Friday, April 26, 2013

What is Truth?

New works by Peter Sheesley at Fulcrum
The Weekly Volcano, april 25, 2013 

Bread of Life by Peter Sheesley
Peter Sheesley is a talented and prolific painter. His previous show at Fulcrum, paintings from photos taken in Chicago’s Museum of Science & Industry, was excellent. But his latest show fails on many levels.

The show is called ¿What is Truth? And it consists of 10 paintings, each depicting a naked person with background images that have no apparent relationship to the figures. Some of the backgrounds are landscapes and some are abstract. The images represent Biblical passages, specifically things that Jesus said or that were said about him.

In a wall statement he states that his previous work was “distant and impersonal” and he wanted to get away from that. It didn’t work. These paintings are just as distant and impersonal. They seem cold and lifeless, in contrived poses and painted with overly careful paint strokes that soak into the canvas. And they have no relationship with the Biblical passages that I can discern. Next to each painting is wall test quoting the passage it is based on; without these texts the pictures would make no sense whatsoever.

Elsewhere in his rather lengthy wall text he explains the difference between nude and naked — nude being idealized or posed and rendered with the intention of being pretty, and naked being more naturalistic or realistic, meaning possibly being ugly or at least less than ideal in beauty. In this respect he is more successful. These are portraits of people who could be your neighbor or the checker at your grocery store. Some are overweight, at least one has a head that is too large for her body.

“Count the Cost” pictures a woman with sagging breasts and a fat belly standing on a fog enshrouded street in front of a typical suburban house. It is loaded with symbols, none of which I would have recognized if they hadn’t been spelled out in the wall text.

“It is Better for You” at 30” x 44” is the largest painting in the show and the most dramatic. It pictures a handsome and muscular man lying on the ground with a knife in one hand and the other hand cut off and bleeding on the ground.

“Bread of Life” at 14” x 17” is the smallest and, I think, the best in the show. It is a picture of a naked man on hands and knees with a pink triangular shape coming from the top of the canvas to the bottom so that his body straddles it. It thought it was the center line of a highway drawn in perspective, but the artist describes it as a rip.

The painting in which the figure and background are most successfully integrated is “The Opressed Go Free,” which pictures an attractive woman with a nice figure (ironically the most idealized in a show that strives for realistic nakedness as opposed to idealized nudity) in front of a strange gabled house. Her pose resonates with the shape of the house, and her legs vanish into the fog in a nice way.

In the back gallery there are about 40 small drawings and paintings done in figure drawing sessions as Centralia Community College and plein air landscape paintings. In many ways these are much better than the works in the main show because they’re less studied and more expressive.

[Fulcrum Gallery, What is Truth? noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Fridays and by appointment, through June 14, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]
 March 12th - April 19th

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Alden Mason In Memorium

"John's Wrecking Yard," mixed media on paper
Alden Mason was a Seattle and Pacific Northwest icon. He died Feb. 6, 2013, but his art lives on.

Since I came here from another party of the country and was not steeped in our regional art traditions and community, I was not familiar with Mason's art until I happened to see a few of his paintings in the Foster/White Gallery in about 2002, which was when they first started representing him. I was blown away by his expressive and deeply encrusted canvases and his quirky figures. His paintings seemed to encapsulate and make his own elements of works by many another artist from de Kooning and Pollock to Picasso and Miro. To my eyes there was a bit of the funky traditions of the Hairy Who group as well.

Mason never had a museum retrospective in his lifetime, but now he's getting it. The show is In Memoriam 1919-2013, and it can be seen at The Wright Exhibition Space from April 25 to June 30. It is curated by Phen Huang from the Foster/White Gallery and Greg Kucera of the Greg Kucera Gallery.

See more of Alden Mason's work.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Evergreen State College: "Finish" in the work of art

Visual Arts faculty and staff show their latest

The Weekly Volcano, April 18, 2013

Lisa Sweet - untitled polychrome wood sculpture
Susan Aurand - "Rain House" oil on panel and mixed media assemblage

Works in theme shows often tend to be arbitrary, but when The Evergreen State College puts up a theme show they do it right. They thoroughly, intellectually and aesthetically investigate the theme. The theme of TESC's latest show, featuring works by visual arts faculty and staff, is the idea of finish - when is a work of art finished or to what degree should a work be finished. Another implication is the surface quality or "finish" of a work of art.

