Thursday, February 27, 2014

Becky Knold at Salon Refu

The Weekly Volcano, Feb. 27, 2014

Three years ago I wrote that painter Becky Knold was an up-and-coming late bloomer and galleries should take a look at her. Since then her work has become ubiquitous. Galleries took a look, and they liked what they saw. This week she had openings at two different galleries on successive nights and works in a total of four shows this month, including the Arts Olympia show, something in the Seattle Home Show and Museum Contempo in
Shelton, and best of all a one-person show at Olympia’s Salon Refu. She’s the darling of Olympia’s art community.

Knold’s paintings are hard to describe. They’re nothing and they’re everything. They’re abstract, minimalist, colorful but in a subdued way. They’re atmospheric color-field paintings with barely discernable forms if any, and no subject matter whatsoever; yet they are clearly landscapes and paintings of buildings. They are all about textures on monochromatic surfaces, but there is no tactile texture at all — meaning there is no heavy build-up of paint on the surface, no gouging or scraping, even though they look like they contain all of that. Or they look like they have been spray painted or dipped in liquid paint of closely related hues and allowed to dry. In some of them there are occasional swipes of paint that look to have been done with a flat, hard instrument with precise and hard edges where the stroke ends. Such strokes provide the closest thing to solid form in some of her paintings.

If you think paintings have to be about something other than the application of paint on a flat surface, the title of this show — Atmosphere, Land and Water — may provide a hint as to what they are all about. While not exactly
Landscape, Green-Gold
depicting water and air and land, she certainly evokes the feeling of the outdoors, of clouds, of mist, of rushing or gently flowing water.

“Splash” looks like glaciers crumbling into water. This is one of my favorite pieces in the show. It is a powerfully moving piece with strong contrasts of icy blue and dull white and gray. There is more discernable form in this one than in most of her more atmospheric works, and there are passages of paint build-up and some edges that belie my earlier remarks about texture.

“Lacunae” is like swirling galaxies — one huge, circular swipe of whatever she applied the paint with (a broad brush or something flat) contrasted with speckles of gold and nuanced color changes from midnight blue to golden brown. It does, however, seem a little contrived and hokey compared to some of her other paintings.

“Celadon” looks like something ancient trapped in ice, and in “Confluence” we see melting polar ice.

“Landscape, Green-Gold” is another outstanding work that breaks the mold — more formal structure in this one, which I’d like to see more of in her paintings. At the top there are distinct bands of green-gold and charcoal-black. Clearly defined brushstrokes in each band. The bottom gold band looks like a piece of wood painted and glued to the surface, and below that is an atmospheric area of light gray that looks like mist, with no sign whatsoever of a brush stroke. The startling contrasts and subtle changes of color and form in this painting are amazing. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that she has reached some kind of apotheosis with this one.

There are worlds and worlds to be seen in these paintings.


Salon Refu, Atmosphere, Land and Water, Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. through March 16, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia.

All photos courtesy of the artist.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Selected Druckworks

images from Combo Meals, 2008

cover of Damaged Spring, 2003 - photos courtesy TESC 

Books and Projects by Johanna Drucker
The Weekly Volcano, Feb. 20, 2014
Johanna Drucker is known worldwide for her book art combining poetry, prose, visual art and innovative use of typography. The exhibition Selected Druckworks: Books and Projects by Johanna Drucker at The Evergreen State College is a smaller version of Drucker’s 40-year retrospective exhibition, Druckworks, which is currently touring the country. Included in the show are examples of Drucker’s book art in cases and a number of books viewers can hold in their hands and read, and original drawings and prints from her many book art projects.

This is a fascinating exhibition, but not one that can be easily comprehended; a thorough appreciation takes considerable effort on the part of the viewer. I recommend planning on at least two hours in the gallery.

Much of Drucker’s art takes the form of concrete poetry that can be seen as lyrical and, in some instances, darkly surrealistic. Many of the pieces interweave poetry with visual art, humor and hints of stories that cannot be fully or easily understood without some imagination on the part of the viewer.
As a typical example, the piece called “The History of The/My World” begins with “In the beginning was the world, nursed on the warm breast of chaos fast following a night of hard publicity…”
As another example, “Night Crawlies on the Web” is a tiny book, approximately four-by-five inches, which visitors can pick up and browse through. It is a nightmarish story with surrealistic illustrations including drawings of strange humans and monsters.
The proofs of linoleum cuts and drawings from “Testament of Women” are beautiful. The drawings of women are lyrical with free-flowing lines. The linoleum cuts are heavily contrasting images in black and white. Most of the female figures are emaciated. There is one that is like Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein if she had been on a crash diet.
This show is definitely worth a drive out to the Evergreen campus.

[The Evergreen State College Gallery, open Mon.-Fr., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed for half-hour lunch break starting around 1 p.m., through Feb. 28, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Library 1st floor, Olympia]

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Educating Rita at Olympia Little Theatre

The News Tribune, Feb. 14, 2014

John Pratt as Frank and Kaaren Spanski-Driffin as Rita
“Educating Rita” at Olympia Little Theatre is a witty look at a clash of culture full of smart dialogue, with a smattering of literary criticism thrown in to sweeten the pot. It’s also a tour de force for the two-person cast. The memorization of their lines is by itself a Herculean feat, plus they have to do it in dialect and both characters undergo an evolution of personality involving both nuanced and overblown acting – particularly on the part of Rita (Kaaren Spanski-Driffin).

