a rainstorm as seen from inside a car. “Turning the Corner” has a curving sweep of a road traversing hills complete with the broken center line. Schulte’s paintings are quite attractive, but I think too delicate and tenuous. Like some of Knold’s smaller works, they cry out to be bigger in scale.

Laura Ahola-Young is showing a series of five works in watercolor and pencil with hundreds of circular, cell- or amoeba-like forms in deep space. There’s a nice sparkle to them. In a wall statement she speaks of reworking the surface with glazes, scraping and mark-making, which is surprising because they look very careful and planned. Too precise.

Lois Beck’s monoprints, some combined with collage, are inconsistent. A few are very nice but others look rather academic and bland.  The nicest are “Truffles” and “On the Half Shell.” “Truffles” has a series of about a dozen black blobs floating on a reddish-brown field. It’s a pretty strong painting. “Half Shell” is a variation on the same image but with the “oysters” embedded and almost invisible in the field of red. This is a praiseworthy painting.

A special opening reception will take place on Friday, Oct. 19 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

[South Puget Sound Community College, Drawn to Abstraction, through Nov. 29, Monday-Thursday, noon-4 p.m., and by appointment, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527 or email]


becky knold said...

Glad you were able to see this show, Alec. And thank you very much for your thoughtful review. The South Sound area is so fortunate, isn't it, to have the wonderful space of the Gallery @ SPSCC, dedicated to the exhibition of new artwork. Thanks, SPSCC!!

becky knold said...

Glad you were able to see this show, Alec. It has been a good, and learning experience for me. And thanks so much for the thoughtful review. I'm feeling particularly grateful that the South Sound has such a fine public space dedicated to the exhibition of new art. The Art Gallery at South Puget Sound Community College is a treasure!