Friday, May 30, 2014

Ink This at TAM

The Weekly Volcano, May 29, 2014

Janet Marcavage, Heap, 2013. Screenprint on rag paper, 28 x 22 ¼ inches. Collection of the artist.

Dionne Haroutunian, Connection from the Outside My Helmet series, 2011. Etching, archival digital print, 22 x 30 inches. Collection of the artist.
Prints are not what they used to be. Not that artists do not still make etchings, lithographs and silkscreen prints, but what they do with these and other print media — often in inventive and never-before-thought-of combinations and employing new digital technologies — can be like nothing ever before seen.

Frank Janzen makes prints using smoke, Dionne Haroutounian combines print media and collage is ways that are almost indefinable, and Janet Marcavage creates sparkling optical prints using traditional media. These are but a few of the new and exciting works by Northwest printmakers to be seen in the new exhibition “Ink This!” at Tacoma Art Museum.

This survey of Northwest printmakers opening June 7 includes approximately 85 works of art by more than 70 talented Northwest print artists. Included are works by Rick Bartow, Ben Beres, Amanda Knowles, Susan Lowdermilk, Rae Mahaffey, Hibiki Miyazaki, Tyna Ontko, Barbara Robertson, Charles Spitzack, Jessica Spring, Christy Wyckoff, plus Janzen, Haroutounian, Marcavage and many more.

Let’s look at just one of these as an example. Marcavage, who teaches art at University of Puget Sound, puts together bands of color that seem to fold and pulse and optically rise off the wall. “My hand-pulled screenprints on paper reference the topography of lines following the form of fabric. In this work I draw relationships between the process of weaving and the underlying construction of line-mapped imagery,” she states on her website at

Other works in the exhibition showcase a wide variety of printmaking techniques, from traditional print media to installation and digital media. It includes letterpress artists and artists who create handmade books that are in essence small sculptures. A museum spokesperson says there is a surprising variety of creative technique and tools that question the definition of print in contemporary art practice, and how that definition is challenged as artists push the boundaries of the medium.

Throughout the 20th century and continuing into the 21st, print art has been a strong part of the Northwest art scene. The museum states that “print arts are as indicative of the Pacific Northwest’s artistic identity as salmon and microbrew are identified with regional food culture.”

"The contemporary print arts community in the Northwest is both lively and varied and incredibly supportive of individual expression,” says curator Margaret Bullock, sharing her enthusiasm about the show. “While working on this exhibition I got to see etchings that could have been made centuries ago alongside works that combine printmaking with new technology and everything in between. I also got to meet a group of artists who were as excited about the work of other printmakers as they were their own, even if they were worlds apart in their interests and aesthetics. I hope that ‘Ink This!’ will surprise, excite, and inspire while honoring the creativity and enthusiasm that make the print arts a rich and vital part of the Northwest art community."

Microbrewing is another outstanding Northwest tradition, and Tacoma Art Museum has collaborated with Harmon Brewing Company to craft a signature ale, amusingly named “drINK THIS,” a name which cleverly plays on the title of the exhibition. Harmon Brewing Co.’s co-owner Pat Nagel describes the IPA as having "bold flavors of orange, lemon and melon (that) give way to a crisp, clean and smooth finish.” The ale will be available at special museum events, on tap at the Harmon’s four restaurants, and sold in 20 ounce bottles at the museum’s cafe.

Many related events will be held at the museum in conjunction with the show, including the “Lunch and Learn” series featuring discussions with curator Margaret Bullock on Wednesday June 4 at 11 a.m. Additional programs and events will be announced on the museum’s website at

Exploring our Western roots at Tacoma Art Museum

The Weekly Volcano, May 29, 2014

Guy Anderson, "Winter Wheat," oil on board, 24x30, gift of Maude Rueger.

Art Hansen, "The Wanderer," 1970, oil on linen, 36x36, gift of Clifford and
Patricia Lunneborg.

Thomas Mickell Burnham, "The Lewis and Clark Expedition," circa 1850, oil on
canvas, 36 1/2 x 48,Haub Family Collection, promised gift of Erivan and Helga
 As theme shows culled from a museum’s permanent collection go, “Northwest in the West: Exploring Our Roots” is not half bad.

There are works that have been shown at TAM multiple times before, like Gaylen Hansen’s iconic “Kernal Riding Though Snakes” and William Ivey’s “Blues and Whites,” and that’s all right because both of those are great paintings worth viewing again and again. There are also some fabulous pieces I have never before seen, such as Mark Tobey’s “Northwest Fantasy,” Rick Bartow’s “Old Time Picture” and Sherry Markovitz’s mind-boggling sculpture of a mounted moose head, “Eternal Vigilance.”

I have to admit that I went to this show with less than stellar expectations because I have an aversion to cowboy art and clich├ęd, grandiose Western landscapes, no matter how skillfully executed. But those works by Tobey, Bartow and Markovitz, plus a few other pleasant surprises, definitely make this show worth seeing.

