Thursday, May 22, 2014

Wet’ and expressive at B2 Fine Art

The Weekly Volcano, May 12, 20014

"You Have Been Warned" digital mixed media by Chuck Smart

The exhibition called “Wet” and subtitled “Abstract Expressionism in fluidity, movement and space” at B2 Fine Art is a retrospective of work by Chuck Smart with some works by other well-known artists thrown in — like Yakime Brown, who is beginning to make a splash in New York; Judy Hintz Cox, a regular at B2 who has four excellent paintings in this show. And just for good measure there are a few glass vessels by Dale Chihuly. But Brown, Chihuly and Cox are bonus artists. What this show is really all about is the amazing artwork of Chuck Smart.

As an artist and musician, Smart has earned recognition throughout the world. He passed away in 2008. B2 owner Gary Boone calls this showing of his work a retrospective. It is a small but varied sampling of his work (approximately 20-30 pieces). I was astounded at his ability to work in many different styles and media with obvious skill and vision in each, from highly expressive digital and mixed media imagery combining abstract and figurative elements — a blending of Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg, de Kooning, a hint of Kenneth Patchen and a big dose of Jean-Michael Basquiat — to simple, pop-related imagery with flat but vibrant color application (no visible brushmarks), to soft-focus and blurred photographs of faces and urban scenes. 
Eclectic? You bet. And in a most delightful way. Most of all it is the haunted and fearsome faces glaring at the viewer and his broken, staccato line that makes this work so powerful.

A signature piece at the front of the gallery is “Art Is,” words and images in a combination of collage, digital prints and paint all awash in a vortex of red. Another piece titled “Cleveland” uses all of the same elements plus pencil drawing, but instead of the swirling tornado of paint the imagery is unified by bands of soft red and tan that weaves it all together like a basket.

The most haunting of all his works may be “You Have Been Warned,” digital mixed media with Basquiat-like drawings of four figures with big heads, saucer eyes, and distorted and emaciated bodies, much of the drawing done by scratching into wet paint with something like (probably) the wrong end of a paint brush.

Brown’s paintings are mostly of fountain-like floods or sprays of paint bursting upwards with brilliant colors and paint as much as a quarter-inch thick. I can see that these could be exceedingly popular, but to me they are too slick, too pretty. His most powerful work is a black and white painting called “You Talk Too Much,” a waterfall of white on a smooth black ground gushing downward from the top of the canvas and splashing back up when it hits the bottom. Underneath all of this movement is a cascade of hundreds of letters in something like Arial bold type.

My favorite Hintz Cox works are two mostly black on white paintings that are incredibly rich and expressive.
[B2 Fine Art Gallery, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 9 p.m. Third Thursdays, through June 14, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065]

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