Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nathan Barnes’ “Open Ended” at Pierce College

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 30, 2014

Emergent World
For lack of a better term, I’m tempted to call Nathan Barnes’ paintings pop surrealism, but his paintings are about 10 times better than most of what falls into that category. And yes, there really is such a thing. You can find it on Google and Wikipedia. Among famous artists who have been labeled pop surrealists (also called lowbrow) are Art Spiegelman, Tony Oursler, John Currin, Cindy Sherman and Robert Crumb. Most of these are outstanding artists, but I’m not so sure about Oursler, and I think Currin is a charlatan who has milked sophomoric humor and stupid looking so-called erotic imagery to get rich and famous.

The New York Times said of the show at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum that gave pop surrealism its name, "Surrealism mines dreams and the unconscious, while popular culture is concerned with surface and commonplaces,” a comment meant to highlight the obvious fact that pop surrealism draws from both surrealism and popular culture. That seems a good description of Barnes’ paintings.

There are only four paintings in Barnes’ show “Open Ended” at Pierce College Steilacoom, but they are large and impressive. His pop imagery is beautifully painted with skill, control, ingenuity and luminous colors. Forget all those “lowbrow” artists listed in the opening paragraph. If I were to compare him to any famous artist it would have to be James Rosenquist. The parallels between Rosenquist’s “F 111” and Barnes’ “Buoyant World” are undeniable. Both combine disparate images of people and objects and are painted on connected panels in a slick, hyper-realistic manner. Both appear to be playful but may contain serious narrative content (I leave it up to the viewer to interpret any possible meaning, as I am more interested at this point in the painting’s aesthetic qualities). In both paintings the images vary from panel to panel. Rosenquist’s images are more disjunctive. The images in “Buoyant World” are more unified and relate to each other better both formally and in terms of content.

A Partial Conjunction
“Buoyant World” is 19-inches tall by 192-inches long. Do I need to remind anyone that that’s almost 20 feet? The images morph from one to the other, beautifully held together by subtle color and value changes, repetition, and meandering lines that flow from one to another. Reading left to right there are: folded cloths that blend into gray hands with interlocking fingers with delicate line drawings of feet underneath to a face to abstract shapes that look like jigsaw puzzle pieces to an upside-down face to more gray hands and folded cloth to a Miro-like abstraction to a couple of faces and finally to white contour drawings of sumo wrestlers over silhouettes of trees on a blue background.
The other three paintings are equally large but in more traditional rectangular formats. “Emergent World,” seen in last year’s juried show at Tacoma Community College, combines images of an old man, a young woman, stacks of tires, factories with smoking smokestacks, and a dog, all woven together in an intricate design that is somehow threatening.

The other two paintings are “CNS” and “A Partial Conjunction,” both of which might also be seen as threatening, The boy in “A Partial Conjunction,” looks happy enough, but the helmeted man looks like he’s in agony, and there are bodies broken apart and tossed about helter-skelter amidst industrial equipment and piles of rocks. I look at “CNS” and think of Jonah and the whale — an interior view of the whale’s ribcage transported into a warehouse.

Nathan Barnes’ “Open Ended, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., through Nov. 31, Pierce College, 9401 Farwest Drive SW, Lakewood.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Black Aesthetic at B2

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 23, 2014

untitled painting by Humbert Howard
In many ways Gary and Deborah Boone operate B2 Fine Arts Gallery more like a museum than a commercial gallery — much to Tacoma’s great good fortune. They have held survey shows of the best of children’s art from around the world, not once, not twice, but three times with their “Beyond Crayons and Finger Painting” series. They have brought us art by nationally prominent African-American artists celebrating Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad in the show “Sweet Freedom’s Jubilee.” They treated Tacomans with a look at the Northwest School and the Hood Canal Colony with works by Guy Anderson, Elton Bennett, Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, Mark Tobey and other Northwest Mystics. And now they offer “The Black Aesthetic,” with more works by notable African-American artists including Milt Simons, Thelma J. Streat, Paul Dusenbury, Richard Mayhew, Humbert Howard, Norman Lewis and the great Romare Bearden.

Rising Sun L’ Embouchure​ by Romare Bearden
Bearden is the most famous of the artists — famous for his collages and paintings about the black experience in America — but none of these signature pieces are included in this show. Instead, he is represented by two watercolor landscapes and an oil-on-paper landscape, all of which are simple, sketchy, atmospheric, and abstracted to such a degree that the landscape is barely recognizable. These works are simultaneously restful and explosive yet appear almost bland in comparison to works by Simons, Streat and Howard.

Simons’ paintings dominate this exhibition. His “Introspection” at six-by-eight feet is a dramatic, dark show-stopper reminiscent of El Greco with its elongated and convoluted male figure floating in a dark and stormy sky. The energy and mystery of this painting is captivating. The figure, by-the-way, is playing a flute, and next to this painting is a smaller painting in oil of raised board and strips and globs of ripped canvas called “Flutist.” Both of these are powerful and bombastic.

