Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Stardust: 21 Years of Musical Christmas Cards by Harlequin Productions

Published in Thurston Talk Nov. 26, 2014

Emile Rommel Shimkus, Bruce Haasl, Jerod Nace, Amy Shepard and Robert Hume will get your groove on during Harlequin’s The Stardust Christmas Blizzard. Photo credit: Harlequin Productions
Few theater companies in the world have ever produced a long-running series of plays such as Harlequin Production’s Stardust series. Stardust is a series of stage musicals set during Christmas, mostly in the same New York nightclub, with loosely connected stories covering a decade in the lives of many of the same characters. Each “episode” has been written by Harlowe Reed and features a galaxy of the best and most popular of local actors across generations, beginning in 1993.

Read this history of Stardust on

Friday, November 21, 2014

Haub Family Collection of Western American Art

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 21, 2014

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887 ‑ 1986) Piñons with Cedar,” 1956, oil on canvas, 30 × 26 inches, Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub, 2014.6.91, © 2014 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Everybody knows not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Tacoma Art Museum certainly does. In this case, the gift horse is a bucking bronco, or lots of them — the 295 works of Western Art from the Haub Family Collection donated to TAM, plus more than $15 to build a new wing to house them.
The new wing designed by Olson Kundig Architects and built by Sellen Construction is fabulous, the art collection not so much so. It is valuable and pertinent to the history of the region (probably more so to the Southwest and the Western plains than to the Pacific Northwest, but let’s not look that bucking bronco in the mouth), and there are some famous works of art by famous artists. But it is mostly stereotypical and offers a romanticized look at cowboys and Indians glorifying America’s imperialistic western expansion.
Typical of the sculpture that greets visitors as they enter the new Haub Family Wing is Charles M. Russell’s “A Bronc Twister,” a bronze statue of a cowboy riding a bucking bronc — the most iconic of all Western images.
Albert Bierstadt’s “Departure of an Indian War Party” is a somber, dark and dignified look at a small group of Indians on horseback depicting “noble savages” in a romanticized and atmospheric landscape.
George M. Russell (American, 1864-1926) “A Bronc Twister,” modeled 1911, cast circa 1929-1933, bronze, 18 x 14½ x 9½ inches, Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, gift of Drivan and Helga Haub, 2014.6.109.
Many of the artists never even traveled to the West. Rosa Bonheur’s Western scenes were based on a Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show seen in Paris and Henry Merwin Shrady’s bronze buffalo comes from studies made at the Bronx Zoo.
But let it be known that there are also works by Native American artists and by great modern artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe. One of the nicest paintings in the show is O’Keeffe’s “Piñons With Cedar,” a lovely landscape of a ghost-like dead tree with a young green tree behind it framed by a mountain in the distance.
There are also pop art paintings by Bill Schenck, who worked with Andy Warhol and later turned to Western art. His “Snakes in the Grass” lampoons stereotypical Western art. Done in a paint-by-numbers style, it depicts two cowboys on bucking broncos on either side of large cacti.
The new wing and the outdoors sculptures by Julie Speidel by the entrance from the parking lot and Marie Watt on the Pacific Avenue side of the building provide for a much more welcoming entrance to the lobby area. But the new construction emphasizes the new wing and relegates the original galleries to a far-away area down a long hallway that felt pretty empty on the day I went there for the opening press tour. I trust that more art will be placed in that hallway or that something — anything — will be done to draw people to the older north galleries, because it is the art in those galleries that always has been and I hope will continue to be what makes Tacoma Art Museum a regional treasure.
Art of the American West: The Haub Family Collection, Wednesdays–Sundays 10 am–5 pm, Third Thursdays 10 am–8 pm, adults $10, student/military/senior (65+) $8, family $25 (2 adults and up to 4 children under 18). children 5 and under free, Third Thursdays free from 5-8 pm. Members always free, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4258.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Today’s Featured Artist

Ricker Winsor

This is a new feature that I intend to post on a periodic basis as time allows . . . no schedule. I will start with my old friend Ricker Winsor.

Star Spangled Buildings, oil on canvas
Ricker has been called a force of nature, which is an apt description. A Renaissance man is another apt description, because there is little that Ricker hasn’t done and he continues to do it all well. He’s been a vagabond, a beatnik, a world traveler. He’s been a hunter and a fly fisherman extraordinaire.  He’s a writer with two published books, Pakuwon City and The Painting of My Life, and he’s a blues musician who plays in coffee shops and other venues. But most of all, he’s a painter.

When I first met Ricker he was head of the art department at Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, and he was living a kind of back-to-nature existence on Vashon Island. Today he teaches school in Bali. There’s no telling what he might do next.

Ricker’s art has grown out of the abstract expressionist tradition. In his youth he lived in New York and was friends with many of the first generation abstract expressionist painters. The artwork he was doing when I first met him consisted of highly energetic and colorful landscapes and similarly expressive pen and ink drawings of the island landscape, self-portraits and interior scenes of his studio. His mark-making was volatile, his colors — especially the yellows and greens of flora and sunshine — were intense. Both his drawings and paintings reminded me a lot of Vincent van Gogh.