Participants were asked to submit artworks and statements on the theme, making their contributions aesthetic, narrative and contemplative. It is an excellent show featuring accomplished and intelligent works. I wish I could acknowledge every piece, but I am limited in space.

Lisa Sweet has long been one of my favorites among TESC art faculty. She paints intelligent, surrealistic and skillful images in a style reminiscent of Northern Renaissance art. In this show she has two small and beautifully painted polychrome wooden sculptures. The most intriguing is that of a headless woman wearing a sumptuous green dress. She is holding her decapitated head in her hands. The surface is smooth and highly polished.

Aisha Harris, a sculptor whom I recently discovered, has done some amazing larger-than-life figures in clay. Her works often investigate ideas of scale. A piece in this show called "All the Tests Didn't Prepare Me for This" is a rather small sculpture depicting a man standing in a doorway carved out of the side of a mountain or cliff. It displays how tiny humankind is in relation to the world we live in. In terms of finish, it mimics raw, unfired clay while being, in fact, glazed and painted. Another piece of hers is a statue of a naked woman standing up in a boat carrying a huge boat-shaped hunk of salt on her shoulders. The salt is real; the figure and boat are clay.

Shaw Osha's "Orb Artifacts" investigates, as many works in this show do, the surface quality or "finish" of a work of art. Eighteen pieces of paper are airbrushed in soft tones of blue, gray and violet and pinned to the wall in square patterns with negative spaces (the "unfinished" parts) where the white wall becomes a part of the pattern. This is a visually strong work.

I particularly like Bob Leverich's "End of the Road," a sculpture on a stand that is a few inches high and a few feet long and consists of three long undulating forms like hills in black gabbro, a basalt-like rock. Each form has sections that are highly polished and look like a winding road that goes from one line of hills to another, tying the parts together in an almost dizzying manner.

Susan Aurand's "Rain House" is typical of work she has recently shown at Childhood's End. It is a little cutaway of a house with a peaked roof that hangs on the wall. The rooms are panels exquisitely painted with oils in brilliant colors, Near the top is a shelf filled with odd little objects such as tiny bottles filled with soil of various colors. Like a combination of a surrealist and realistic landscape painting and a Joseph Cornell assemblage, it is strangely beautiful.

Joe Tougas' "Jacinta Meets Bodhidharma," wood, sand, stone and gold leaf, is a contemplative piece that looks like a small Japanese garden. Seven blades of grass in shimmering gold leaf stand in a circular formation in a bed of sand, which has been molded into radiating patterns. Also in the sand stands a monolithic (relative to scale) rock. It is a meditative piece that represents "finish" to the highest degree.

Among my favorite pieces are two small sculptures by Bruce Thompson with bloated organic shapes painted in mottled glazes of pink, green, tan and gray.

Also showing are works by Judith Baumann, Evan Blackwell, Steve Davis, Lucia Harrison, Don Jensen, Jean Mandeberg, Michelle Pope, Gail Tremblay, and Bob Woods.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Psychedelic '60s poster art sale

Read about the upcoming psychedelic poster art sale in the Volcano blog Spew.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

TAO’s two takes on Reservoir Dogs

The men. Photo courtesy Andy Kuna
Theater Artists Olympia has taken on some tough challenges. This one has paid off in great performances, excited audiences, and lots of blood and gore. It is also — at least in the early scenes — a laugh riot. 

The play is based on the Quentin Tarantino movie and directed by Pug Bujeaud, and they are doing two versions: one with an all-male cast and one with an all-female cast. I should not have to warn those who are familiar with Tarantino’s work that it is filled with profane language, including sexist and homophobic remarks and the most offensive of racial slurs. And there is more graphic violence in this play than in any play I’ve seen, with the possible exception of TAO’s Titus Andronicus, which was also directed by Bujeaud. 

The women. Photo courtesy Andy Kuna
There is sometimes a fine line between art and pornography, and Reservoir Dogs is art. It is outstanding art.

On a very limited budget and in a tiny performance space, this cast and crew have created riveting theater. The set designed by Marko Bujeaud and Michael Christopher (who plays Blonde in the male cast) consists of a table top, some chairs and some moveable boxes with everything painted a dull battleship gray. This stark set enhances the gritty action, as does the videography by Two Bards Productions and the great ’70s music. The shatteringly climactic scene is choreographed to “Stuck in the Middle With You,” choreography by Christian Doyle.