The Tobey, while similar in some ways to his signature work, is in other ways unlike anything else of his. But then he was a prolific painter, and there may be many more like this one that I haven’t seen. It has some of the all-over design and sparkle of his so-called “white painting” but is more luminous with layers of transparent white washes that flow across the canvas in lyrical poetry of motion.

Bartow’s painting is a huge and menacing head painted in a rough, gestural manner that calls on Native American traditions while displaying drawing with paint reminiscent of both de Kooning and Basquiat.

Markovitz’s moose head is made of papier-mache and encrusted with beads, oil paint, sequins, acrylic paint and fiberglass in homage to both Native American crafts and the Western tradition of mounting animal-head trophies on the wall.

There is even some traditional cowboy art with a contemporary twist such as William Cumming’s “Kay Gee Doc,” a pop-art inspired painting of a cowboy herding a calf, and Justin Colt Beckman’s video “Gunplay (Screen Test).” In Beckman’s video an actor practices (or ineptly demonstrates) the art of the fast-draw and gun-twirl in front of a green screen. It’s like one of Andy Warhol’s films of people doing nothing or endlessly repeating something, only it’s done with great dry wit. This cowboy has clearly not mastered the art of gunplay.

Unfortunately, there is a large charcoal drawing by Paul Harcharik hanging on a panel directly across from Beckman’s video. It’s a nice drawing but the worst placement imaginable because it is framed under glass and the bright video reflects in the surface making it impossible to see the drawing. Someone at TAM, please swap this piece with another one somewhere else in the gallery.

I was pleased to see that local favorites Bill Colby and Mary Randlett are both included in this show. Colby’s watercolor, “Aurora Violet,” is a landscape with a lower section that looks like Sumi painting and a large and stormy sky above with a beautiful use of dark violet, blue and gray. Randlett’s photograph, “Emerging City, Seattle,” is a marvelously nuanced photo of the city skyline emerging from a hazy sky in beautiful and ghostly tones of gray.

This show is a precursor to the new wing of the museum to feature the Haub Family Collection of Western American Art scheduled to open in the fall.

Northwest in the West: Exploring Our RootsWednesdays–Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 5–8 p.m. through May 25, 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,]

Saturday, May 24, 2014

“La Cage Aux Folles” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

The News Tribune, May 23, 2014

“La Cage Aux Folles” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse is fabulous.

Andres Fry and Georges and Jeffrey Bassett as Albin. Photo by Kat Dollarhide
The only criticism I have is that the romantic dance number with Jean-Michel (Joey Schultz) and Anne (Emily Tuomey) needed a few more rehearsals, but since I saw it opening weekend, here’s hoping they’ll put more spark in it in coming performances.

Beyond that it was as nearly perfect as a romantic musical comedy can be. The sets by Judy Cullen, lighting by John Chenault and costumes by Margot Webb and Grace Stone are gorgeous. Jon Douglas Rake’s directing and choreography are in top form, and the orchestra directed by Jeff Stvrtecky is as good as I’ve ever heard them. In short, everybody involved in this lavish production seems to be having the time of their lives, and they convey their love of the show to the audience.

Previous versions of “La Cage” that I have seen were campy in the extreme. This version is just campy enough, but underneath the glitter is a sincerity that is palatable. Beyond the over-the-top comedy and the great music and dance, it is a sweet love story and a message never too old to be told — that everyone should be celebrated for who they are, a theme stated in the opening musical number, “We Are What We Are.”

Les Cagelles. Photo by Kat Dollarhide
The stars are Georges (Andrew Fry), the aging emcee at La Cage Aux Folles, and his longtime life partner, Albin (Jeffrey Bassett), a transvestite performer who lives in drag on and off stage. Their son, Jean-Michel (a child born out of Georges’ one-and-only tryst with a woman years ago) is engaged to marry Anne, and has invited her uptight, ultra-conservative parents to meet his parents, meaning Georges and his real mother whom he’s never even met. He’s worried that if they meet Albin and realize who his family really is it will wreak havoc on his wedding plan. This situation sets the stage for more cross-dressing and mistaken identity worthy of a Shakespearean comedy.

TMP’s forte has always been big, lavish musical numbers, and the big numbers here, featuring a chorus of men in fabulous drag with a few women mixed in (I challenge audiences to spot which are which) are as lavish and as delightful as any I’ve seen in quite some time. The acrobatic dancing and creative choreography is quite impressive.

Georges’ emceeing is in the style of an old school song and dance man, and Fry inhabits the role so comfortably it’s easy to forget he is acting. His dancing is smooth and graceful, he sings with heart, and he conveys his deep love for Albin with sincerity. Bassett plays the more outlandish Albin with just the right touch of flamboyance, without overdoing it, while coming across as fully human and vulnerable. Both Fry and Bassett are veterans of musical comedy, and they were marvelously cast in these roles.

Also outstanding are Isaiah Parker as Jacob the “maid,” who is the campiest character in the whole show, Dana Johnson as Anne’s mother (hilarious in a drunk scene), and John Miller as the stage manager at La Cage who is disastrously in love with a dominatrix in the chorus.

If you see only one musical comedy this year, make it “La Cage Aux Folles” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

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