The cast is comprised of Spanski-Driffin and John Pratt as Frank. Pratt is a seasoned veteran who has been acting on stages throughout Southwest Washington since 1993. His stage presence is confident and convincing. Audiences should have no trouble seeing him as a washed-up, bitter professor of English Literature whose only friends are the bottles of booze he hides behind books in his study.

Spanski-Driffin is a newcomer to Olympia Little Theatre who is surely destined to join the ranks of the best actors in the South Sound region. She is a comic delight as the outspoken and trashy Rita.

Rita is a hairdresser who wants to go back to college to better herself. She goes to Frank for once-a-week tutoring in English Literature. Frank, a poet with low self-esteem and an even lower opinion of his students is particular put off by Rita for her ignorance and lack of social graces. Over the course of the tutoring Rita becomes a more self-confident and graceful woman, but more importantly, she changes and humanizes Frank. It becomes a question of who is educating whom.

The same team of actors and director Norma Rogers produced this play at the Evergreen Playhouse in Centralia in 2012, which surely helped them fine tune their performance, and it shows.
Outstanding work is also turned in by set designer Matthew Moeller, costumers Allison 
Gerst and Barbara Matthews; and Rick Pearlstein, who did everything from stage managing to lighting and sound design and editing. 

I like Moeller’s set for his color choices and attention to detail – the professorial clutter, the crooked painting on the wall, the mis-matched bookshelves, and the ivy growing outside Frank’s window are all great touches.
The costumes enhance Frank and Rita’s character. They change costumes for each scene. I didn’t count, but there must be well over 20 costume changes, and the look of Rita’s clothing evolves as her personality changes.

This play is two-and-one-half hours long including a 15-minute intermission. Act 1 did drag a little toward the end, but very little.

For an enchanting evening’s entertainment I highly recommend “Educating Rita.”

WHAT: Educating Rita
WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 23
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$14, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or INFORMATION: 360-786-9484,

Friday, February 14, 2014

Agnes Martin’s Artistic Evolution

Photo: Agnes Martin, "Beach," watercolor and ink on paper. Private collection, Denver, Co., ©Agnes Martin/Artists Rights Society, New York.
The Weekly Volcano, Feb. 13,2014

I am about to say something that many lovers of modern art will consider downright sacrilegious. Here it is: I do not care for Agnes Martin’s paintings. Never have. To me they are boring, and the new show at Tacoma Art Museum has done nothing to change my mind. We have enough gray in the Pacific Northwest already.

That’s a statement of personal taste, not a reasoned critique; nevertheless, I can hear regular readers of this column readying their torches and pitch forks.

I know that Martin is a major figure in late 20th century art, I can appreciate her accomplishments, but her paintings do nothing for me.

Known for her sparse, reductive, grid paintings in subtle grays and white, Martin’s paintings are subtly and seductively expressive, combining elements of abstract expressionism, color field painting and hard-edge abstraction into a personal vision. Here’s a quote from a show announcement (author unattributed): “…her spare, reductive works in vaporous hues distinguish her as one of the key innovators in American abstraction.”

Before arriving at her signature style, Martin tried out a lot of other approaches to art from landscapes and figures to more organic abstract paintings. Her early works are little known. She, herself, did not like them and tried to destroy much of her work from her student days; yet many of her early works survive and can be seen in this exhibition. Many of these early paintings show influences from Joan Mirį½¹ and Arshile Gorky. There’s a watercolor landscape from 1946 that looks like a Marsden Hartley.

Going from these early works to her later grid paintings, beginning in the early 1960s, was a major breakthrough, which established her as her own person with a unique vision.

This show includes a lot of the seldom-seen paintings from the 1940s and ’50s, and a few of the later grid paintings. “This exhibition provides a more complete story of Agnes Martin as an artist,” said Margaret Bullock, Curator of Collections and Special Exhibitions. “These rare early works are insights into her mind at work and reveal the dramatic evolution of this celebrated artist.”

“Agnes Martin: The New York-Taos Connection,” Wednesdays–Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 5–8 p.m. through April 20, Tacoma Art Museum, adult $10, student/military/senior (65+) $8, family $25 (2 adults and up to 4 children under 18), 5 and younger free, Third Thursdays free from 5-8 pm., 253.272.4258,]

Related programs and events:

Color Theory with Elise Richman
Saturday, March 8, 2 pm
Learn color theory from Elise Richman, Associate Professor of Art at University of Puget Sound, as you create your own artwork and explore the fundamentals of color, including hue, saturation, value, shadows, highlights, and color mixing. Cost: $35 ($25 for members) Teachers can earn three clock hours.

Is Less More? with Kolya Rice
Saturday, March 22, 2 pm
Learn about the controversial minimalist art movement that arose in the 1960s and how it continues to influence artists today. Cost: $15 ($10 for members, $5 for students)

The exhibition catalogue, Agnes Martin: Before the Grid, will be available in the Museum Store for $29.95. The catalogue features surviving paintings and drawings by Martin representing her early work from the 1940s to the emergence of the grid painting format after 1960. The first critical approach to Agnes Martin focusing on her formative years as a painter, Before the Grid offers readers the opportunity to acquire a more informed response and appreciation of one of the major American artists of the 20th century.