There is no way I can single out every actor whose performance deserves recognition, because they all do. I will mention a few whose acting is extraordinary.

In the female cast Jennifer Rifenbery is cold as ice as Blonde. Her acting is the epitome of self-contained energy. Whereas Rifenbery’s Blonde comes across as calculating and evil, Heather Christopher’s Pink is a wisecracking, smartass, streetwise broad who doesn’t put up with anything, doesn’t trust anyone, and flies off the handle at the slightest provocation. Christopher’s acting is a joy to watch.

Heather Cantrell as Nice Guy Eddie and Dana Galagan as Jo are both explosive, and Kate Ayers plays White as a pent-up bundle of nerves. 

This whole female cast is deserving of an award for ensemble work. So is the male cast.
The differences between the all-female and all-male casts are subtle but fascinating to observe. 

Like Rifenbery in the female cast, Michael Christopher plays Blonde as a cool customer, but his performance is more humorous. Both are chilling in meting out calm and measured mayhem, but Christopher does it with maniacal glee. Similarly, Christian Doyle and Cheyanne Logan are each convincing as the gut-shot Orange and turn in powerful performances in the climactic scenes, but in the earlier scenes Doyle plays it with sly humor and Logan is more naturalistic. 

Brian Jansen’s Pink makes Heather Christopher’s Pink look even more manic by comparison; Jansen’s Pink is more subtle but equally funny. Mentioning these differences in approach is not in any way to imply that one is better than the other. They are all excellent, and each brings something unique to the stage.

Other outstanding performances by the men were those of, Tim Shute as Joe, and Tim Samland as Holdaway.

Doing both a male and a female version was Bujeaud’s idea, and it was brilliant. Unless you are easily offended by excessive cursing and violence you really should get yourself down to The Midnight Sun and see this play. If possible, take in both. There are discounts for the double feature, the "Gender-Blender Special."

Check out the video “Get a Sneak Peek at the cast” by stage manager, Vanessa Postil.

Reservoir Dogs Men:
April 19,21,25,27 - 7:30 pm
April 20,26 - 10:00 pm

Reservoir Dogs Women:
April 18,20,26 - 7:30 pm
April 19,27- 10:00 pm
April 21,28 - 2:30 pm

The Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 N. Columbia Street in downtown Olympia.
Tickets: $12.00 available at the door or online at

Friday, April 12, 2013

Legally Blonde at TMP

The News Tribune, April 12, 20-13

Leah Wickstrom is Elle Woods in "Legally Blonde" at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. Photo by Kat Dollarhide.
“Legally Blonde” the musical at Tacoma Musical Playhouse is a high-energy song and dance fest replete with silly jokes from sorority girls and scheming law students. Based on the popular film starring Reese Witherspoon, it’s the story of Elle Woods (Leah Wickstrom), the epitome of a ditzy blonde who goes to Harvard Law in order to recapture the love of the boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Steve Barnett), who dumped her. Elle turns out to be a much shrewder lawyer than anyone expects. In the early scenes it seems that everyone is either superficial or nasty, but soon we see that it’s all being played tongue-in-cheek and the audience is let in on the joke. In real life, for instance, Elle would never have gotten into Harvard, or if she had gotten in it would have been because her daddy paid somebody off, not because of her cleverness. 

Wickstrom has the face and the figure and, of course, the blonde locks. In fact, she looks a lot like Reese Witherspoon. So perfectly does she fit the part physically that it would be easy to assume she was cast for her looks. But she also has the voice and rhythm, the moxie and the acting skills to captivate the audience. 

Barnett too could have been cast for his looks, but proves to be a skilled actor. He is tall and handsome, and he does a stellar job of bringing his character to life. He plays Warner as almost despicable, haughty and self-absorbed; yet underneath that slick exterior is likeable young man.

Leah Wickstrom and Bruce Haasl; F. James Raasch and Brittany Henderson in background. Photo by Kat Dollarhide.
The other lead character is Emmett Forrest (Bruce Haasl), the good guy you can’t help but cheer for. Haasl is a newcomer to TMP, but for years he’s been a mainstay at Olympia’s Capital Playhouse, where he has wowed audiences with knockout performances in “The Buddy Holly Story,” “Rent,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and many more. He has an amazing voice, and my only regret is that he doesn’t get to solo enough in this role.

