Thursday, July 31, 2014

Robert Vogel at the Brick House

The Weekly Volcano, Aug. 31, 2014

"#3" oil on canvas by Robert Vogel
The Brick House is now showing a retrospective of drawings and paintings by longtime (retired) University of Puget Sound art professor Robert Vogel. If you have ever studied in a university art department you will recognize the style of Vogel’s art. This is not meant as a put-down but merely as a descriptor: his work is like art department figure drawing everywhere; it is like the work of the Bay Area figure painters of the’50s  —Park, Diebenkorn, Bischoff and Thiebaud. And while I’m engaging in comparisons, I might as well mention that many of the figure paintings look like Phillip Pearlstein without the carefully blended brushstrokes. This is most noticeable in his placement of figures in interior spaces and in his use of patterns.

He’s good, damn good at what he does, with a wonderful sense of spatial arrangement and a sure stroke.

"Water Buffalo" oil on canvas by Robert Vogel
A lifetime of work is crowded into the gallery, with nearly 20 paintings hung on the walls plus many more stacked on the floors, and almost 50 drawings tacked up above the paintings. Gallery owner Peter MacDonald wrote: “This man has drawn many miles of lines. His drawings of the figure show lots of body parts, so if that offends you, go no further. However, if you love the figure as much as I do, come have a look. In addition to the major works, there are many reasonably priced smaller drawings to frame yourself.”
Mostly they’re nudes, all female, but there are also some paintings of animals and still life arrangements. I was particularly impressed with “Water Buffalo.”

One of the best paintings is “#3” (not all have titles and not all the labels were up when I saw the show). It is a studio interior with a seated nude on the floor upper left and a table filled with cans stuffed with brushes lower right. The floor throughout is acid green. Above the table, sticks of various colors are strewn on the floor like pick-up-sticks, if I am interpreting this correctly. The artist’s point of view changes from overhead looking down at the table to eye-level with the nude. Vogel’s use of harsh angles in this one and his placement in space are marvelous.

Two of the nicest works are “Little Abstract #1” and “Little Abstract #2,” both easily overlooked in an out-of-the-way spot in the front room.

This is an outstanding exhibition of what I would call much better than average academic drawing and painting.

Brick House Gallery, Third Thursday 5-9 p.m. and by appointment, through Aug. 31, 1123 South Fawcett St., 253.230.4880 or 253.627.0426.]

Monday, July 28, 2014

Animal Fire’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Animal Fire Theatre uses terms like “raw” and “ferocious” to describe their brand of theater. They perform Shakespeare in the park at various outdoor venues with makeshift sets, no microphones and no lights. This is theater on the edge and on the cheap, and it is always highly entertaining. I missed their first outing, which I believe was four summers ago, but over the past two summers I thoroughly enjoyed their productions of Hamlet and Julius Caesar; and this summer they switch gears for the outlandish comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

This early comedy is generally believed to be Shakespeare’s first play; it is also one of his least critically acclaimed plays, criticized for inaccuracies such as ships docking at landlocked cities and for what many critics have considered to be sexist attitudes (although there is disagreement on this). Historically the importance of The Two Gentlemen may be that it is a precursor to many of Shakespeare’s later plays with many of the devices he became famous for such as cross dressing and mistaken identity.

Like many great comedies, this one walks a fine line between sophomoric stupidity and comic greatness. Director Kate Arvin wrote for the program: “Like Master Shakespeare, we too have invented this land and this time period using research and conjecture as opposed to empirical data. . . We have invented costumes out of bedsheets and Grocery Outlet show curtains, a set made of electrical conduit and props from our neighborhood ‘free piles.’” And “We hold these texts so sacred and yet, let’s face it, Shakespeare was wrong! He made mistakes like the rest of us and knowing that the show is full of obvious gaffes made it easier for me as a woman to face the chauvinism in the text; it is as wrong as sailing a ship on dry land.”