Breaking from the abstract theme of this show, there are three Simons figure paintings in a back room, each in a different style and each from a different period in his career. There is a realistic figure in a classical pose from 1948 painted with thin washes, a self-portrait with his wife from 1955 in which the figures are submerged in heavy globs of paint, and a very expressive but classical nude from 1962.

Simons is also represented by stormy landscapes (also reminiscent of El Greco) and equally stormy abstract paintings. That’s quite a range of styles and interests, and it’s all good.

Howard’s two little paintings were a surprise to me. I am not familiar with his work, but these two semi-abstract figure paintings with bright colors and heavy impasto paint application are lovely.

Streat’s iconic and diagrammatic pictures of animals and masked figures evoke both Africa and Native American culture.
Also showing as part of Metal Urge is a group of outstanding wall-sculptures by Earnest Thomas.

B2 Fine Art Gallery, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 9 p.m. Third Thursdays, through Nov. 29, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065]

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tacoma Little Theatre’S ‘OFF THE SHELF’ presents MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE

Tacoma Little Theatre presents the emotional piece My Name is Rachel Corrie, directed by Niclas R. Olson and featuring Lauren Nance as Rachel. The production will be performed one night only, November 6, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.

Rachel Corrie. Picture taken from the Rachel Corrie Memorial website
On March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old from Olympia, was crushed to death by an Israeli Army bulldozer in Gaza as she was trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home. My Name is Rachel Corrie is a one-woman play composed from Rachel's own journals, letters and emails-creating a portrait of a messy, articulate, Salvador Dali-loving chain-smoker (with a passion for the music of Pat Benatar), who left her home and school in Olympia, to work as an activist in the heart of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the three sold-out London runs since its Royal Court premiere, the piece has been surrounded by both controversy and impassioned proponents, and has raised an unprecedented call to support political work and the difficult discourse it creates.

Tickets for the November 6, 2014 performance at 7:30pm are $10.00 for non TLT Members, and FREE for those who are members. Tickets may be purchased online at, or by calling our Box Office at (253) 272-2281.

TLT's Off the Shelf is a new series of play readings. “We know that there is a tremendous amount of wonderful theatre that deserves to be heard but sometimes just doesn’t get an opportunity. With Off the Shelf, local directors and actors will be bringing some scripts to life that we hope you will find entertaining, challenging and educational to our stage. We hope that you’ll sit back and enjoy an evening of theatre. You never know, you might see one of these shows on our mainstage in the future,” says TLT artistic director Chris Serface.

Disclaimer: This is not my writing but is a press release from TLT printed with very few changes. I did see My Name is Rachel Corrie when it played at the Seattle Repertory Theatre a few years back, and I was tremendously moved by it. I highly recommend that South Sound theater-goers take advantage of this one-night-only opportunity to experience this intelligent and heartfelt performance.

Marginals & Mystics: Collage Mixed Media by Evan Clayton Horback at Salon Refu

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 16, 2014

Heading to Jersey, collage
It has been 100 years since Picasso and Braque invented the technique of collage. In more contemporary times the technique has degenerated to either warmed-up Kurt Schwitters or to bizarre and often comical combinations of surrealistic imagery which tend to be more gimmicky than artistic. Notable exceptions have been the works of Robert Rauschenberg and Romare Bearden.

Evan Clayton Horback, a relative newcomer to Olympia, has made the technique special again — art with integrity and class, art that is more Rauschenbergian and Schwitters, yet uniquely Horback. That’s what good artists do.

Horback is an East Coast transplant who should be showing his work in major galleries in Seattle and Portland and will be soon if there’s if there’s any justice in this world. Meanwhile, Susan Christian has thankfully recognized his talent and has given him an excellent showcase in her gallery, Salon Refu.

untitled collage
The show is a mixture of paintings and collages, and the paintings are truly collages in concept if not in technique. He sees collage not just as a technique for creating imagery but as a compositional tool, a means of arranging images, shapes, colors and textures in sometimes startling and always pleasing ways.

I didn’t count, but by rough estimate there are about 40 pieces in the show. All but one set of nine collages on book covers are rough in texture, most done on burlap pasted on board with the edges left in a rough state. I love the scruffy surfaces.

In close to half of the paintings and collages there are line drawings of faces or figures superimposed over collage elements. These line drawings are purposefully crude yet elegant and remind me a lot of drawings by Seattle artist Fay Jones as well as Andy Warhol’s early, pre-pop paintings and drawings. There are also a lot with fields of dots over collage elements. I would have a hard time explaining why, but these really work nicely.

“Oblations (X3)” is a set of three line drawings of young boys cropped at the top and repeated at the bottom to create the illusion of the kind of infuriating rolling television images that used to be common. The word “Triples” is written in script in blue on a diagonal band of black offering sharp contrasts which nevertheless fits with the repetitive figures.

The largest and one of the strongest paintings is “Subhadra,” a close-up image of a woman’s face cropped so all we see is chin and lips combined with a band of rectangular shapes in red, blue and yellow. The texture in this one is like an old billboard that has been ripped almost to shreds and the face looks like an enlarged halftone that has been driven over by a tractor.

