Friday, January 31, 2014

Left to the Elements

The Weekly Volcano, Jan. 30, 2014

Painting by Leah Fitts
New work by Audrey Clemo, Leah Fitts & Juliette Ricci at the Tacoma Public Library
The latest show at Tacoma Public Library’s Handorth Gallery features paintings, photography and mixed-media works by three artists, all of which investigate the effects of time as weather wears away urban and industrial buildings and machinery. What strikes me about these works is that they all seem to be crying out to be made larger. Conceptually they are about time; aesthetically they are about color, and about subtle changes and dramatic contrasts of form and texture — most assuredly texture. 

Mixed media by Juliette Ricci
Photo by Audrey Clemo
The strongest works are Fitts’ paintings, abstracts drawn from landscape or, depending on individual interpretation, the weathered sides of buildings, or like brilliant colors projected onto cascading sheets of water. The forms are large in concept and look like paint has been applied and then dragged downward across the canvas. Predominant colors are red, blue, green and a rich burnt sienna with speckles of splattered dark brown or black. They have rough surface appearance that is slick and shiny and remind me a lot of some of Gerhardt Richter’s abstract paintings as well as Clyfford Stills’ jagged abstractions. If they were made large they would be overwhelming in their power to draw the viewer in; as they are, they are engaging paintings that epitomize the look of aged billboards or the sides of buildings without being literal.

Like Fitts’ paintings, Clemo’s photographs call out to be made larger, the difference being that they do not quite work at this smaller scale. They are close-ups of parts of buildings or machinery. Lots of chains. They are viewed from so close to the surface that they almost become abstract treatments of surface. The textures and colors of rust and corrosion are beautiful. If only Clemo had moved the camera in even closer so the viewer could not recognize the forms but were left with nothing but texture and color. They just barely miss that mark.
Interestingly, in a wall statement Clemo writes of them as paintings, but they are photographs. One of the more interesting ones to me is a photo of a part of some metal form that looks like a woman’s leg. I wish there was more of that kind of ambiguity.

Finally we come to Ricci’s photo-collages with drawing and writing. They are of old buildings and look like old found photographs. I could not tell if they were, in fact, found photos from a bygone era or modern photos scratched and worn away to look old. Like the others works in the show, I think these would be better if they were larger; however, they do not call out for larger scale as much as Clemo and Fetts’ works because there is a scrapbook quality to these pictures that is endearing. 

Ricci’s pictures are combined with reworked textures and drawings and writing. The writing is narrative in nature and poetic and creates a sense of longing to know more.

[Handforth Gallery at Tacoma Public Library, Left to the Elements, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays-Saturday, through Feb. 28, Tacoma Ave. S, Tacoma]

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