Saturday, February 16, 2013

Slightly Surreal

Abstract - Representational Continuum at Evergreen

The Weekly  Volcano, Feb. 14, 2013

Dinosaur, Highway 80, Vernal, Utah, photograph by Steve Fitch
There is an excellent art exhibit in the gallery at The Evergreen State College. It is called An Abstract - Representational Continuum and it juxtaposes abstract art with slightly surrealistic photographs culled from the college’s art collection. Included are works by well-known West Coast artists and a few nationally-recognized artists. So many artists are included whose work should be seen that I could just list their names and say go see it and call that a review. For instance: Guy Anderson, a leading figure of the so-called Northwest Mystics; Diane Arbus, who startled America with her photos of circus freaks and denizens of the demi-monde; Judy Dater; Alden Mason; Royal Nebeker; Edward Weston, acknowledge master of modern photography; and William Wiley, the granddaddy of Funk… Get the picture?

Mason, who died last week at the age of 90, has become an icon of Pacific Northwest Art. His works are in the collections of most West Coast museums, including Seattle Art Museum and Tacoma Art Museum, and he is particularly well known for his mural in the Convention Center is Seattle. Included in this show is a work in oil pastel on paper called “Peachy Keen” that is well representative of his style, although a little more abstract than most of his works. 

Anderson, is represented with a small untitled woodcut and mixed-media piece that pictures an isolated figure styled like a coastal Indian carving. It’s a strong image with nice subtle texture.
Steve Fitch’s “Dinosaur, Highway 80, Vernal, Utah” is a photograph taken at night of one of those strange highway oddities everyone photographs, this particular roadside attraction is a large dinosaur standing across the road from a motel. It’s just a photograph, but wow, you’ve got to see it.

I’ve always loved Wiley’s art. His piece in this show is a takeoff on ’60s underground comic artist Robert Crumb’s famous character “Mr. Natural.” Wiley’s character is called “Mr. Unnatural.” It is funny and beautifully drawn with some amazingly energetic mark-making.
There are a couple of really nice drawings by Jay Steensma and Joseph Goldberg that I reviewed years ago in another show at TESC and which definitely warrant a second look. The same is true of two photographs by Arbus: “Boy with Hand Grenade in Central Park” and “Albino Sword Swallower at Carnival.”

There are a couple of very bizarre surrealistic photographs by Jerry Uelsmann, and artist I probably should be familiar with but am not (is bizarre-surrealistic redundant?). These photos walk a tightrope between naturalistic/realistic and fantasy.

There are some beautiful nude figures, one by Norman Lundin called “I Am Beautiful-1” and one by the great Edward Weston with darkened contours on a washed-out figure. There are also not just one but two signs on the wall warning that the show contains some images of nudes. Really? In an art gallery in 2013 they feel the need to post such a warning?

I love the three little porcelain sculptures by Ed Blackburn.

Perhaps my favorite piece in the show is a black and white photograph by Paul Caponigro called “Reflected Stream.” At first glance it is a typical shot of a pretty little stream, but upon closer examination there is something magical about it. The stream runs forward until it is almost stopped by trees and rocks that jut out from each bank and then suddenly it is not a running stream but a deep, still pond with trees reflected in the moonlight. It is dreamy and not quit real looking. Perhaps more than any other piece in the show it epitomizes the continuum between the abstract and the representational.

[The Evergreen State College, An Abstract - Representational Continuum, Monday-Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through March 13, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Library 1st floor, Olympia]

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