This little gallery continues to offer shows by the very best artists in the area. Horback’s work is intelligent, honest and beautiful. You really should see this one.

Evan Clayton Horback: Marginals & Mystics , Thursday-Sunday, 2-6 p.m. through Oct. 26, Salon Refu 114 N Capitol Way, Olympia,

Monday, October 13, 2014

Kinky Boots Comes to the 5th Ave.

The cast of the First National Tour of Kinky Boots, coming to The 5th Avenue Theatre.
​Photo by Matthew Murphy

Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre’s latest show—or should I say extravaganza— is the smash Broadway musical Kinky Boots, which has just begun its national tour.

Despite the raucous music, wildly decadent costumes and flashy lighting effects, Kinky Boots is at heart a touching little story with a simple message about acceptance, courage and perseverance. Based on the hit movie of the same name, it tells the story of Charlie Price (Steven Booth), a young man struggling to figure out what he wants to do with his life who is tasked with saving the dying shoe factory in Northampton, England he has inherited from his father. On a trip to London with his fiancée, Nicola (Grace Stockdale), he meets a drag queen named Lola (Kyle Taylor Parker) and they talk about the flamboyant boots with high heels that drag queens wear and how they can’t hold up to the weight of men. Charlie flashes on building sturdy “kinky boots” as a means of saving the factory.

 Kyle Taylor Parker stars as Lola in the First National Tour of Kinky Boots, coming to The 5th Avenue Theatre. Photo by Matthew Murphy
It’s the story of how Charlie brings in Lola to help create a line of boots and how the middle class workers in the factory react to welcoming a drag queen into their world, and ultimately about the touching and very real relationship between Charlie and Lola. And of course every musical must have a love triangle. This one involves Charlie and his selfish and manipulative fiancée and Lauren (Lindsay Nicole Chambers), the sweet factory worker with the secret crush on him.

Kinky Boots the musical is based on the hit movie of the same title, which was in turn based on a true story. The book for the musical was written by the great Harvey Fierstein with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell.

Mitchell said he wanted the realism of the working-class British world suffused with the fabulousness of the theater. “I come from Paw-Paw, Michigan. It’s complete working class and there’s lot of my roots in those people,” Mitchell said. “I went to Northampton myself and hung out. And I toured the shoe factories . . . I knew the fabulous part of it; I knew I could do that part. I wanted to know what the real part was.”
Parker, who was one of “Lola’s Angels” in the original Broadway production and played the part of Lola many times as an understudy, certainly has the fabulous part down pat, and he is believable and real and down to earth. There have been many, many portrayals of drag queens with stereotypical swishiness, but there is none of that in Parker’s portrayal. And he’s a hell of a dancer.

Booth, who is endearing as Charlie, has performed in Glory Days and Avenue Q on Broadway. He has a terrific voice and good moves—especially when he puts on the boots for the big finale (with credit to Mitchell and Booth for not overdoing it). The duet between Lola and Charlie, “Not My Father’s Son,” is one of the most moving moments in the play and one of the few quiet songs in a play replete with rocking show tunes. The other quiet and moving ballad is Lola’s solo on “Hold Me in Your Heart.”
The first couple of songs, “Price & Son Theme” and “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World,” both performed by the full company, could have used a little more pizazz. But then it kicks into high gear when we visit the club where Lola and the Angels perform (“Land of Lola”).

Act one ends with a full-company rendition of the upbeat song, “Everybody Say Yeah”—an exultant celebration with dancing on a moving conveyor belt. Act two also ends with a celebratory anthem, “Raise You Up/Just Be,” again with the whole company and this time with a knockout light show (lighting designer Kenneth Posner, whose most impressive lighting in this show was the multitude of soft spots on Lola’s solo on “Hold Me in Your Heart”).

Striking performances were turned in by Stockdale as Nicole and Chambers as Lauren, and by Joe Coots as Don, a tough-guy factory worker.

David Rockwell’s scenic design, the Price & Son shoe factor interior and exterior, is gritty and impressive.
One of the very few sore spots for me was an unnecessary maudlin moment when they went overboard trying to milk sympathy at the end of the beautiful “Hold Me in Your Heart” by bringing Lola’s father into the scene.

Interesting behind-the-scenes stories were provided by Mitchell in a print interview provided to the press. One of those was that they had to build the conveyor belts and try them out, and “I got on it and I wiped out, probably four or five times . . .” so they added bars for safety which became part of the choreography as dancers used the bars for swinging and jumping. The other interesting back story was that like the original factory they had to go through many trials in order to make boots what would stand up to large men dancing in them during eight two-and-a-half-hour shows a week.

Kinky Boots won six Tony awards, including Best Musical, Best Score (Cyndi Lauper) and Best Choreography (Jerry Mitchell).

Tues-Wed. 7:30 p.m., Thurs-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat- 2 and 8 p.m., Sun. 1:30 and 7 p.m.
5th Ave. Theatre, 1308 5th Ave., Seattle,
Tickets start at $45.25, (206) 625-1900 or (888) 5TH-4TIX.