Also loveable is Lisa Wright Thiroux as Paulette Buonofuonte the hairdresser. She plays this streetwise city gal with gusto. Her lead on the song “Ireland” is one of the highlights of the first act.

Deserving of special recognition are Carlos Barajas and Arthur Cuadros for their raucous dance number on the entertaining song “Gay or European?” These guys brought the audience to their feet.

Jeff Stvrtecky’s band is outstanding, but they were too loud opening night and overpowered the singing in some places. There were also a lot of audio problems including crackling speakers and problems with sound balance that hopefully have been worked out for subsequent shows.

Jon Douglas Rake’s choreography is terrific and there is some great dancing from the ensemble and notably from Wickstrom, whose moves are strong, rhythmical and snappy.

Will Abrahamse’s set is beautiful and functional. It easily changes from a sorority house to the Harvard Law School, and the costumes are colorful and inventive. Elle’s outfits range from the sublime to the ridiculous, her drum majorette outfit is magnificent, and she wears enough hot pink for an entire Delta Nu sisterhood.
Sellout audiences are expected throughout the run, so get your tickets early.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through April 28
WHERE: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $20-$29
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Stephanie Stebich’s lecture on Eric Carle’s”ArtArt”

by Alec Clayton
for the Weekly Volcano's blog Spew
April 8, 2013

Small Raised Circles, © 2011 by Eric Carle. Photograph, 8 x 10 inches. Collection of Eric and Barbara Carle, courtesy of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, Massachusetts. This exhibition was organized by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA.

Large Circles, © 2007 by Eric Carle. Photograph, 8 x 10 inches. Collection of Eric and Barbara Carle, courtesy of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, Massachusetts. This exhibition was organized by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA.
Note: this was published the day before the lecture but is still pertinent as long as the show is up.

Tacoma Art Museum Director Stephanie Stebich will lecture on the personal and private art of children’s book artist Eric Carle Wednesday, April 10 at 10:30 a.m. The lecture is free with museum admission, and it should be as special as is the exhibition because she is a personal friend of the artist and knows him well.

I was fortunate enough to attend a press preview of the exhibition at which Stebich toured the show with us and talked about Carle’s art. My review will appear in this week’s Volcano. But there’s much more to the show than I can say in one review, so I’ll try to cover a little more here.

Carle is famous for his colorful book art. His most famous book here in the United States is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but Stebich says Brown Bear — Brown Bear, What Do You See? is more popular in Europe. What very few people know is that throughout his entire life he has made art that was never intended for public display, which he calls his “ArtArt.” It is this private and personal work that makes up the bulk of the exhibit. It is mostly abstract paintings and collages using acrylic paint and colorful tissue paper.

Among the more interesting things to be seen is his “Name” art. When he writes to close friends he often likes to embellish his notes with original art, and often the way he does that is to write their names in colorful collage art. There are quite a few of these in the show and they strike a balance visually between his purely abstract work and his delightful children’s book illustrations.

In 2001 he designed costumes and set designs for The Springfield Symphony’s performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” You can see some of the actual costumes in this show along with sketches for his designs. In the process of working on these he discovered a material called Tyvek, and he began making mural size paintings on Tyvek using a broom and large paint brushes. Two of these murals are on display at TAM, one of which he created especially for this show.

Early in his career Carle experimented with combining linocuts and photography. “Combining these two elements was an interesting graphic exercise for me,” he says.
This earlier experimentation with photography led to more recent photographic work in which he zooms in on textures and details on streets.

There are also some colorful little photographs that remind me a lot of Larry Poons’ optical paintings of circles and ellipses from the 1960s. (Does anybody remember Poons? He’s a fascinating painter whose work deserves more attention than it gets. But that’s another story.)

For a radical departure from his brightly colored abstract works there are a lot of linoleum block prints of animals and tea pots and a Conestoga wagon. These prints are dark and simple and have an early Americana look. They were all done in 1965 and are perhaps the most distinctive pieces among a number that illustrate Carle’s wide range of style, media and ideas.

The works I have mentioned here are but a few of the works to be seen in this wonderful show that spans two of the museum’s large galleries. 

My review of the Eric Carle exhibition will be published in the Weekly Volcano on Thursday, April 11.