More recently he turned to abstract painting with paintings reminiscent of Hans Hoffman. And more recently still he has continued in the Hoffman-like vein with highly abstracted urban scenes — rectangular forms in heavy impasto that vacillate between pure abstraction and clusters of buildings. These are dense, rich paintings with lushly applied paint. I suspect that as he continues to develop his art he will continue to go back and forth between abstract paintings and impressionist/expressionist landscapes, figures and interior scenes.

This guy is a pure painter.

Ricker's bookss -

Art Trip Seattle

Seattle Art Museum has always been worth the trip.
“Marilyn,” 1967, Andy Warhol, silkscreen on paper, 36 x 36, Seattle Art Museum bequest of Kathryn L. Skinner, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Paul Macapia.
We drove up to see “Pop Departures” at SAM. What a wonderful show!
I must admit, however, that my enjoyment of this exhibition was based to some small measure on nostalgia. I was in my sophomore or junior year as an art student when pop burst on the scene back in the early sixties, and it was an eye-popping, mind-bending, psychedelic trip. The very idea that serious artists could paint pictures of soup cans and comic book images and make giant soft sculptures of drum sets or a giant cherry perched in a giant spoon was the most radical thing ever. It bothered me a little that the pop artists were said to be in revolt against abstract expressionism, which I loved, but pop still floated my boat.
Hard on pop’s heel came what was called hard edge painting: Ellsworth Kelly and Al Held and — oh my god — Frank Stella. That era in American art history had to have been the most exciting time ever. And yesterday I saw it all, all over again.
“Vocho (Yellow),” 2004, Margarita Cabrera, vinyl, batting, thread ad car parts, 60 x 72 x 156, Anne and William J. Hokin Collection. ©Magarita Cabrera, photo courtesy the artist.
“Pop Departures” is a look back at work by the leading pop artists of the 1960s and a jump forward to more contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons, Margarita Cabrera and Mickalene Thomas who continue to follow in the footsteps of those ’60s bad boys.
There are whole galleries devoted to Lichtenstein and Warhol, unquestionably the brightest lights of the movement. Other artists represented in the show include Oldenberg, Mel Ramos, Edward Ruscha, Robert Indiana and James Rosenquist (inadequately represented by a single modest-sized painting).
“Untitled (Self in Progress),” 2001, Alwar Balasubramaniam, Indian, b. 1971, gesso, wood, fiberglass, 72 x 47 x 35 in., Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan. © Alwar Balasubramaniam, Photo courtesy Talwar Gallery, New York/New Delhi.
Lichtenstein dominates the first gallery with some of his most iconic images such as “Kiss V,” one of his many paintings of romance comic images; “Varoom,” a comic-style explosion in and garish red, yellow and orange with lettering; and “Red Painting (Brush Stroke),” one of his famous paintings of an abstract-expressionist brush stroke. (See, they weren’t rebelling against AE, they revered it.) Lichtenstein’s brushstroke paintings were done to honor the abstract expressionists whom he venerated while at the same time giving them little digs — see, we can paint big, sloppy brushstrokes too, never mind that they were done with mechanical precision.
Lichtenstein’s early paintings have lost none of their power over the years and have gained stature as pure design.
In another gallery are two of his paintings of famous modernist paintings, the best of these being “Reflections on Painter and Model,” his copy in stripes and Ben-Day dots of a Picasso painting. This is a marvelously composed picture that is, like his brushstrokes, a lampoon of and homage to a hero.
The many Warhols in this show evidence just how expressive Warhol could be, despite his use of mechanical means and his claim to want to be a machine. How well I remember folks in the sixties saying Warhol was putting us on, that he wasn’t a serious artist, that his fame would quickly fade. Fifty years later it is kind of hard to support such claims. I suspect that many of the people who denigrated Warhol’s art had never seen it other than in reproduction. When you look at them closely it becomes obvious that his off-register silk screens were just as expressive as many of the action paintings of the previous generation. And what he did with color was simply astounding. Look at the milky green blending to blue and the lemon yellow lips on the face of Richard Nixon in his painting “McGovern.” These are indescribable colors that only Warhol could come up with (and yes, it is a portrait of Nixon with the name McGovern written across the bottom).
Installation shot of Juan Alonso Studio, courtesy the artist.
The one painting by Wayne Thiebaud was a terrific example of his lush paint application. I wish there were more of his paintings. He was always seen as on the periphery of pop, more of a classical painter, but his subject matter fit right in, and man could he ever paint. And since this show “departs” from the first wave of pop to feature later developments, it would have been nice if one of his much later San Francisco cityscapes had been included.
My least favorite among the first generation pop artists in this show is Ramos. Clever titles like “Val Veeta” (a naked pin-up girl on top of a box of Velveeta cheese, note the spelling) do not erase the fact that his pin-up girls are just as sexist as the commercialization of sex he supposedly lampooned. There are a number of his paintings in this show, and they are not impressive.
Among the best of the most contemporary works is Cabrera’s “Vocho (Yellow),” an actual-size, beat-up yellow Volkswagen Beetle made of vinyl, batting, thread and car parts including real bumper and tail lights. The loosely hanging threads in the car lend a house-of-horrors aspect to the car. It reminds me of some of Edward Kienholz’s installations. Obviously influenced by Oldenberg, this is a more powerful piece than any of the Oldenberg’s in the show (his sculptures look best in situ and these look weak in a gallery setting).
Another of the more outstanding recent works is Barbara Kruger’s portrait of Andy Warhol, “untitled (Not cruel enough).” This wall size portrait, 109” x 109”, would be indistinguishable from a self-portrait by Andy if it were not for the insulting descriptors printed all around and across the face — unflattering things others have called Warhol.
“Pop Departures” is but one of many shows at SAM. I wandered into the galleries featuring modern and contemporary works from the permanent collection and enjoyed once again seeing paintings by Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock and a couple of great Hans Hoffmans. I was blown away by two large Frank Stella paintings and opposite them a wall-size painting by Al Held. One gallery had a wall full of small paintings by Held, each about a foot square. We always think of his paintings as being slick, flat and precise, but the paint application on these looked like plaster spread with a trowel.
“American Art Masterworks” includes a selection of works by early American masters including John Singer Sargent, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer and many more — dark and somber works to counteract the glitz of the pop art.
“City Dwellers: Contemporary Art from India” offered interesting views on mostly sculpture and photography by contemporary Indian artists. "Include Me Out," an amazingly dense photo-montage by Vivek Vilasinia and "India Shining V (Gandhi with iPod) by Debnjan Roy, a striking bright red fiberglass sculpture of Gandhi walking with an iPod in hand stand out, as does "Untiled (Self in Progress)" by Alwar Balasubramaniam, a haunting image in white of a seated figure with face and legs buried into a wall and projecting out the other side.
After leaving SAM drove to Pioneer Square to visit the Juan Alonso Studio on Washington Street. Juan Alonso-Rodriguez was represented by the Francine Seders Gallery until it closed. He has now joined the ranks of DIY artists who are marketing their own work and opening their studios to the public. His latest work is a series of abstract paintings with horizontal bands or stripes, many in brilliant colors and often with abstract expressionist drips and slashes confined within forms that are essentially minimalist and hard-edge, thus striking an exciting balance between the two strongest movements in abstraction during the second half of the 20th century. These are some of the more vibrant paintings I have seen in a long time.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day at SAM and Alonso-Rodriquez’s studio and highly recommend you visit both when you can.
Juan Alonso Studio, 306 S. Washington St. #104, open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturdays.
Pop Departures , Thursday-Sunday, 2-6 p.m. through Jan. 11, 2015, Seattle Art Museum1300 First Ave., Seattle,