There is an amateurish, let’s-put-on-a-show-in-the-back-yard aspect to the production, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they don’t know what they are doing. Arvin is a talented and well-seasoned director, and the cast is made up of some of Olympia’s finest actors. Morgan Picton as Proteus, Korja Giles as Julia, Amy Shepard as Silvia and Maddox Pratt as Valentine are outstanding. And I cannot praise Kate Ayers enough for her over-the-top portrayal of a multitude of characters or for Scott Douglas’s nuanced and underplayed portrayal of Don Antonio, the Duke and others. His interaction with the dog Crab, played by Douglas’s pet dog Tonk is precious. Tonk seems to be an amazingly well trained animal — and patient as can be with the crazy carryings-on of these actors.

There is some inspired dialog (after all, it is Shakespeare) but many of the funniest scenes take place in mime to accordion accompaniment. Other moments of insane hilarity included the bit where Picton runs out on the set wearing a mask. It happens so fast that I can’t explain it and shouldn’t anyway. No spoilers here.

At approximately two hours with no intermission, it does seem a little long. For a little while during what would have been the middle of act 2 if there had been an intermission I found myself wishing they would just get it over with, but then it picked up liveliness heading toward a satisfying conclusion.

There are the expected distractions that come with all outdoor performances: passing traffic, airplanes, kids and animals running around — one small child had to be kept from climbing a tree that was used as part of the set. It is recommended that you come as if to a picnic. Bring folding chairs and quilts, unscented mosquito spray and snacks, and be prepared to put up with some distractions.

One pet peeve I have about all outdoor performances, including this one, is that they seem to feel that since they have the whole of the great outdoors as a stage, they might as well use it all. The stage area is too big and there is too much distance between the actors and the audience — although I have to admit that Silvia climbing a tree was a cool use of the great outdoors.

The show goes on tour during its second weekend, with two 7 p.m. stops on July 31 and August 1 at the Tumwater Farmer's Market, at the southwest corner of Capitol Boulevard and Israel Road, plus a 2 p.m. matinee at the Griswold Building in downtown Olympia, 310 4th Ave E. The troupe returns to Priest Point Park for closing weekend, with 7 p.m. shows August 7 and 8 and 2 p.m. matinees on August 9 and 10.

All shows are free but donations are welcome.

A note on Animal Fire Theatre taken from their press release:

Animal Fire Theatre is the Olympia area's free Shakespearean company. Founded by Austen Anderson, Animal Fire's mission is to bring classical texts to life with energy and ferocity and then deliver them to the community, free of charge. The troupe uses unorthodox rehearsal methods to unlock their instincts, awareness and animal understanding of themselves, their characters and one another. The growling, barking and howling involved with these exercises sometimes attracts curious park goers to rehearsals and only very occasionally the attention of law enforcement.

Ahmed Bashir Davis - two days only

Ahmed Bashir Davis will have a two-day-only show at Salon Refu.

Davis made the first giant mural on the outside wall of the building in 2012s. As guest curator, he will show his own photographs and works of the artist Isrek.   

Show dates are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, August 2 and
2 to 7 p.m. Sunday August 3.

Salon Refu is located at 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia.

Pictured above:
"Why Are You Confused"  and "Clear As Day."  And yes there is a third picture. Your assignment is to decide which one is "Clear As Day" and make up a suitable title for the other one.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Bill Colby’s “Water and Rocks: A Journey”

The Weekly Volcano, July 24, 2014

Red Rock River, woodcut/watercolor by Bill Colby

Stonewall Beach, woodcut and watercolor by Bill Colby
A visit to Bill Colby’s latest exhibition at The Gallery at Tacoma Community College is like a trip to the beach. The gallery is filled with — by my cursory count — 44 bright paintings dominated by clear blue water and clear blue sky complemented by rocks of bright orange. It’s a feast for the eyes, restful and joyous.

“The joy of nature is within all of us and in my art work,” said Colby in his artist’s statement. “’Water and Rocks’ has been an evolving theme from 1956 to the present.”
Included are works in a variety of print media, watercolors, pastels, and other mixed media. The majority combine wood cuts and watercolors, media with almost exact opposite properties. The brittle slashes and gouges of woodcut and the amorphous softness of watercolor are blended beautifully by Colby.