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Joe Batt at Salon Refu

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 13, 2014

Over the past year Salon Refu has established itself as the edgiest art gallery in Olympia, if not the edgiest south of Seattle. But being in the avant garde is not enough for gallery owner Susan Christian; she also insists that the art in her gallery be skillfully crafted — no carelessly thrown-together art for this gallery.

And that brings us to the current installation by ceramicist Joe Blatt, which is outstanding in almost all aspects but slightly thrown-together in some small parts.
For some time now I’ve been fascinated with Batt’s strangely anthropomorphized animals and child-animal hybrids. Now he offers a complete environment comprised of ceramic children and charcoal drawings. It’s a world of satellites and cellular phones — surreal and futuristic, yet very much the world we live in, a world in which everyone is connected via satellite, in which every hand holds a smart phone and heads, eyes and brains become television monitors.

Batt creates this world by placing ceramic children throughout the gallery, some on sculpture stands, a couple on ladders. Most are unpainted red clay, but there are spots of color here and there, such as the little girl with yellow pigtails and a pink jacket walking in too-large high heel shoes. There are children whose faces become view-screens, children that are cute and loveable and simultaneously horrifying.

Hanging from the ceiling are satellites and satellite dishes, while others hang on the wall, some drawn in charcoal on paper and others drawn directly on the walls. As a final strange touch, little cut-out clouds in charcoal on Foam Core board are scattered about the floor along with broken keyboards made of ceramics.

The marvel of all this is how beautifully and humorously the ceramic sculptures and charcoal drawings contrast and harmonize with one another in content as well as style work. In many ways this may be one of the most completely realized installations I’ve seen in a long time. While studying the show I kept thinking, “ET, call home,” but in this case it was everybody call ET.

This installation is funny, inventive, and a telling commentary on contemporary society (and perhaps a dire warning of a future in which people are indistinguishable from their technological devices).

But now I have to mention the hastily thrown-together aspect that I alluded to in the opening. Although the charcoal drawings on paper are exquisite, those drawn directly on the wall are crude and look unfinished, as if the texture of the wall presented a challenge the artist was not up to or as if he did not give himself enough time to finish them. And the little cloud formations on the floor are silly and uninteresting. Having said that, I now must say this is an installation like no other and you really should see it.

Joe Batt , Thursday-Sunday, 2-6 p.m. through Nov. 26, Salon Refu 114 N Capitol Way, Olympia,

Joe Batt will talk bout his installations Nov. 23 at 6 p.m.