The artist depicts water and rocks in degrees of abstraction, from a brilliant blue seascape behind the desk that is only slightly stylized to stacks of orange rocks in bands of blue with only the slightest hint of subject matter. Scenes of beaches and of waterfalls abound. Some of the waterfalls appear to be solid like monoliths pasted against canyon walls, the picture plane tilted forward like the hills of San Francisco in Wayne Thiebaud’s iconic cityscapes. Others, as in a series on the right-hand wall including “Waterfall,” “Blue Water” and two versions of “Austin Rock Waterfall” that show pod-like cliffs or boulders sliced by vertical bands of blue and white, have an iconic or symbolic look to them, possibly influenced by Northwest Coastal Native American art.

Also iconic is “The Big River,” in which the river is a solid blue S-shape like some kind of corporate logo with boulders in shades of orange on either side. There is something of a pop art feel to this one.

Some of my favorites can be found in a group of seven woodcut and watercolor combinations on the wall opposite of the “Austin Rock Waterfall.” These, variously titled “Stonewall Bench” and “Stonewall Strata,” picture groups of orange stones lined up within the confines of bands of blue. They are like banners or flags, and the colors are brighter and crisper than in any of the other works in this show. (The colors in most of the others are bright but with a pastel softness.)

Another favorite is “Ancient Rocks,” a misty seascape with massive rock formations protruding from the sea with waves pounding the mist-shrouded water. This picture and a similar one next to it are the most atmospheric in the show. The orange of the rocks glows like fire, and, strangely, there seem to be hieroglyphs carved into the walls of the rock formations.

This is an excellent show. I heartily recommend it.

Tacoma Community College, Global Perspectives, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, through Aug. 14, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014


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Friday, July 18, 2014

Young Frankenstein at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

From left: Igor, Frau Blüche, Dr. Frankenstein and Inga. Photos by Kat Dollarhide

Monster and blind man
Dr. Frankenstein, Inga and Igor

Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” is one of the funniest musicals ever written. The stage musical, which came after the popular movie by Brooks and Gene Wilder, premiered at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre in 2007 before going to Broadway. I reviewed it then for The News Tribune and said it was outstanding, but other reviewers did not rave, and it had a less than stellar run on Broadway.

The local production at Tacoma Musical Playhouse drags a bit in the first act, but the second act more than makes up for any shortcomings in the first.

Both the 1974 movie and the play are spoofs of genre horror films with upbeat song-and-dance numbers and Borscht Belt humor. The scenario is that Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Stephen Bucheit), grandson of the notorious Dr. Victor Von Frankenstein, creator of the monster, is a well-respected Dean of Anatomy at the Johns, Miriam and Anthony Hopkins School of Medicine in New York. Upon the death of his ancestor, he visits the family castle in Transylvania and is seduced by the lovely Inga (Allyson Jacobs-Lake) into taking up his mad grandfather’s work. With help from his grandfather’s house keeper, Frau Blücher (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson) and humpbacked servant, Igor (Jeffrey Bassett), he creates a new monster (played by James Walters, who also doubles as the ghost of the original Dr. Frankenstein).

The early scenes are contrived and seem to be straining for comic effect – particularly the going away scene with Frankenstein and Elizabeth (Dana Johnson). Elizabeth’s song, “Please Don’t Touch Me” is a great comic idea that doesn’t quite work. But things get livelier when Dr. Frankenstein goes to Transylvania and meets with Igor and Inga. Igor is one of the best comic characters of all time, and Bassett plays him beautifully, rivaling the great Marty Feldman, who played Igor in the movie; and Inga’s hayride song, “Roll in the Hay” is the first spark to enliven a play that until that moment had been plodding like the neighing horses that pull their wagon (and who neigh hilariously and oddly every time Frau Blücher’s name is spoken). Inga’s yodeling in this song and later in the love scene, cracks the audience up.

Things get much livelier once the monster comes alive and insanely brilliant when the monster and the ensemble sing and dance Irving Berlin’s “Putting on the Ritz.” This number is proof positive that Brooks is a comic genius, and the cast and crew (and let’s not forget Jeff Stvrtecky’s orchestra) do it to perfection.

The blind hermit vignette with John Miller (who doubles as Inspector Hans Kemp) belting out a great and passionate rendition of the poignant “Please Send Me Someone,” is like something out of Monty Python but with a huge hearts – moving enough to forgive his ludicrous wig and beard. After an unexpected plot twist in a cave in the deep forest, Johnson sings the love song “Deep Love” with conviction, dropping the nasal lisp she adopted in earlier scenes, and later still, Walters, an accomplished operatic tenor, belts out the reprise of “Deep Love” with even more passion.

The first act is a moderately funny extended set-up for the explosive and joyous second act, which is so great I would sit through a reading of the phone book to get to it.

Kudos also to Bruce Haasl for a great set and as always to Stvrtecky for his fabulous music.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Aug. 3
WHERE: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $20-$29
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Coming up: a review of Animal Fire Theatre’s outdoor performance of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and Harlequin Productions’ “Middletown.”

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Flowers by Susan Christian

The Weekly Volcano, July 17, 2014

Artist and gallery owner Susan Christian worried that it might not be kosher to exhibit her own paintings at her own gallery, Salon Refu, but many friends coaxed her into it so she set up a show of her own paintings — not her most recent work but some odd little flower paintings she did about 20 years ago. As with many of Christian’s paintings, these take some getting used to.

In order to explain why her work takes some getting used to I have to look back to about 1989 or 1990. She was doing paintings that I thought were too sparse and inelegant. Minimalist painting is hard enough to like because there’s not much there; so what is there has to be outstanding, striking in form and color. But her paintings were not so striking. What stands out most in my memory was a series of mountains — nothing so grand or exciting as, say, Cezanne’s faceted views of Mount St. Victoire, but rather just a lump of  a mountain with ground and sky, all painted with very little variation in form and rather dull in color. But the more I looked at them the more I began to realize that there was something strong, unpretentious, yet audacious about those paintings.

These flower paintings have much the same quality about them. They grew out of a series of batiks she attempted after a trip to Thailand in about 1994. They are paintings in acrylic on plain brown wrapping paper. Most of the pictures are of no more than two little clumps of flowers with one or two blooms on sinewy tendrils that either snake out from the edges of paintings or float on a flat, monotone background. There is no way to describe them without them sounding clunky and unappealing; yet I like them very much, and the longer I look at them the more I like them.

They also have cool titles like “Chastity,” “Remember My Name,” “Warning the Tourist” and “White Music.”

There are a couple with small clumps of flowers floating on acid yellow backgrounds that are particularly pleasing, and a group of four small paintings on the south wall on black backgrounds that seem to defy logic. Flowers at night visible without light or displayed on black velvet like specimens? These are some of my favorites.

“Warning the Tourist,” an acrylic painting with collage is the largest work in the show and the one that is totally different from all the rest. There are mountains and sea and smack-dab in the center a collaged image of flowers that look like they came out of a catalog. Something about this one reminds me of paintings by Fay Jones, although it’s not nearly as strange. I’m not crazy about this one, and it does not fit with the rest of the show.

Another one that I like a lot is called “Snake.” I like it because of the intense pink on the edge of a white flower and because of the strangeness of the circular form on the bottom left edge of the painting. I guess it is an unopened flower bud.

It may seem ironic, but one of the reasons these paintings are good is that the flowers are not particularly lovely. This is an admittedly personal bias: I have an aversion to paintings of beautiful subject matter like flowers and sunsets and pretty but coyly posed nudes. The ART should be beautiful, not the subject matter. If you just want pictures of pretty subjects, photographs are just fine. Christian’s flowers are not beautifully arranged and are on the verge of being wilted, so what you see is not the beauty of the flowers but the aesthetic quality of the colors, shapes and placement on the paper, and the visual interaction between the subject and the background. The placement and stark simplicity of the flowers — the slap-dash quality of the painting — makes the nuanced backgrounds come alive. Furthermore, these paintings do not look contrived; they looked like they just happened. I strongly suspect that Christian did not give much thought to what she was doing but approached the pictures in the manner of an athlete or a dancer, without much conscious thought but trusting that years of practice and study are ingrained in their bodies, eyes and hands, which react almost independent of thought.

This is a good show to see and maybe go back and see again.

Salon Refu, Thursday-Sunday, 2-6 p.m. through July 27, 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia.