Sunday, December 27, 2015

Blue Collar at Fulcrum

“Mother and Son,” acrylic on metal platter by Adrian Bouchard. Photo courtesy of the artist

Adrian Bouchard’s timeless portraits

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 24, 2015

I love the new show at Fulcrum Gallery. It is called Blue Collar, paintings in acrylic on antique platters by Adrian Bouchard. How such an outstanding Tacoma painter could have escaped my attention until now is beyond comprehension.

Bouchard paints portraits taken from old photographs. They are hyper realistic, painted with excruciating  exactness in tones of black, white and gray to duplicate the antique look of the source photographs. But the key to their success is that they are not exact duplicates of the photos but rather creative interpretations. Wall labels include thumbnail-size reproductions of the original photographs with Bouchard’s descriptions of why he chose these particular ones. The photographers are credited when known, but many are unknown.
“Ni,” acrylic on metal platter by Adrian Bouchard. Photo courtesy of the artist

Comparing the photos with the paintings to see what he has chosen to include, change, or crop in order to enhance the imagery is interesting. For example, “Ni” is a picture of a 1920’s bathing beauty. In the photo she is seen standing in the surf, visible from the waist up. Her eyes are in shadow, cast downward. But the painting is a head shot. Viewers can’t see that she is wearing a bathing suit. Her eyes are bigger and brighter, looking directly at the viewer, and her lips are fuller. Bouchard has changed it from documentation of 1920s swimwear to a close-up portrait of a flirtatious flapper.

The front gallery is filled with Depression-era portraits. In the back gallery there is a wall of flappers from the roaring twenties, all beautiful women and all but one from photos by unknown
photographers. That one exception is “Hattie-Sue,” a painting of a proud and dignified black woman originally photographed by Alan S. Harper. Her strength and dignity contrast sharply with the devil-may-care attitudes of all the flappers.   The Depression-era pictures in the front gallery tell stories of scarred humanity.  “Mother and Son”, from a photograph by Frederick Ramage, is a sad picture of a woman holding her child as if her love is the only thing that can protect him from the ravages of poverty. On the wall label, Bouchard writes, “I had to hold back tears while painting because of the raw emotion demonstrated by this mother a she embraced her son.”

“Miner” is the largest painting in the show at 14½ by 18½ inches. It is a close-up view of a miner’s face. He is wearing a helmet with a headlamp. His face is deeply lined and his eyes intense. The whites of his eyes and the white hairs in his salt-and-pepper beard are even more intense than the white of the lamp on his headgear. This portrait has the punch of a sledge hammer.

Another painting that demonstrates Bouchard’s choice of what to include from the photo is “Migrant Worker,” a portrait of an attractive adolescent black girl. It’s all about her beauty and serenity. Only by looking at the accompanying photograph do we see that she is one of four family members lashing their worldly possessions to the roof and back of an old car, preparing to move to the next field where they hope to find work as pickers. The photo is by Jack Delano.

When you see this — and see it you must — be sure to read all of the wall labels. Take your time in studying each carefully. Note the visual harmonies and contrasts between the often elaborately decorated platters and the simple, elegant portraits painted on them.

Blue Collar, Wednesday & Friday noon to 6 p.m., through Jan. 15, Fulcrum Gallery, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Tacoma.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Creating Wonders

 Alan Bryce and Doug Duval are creating wonders at Centerstage
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 24, 2015
front: Joshua Williamson and Katherine Jett, back: Cooper Harris-Turner in For All That. Photo courtesy Center Stage.

When I started writing theater reviews 10 years ago few people outside of Federal Way had ever heard of Centerstage, but in the years since, this little-known theater has blossomed into one of the finest in the Puget Sound region — thanks in large part to outstanding productions spearheaded by, and in some instances written and directed by, Artist Director Alan Bryce, who came here from London’s famous West End theatrical district (the equivalent of America’s Broadway). And thanks as well to rousing musical productions such as the great tribute of British Rock, I’m Into Something Good, and the many tributes to musical legends such as Sinatra and Billie Holiday and Nat King Cole spearheaded by Musical Director David Duvall. And the amazing musical war story For All That, written by Bryce, a musical play set during World War I on the little known Island of Lewis off the coast of Scotland. This play won national acclaim, including a write-up in Huffington Post — one more accolade to add to Centerstage’s ever-growing collection.
“Although Centerstage is surely doing a lot better financially than it was when I took over, we continue to push the envelope upwards to aim for bigger and better things, so it is a perpetual fiscal balancing act. I have a really strong relationship with our Business Manager, Judy Kent, who chastises me if we go over budget on anything. Judy is one of those unseen people behind the scenes who makes sure that we keep our financial house in order. She is incredibly valuable to Centerstage. It's also worth pointing out that our new Board President, Bob Dockstader, is making some dynamic changes at the Board level, changes of which I am heartily in favor,” Bryce says.
The year before Bryce took over, Centerstage's earned and unearned income totaled $75,000. The overall budget for that year was $100,000. This year’s budget is $330,000. “So I figure I have grown our revenues by about 450 percent since I have been here” Bryce says.
Ten years ago 75 percent of their audience came from within the city limits of Federal Way. Now 70 percent of their audience members are from out of town.
A vital part of the theater’s operating budget comes from the city. When the city threatened to pull their contract last year, they received nearly a thousand emails from theater patrons. Many of the emails stated that Centerstage was the only reason they came to Federal Way. “The negotiation process was constructive and both parties, Centerstage and the City (lead by the Mayor's Chief of Staff, Brian Wilson) participated with a very positive attitude,” Bryce says.
Next up is another play written by Bryce. It is based on the true story of seven people who died after taking cyanide-laced Extra Strength Tylenol . Death on the Supermarket Shelf comes to Centerstage March 4-20.
Next up is Signed, Sealed, Delivered: The Stevie Wonder Songbook, a one-night-only show starring Sheldon Craig with David Duvall and the Purple Phoenix Orchestra to bring your favorite hits of Stevie Wonder. Catch this one night show on Saturday, April 2, at 8 p.m. And then on Friday, April 29 comes The Idiot's Funeral, a murder mystery dinner fundraiser at Twin Lakes Country Club, with a full-course dinner, a mystery that the audience gets to solve, and an auction to follow.
Mark Twain starring Michael Mauldin as the famous writer and humorist comes for an evening performance April 16 and a matinee April 17.
In May Centerstage will produce the hit comedy 9 to 5.
For more information on upcoming shows and other events, go to
Centerstage at Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Couple of Cameras

Photographs by David Scherrer and Susan Bennerstrom at Salon Refu
"Mayo Cottage" photo by David Scherrer
Damn! This show just barely opened and already it’s almost time for it to close. It will be open Christmas Ever and Dec. 26 and 27 from 2 to 6 p.m. It’s definitely worth seeing if you appreciate fine photography, so while you’re downtown doing your Christmas shopping, stop by Salon Refu.
You do do your shopping downtown, don’t you? Of course you do.
Scherrer and Bennerstrom are Bellingham artists. He is a professional photographer, and she is known primarily as a painter (you can see her paintings at
 or at Linda Hodges gallery in Seattle) but as this exhibition demonstrates, she is also skilled with a camera. Both appear to have a technical mastery of the art of photography, but more significant than their technical mastery it is their eye for composition and for choosing the perfect spot to aim their cameras from among the myriad sights they come across in their travels. They apparently travel a lot, and the photos in this show are from those trips. 
It is people that catch Bennerstrom’s eye, while for Scherrer it is architecture, nature and light. Her photographs are filled with people in mostly urban settings, whereas the presence of humanity is felt more than seen in Scherrer’s urban scenes. The few people who show up in his photographs are often isolated, and seen from odd angles — birds’ eye views abound. We never see their faces, so there is a feeling of aloneness and perhaps sadness. There is a satisfying richness of light and shadow as he points his camera down from on high at the streets and town squares and dense tree branches of Europe, and at the few people who wander into his camera range.
"Red Curtains" photo by Susan Bennerstrom
In “Yellow Chairs,” one of my favorites, he focuses on a group of chairs in a haphazard circle on a city square. They are more chartreuse than yellow. There is a scattering of leaves on the ground that creates a pattern like footprints of dancers, which resonates musically with the chairs. And there is a single woman seen from high above, her head and face covered by a hat and scarf. One wonders what she is doing. Is she cleaning up after the crowd has left, or is she the last straggler to leave the party?
“Figure” is a photo of a woman in the shower murkily seen in silhouette through a shower curtain. Her dimly viewed figure is reflected in a mirror, but the reflection is no more clearly seen than is her body behind the curtain. There is an open window through which brilliant sunlight shines and bounces off the white tile walls. This photo calls to mind Edward Hopper’s paintings “Morning Sun” and “Hotel by a Railroad.” 
Scherrer’s enigmatic “Entrance” is a picture of a large blank wall with a single small door out of which crawl a couple of black garden hoses that sneak across the patio among fallen leaves. The hoses create a sensual line drawing
One entire wall of the gallery is filled with Bennerstrom’s photographs of street scenes in Barcelona. They are lighter and brighter than Scherrer’s photos (meaning light hearted, not necessarily more sunlight, which can be seen in abundance in his photos as well). There are crowds in her pictures bustling about their daily routines. There is a candid feel to these photos. Clearly none of these people knew nor cared that they were being photographed. There is almost an obsession with feet and legs in her pictures, as if she has decided that picturing legs in motion is the best way to depict the busy quality of these people’s lives.
There’s one called “Barcelona Species” that pictures four human legs and feet and a pair of large dog feet as if the dog is just one more walker on the street. “Barcelona Stride” pictures four walkers with long strides seen from the knees down. One gets the feeling they are in a great and determined hurry. “Barcelona Rest” focuses once again on legs and feet with three pair of feet at rest and two walking.
One of her photos that stands out in sharp contrast to the others is “Trident.” A trident or pronged garden tool sticks out from the bottom edge of a red curtain and touches the edge of something on the ground like a manhole cover, which is painted white and appears to have been made of wood. The overall effect is mysterious, abstract, and somewhat ominous.
Scherrer’s and Bennerstrom’s photos — unframed and casually displayed — fill the space at Salon Refu nicely and are definitely worth seeing.

David Scherrer and Susan Bennerstrom at Salon Refu, Thursday-Sunday 2-6 p.m., and by appointment. Through Dec. 27, 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia,

Monday, December 21, 2015

My Next Book After the Next One

My latest novel is in the hands of first readers Ned, Jack and Christian, all excellent writers and editors who will tell me what scenes, characters, and  bon mots are staggeringly fabulous and which will surely shame me if they ever see publication. After the holidays I will send it to Larry, who will add his incisive commentary. I’m confident that it’s a great book, and even more confident that after Ned, Jack, Christian, and Larry are done with it, it will be even better.
And then, after I do a re-write based on N, J, D, and L’s comments, Gabi will read it and edit it. She tends to be ruthlessly thorough with her edits, and we usually argue a lot about them, and more often than not I end up agreeing with her.
The book is called Tupelo. It is the story of a small town in an era of radical change as seen through the eyes of a white boy born to privilege who comes of age in the time of Freedom Riders, lunch counter sit-ins, civil rights marches and demonstrations.
Kevin is the second born of a set of identical twins and the youngest of seven children, all older sisters who dote on him and his twin brother. Born in 1943 on the night when their father’s hardware store burns to the ground, Kevin grows up in idyllic times, the boom years of the 1950s—football, fast cars, rock and roll, and dates with the cutest girls in school. But gradually he discovers that he and his family live in a protected bubble while less than a block away in an area known as The Alley, a handful of black families live in poverty, almost invisible to Kevin and his family. He develops a crush on Maddie Jean, a young girl from The Alley, but they both know they can never be friends.
He watches in confusion as his white friends react to the growing civil rights movement. He witnesses the riot on campus at nearby Ole Miss when James Meredith breaks the color barrier at the university, and he witnesses the trial of another child of The Alley who is falsely accused of rape and murder.
Tupelo the novel is the awakening of Kevin Lumpkin and the awakening of the town and the nation.
While driving up to Seattle two days ago, I gave Gabi a verbal synopsis of the story, and as expected, she found major faults with it that I will have to deal with as I will have to deal with whatever problems N, J, D, and L might find.
Meanwhile, I want to get started on another book. I can’t stand not having one to work on. But I don’t know what to write about. At least I didn’t until that trip up to Seattle when Gabi said I should try to bring together characters from all of my novels in a single story, which I immediately said would be impossible. But maybe not now that I give it a little more thought. Travis Earl Warner, the main character in Until the Dawn, who is as ubiquitous in my books as Alfred Hitchcock is in his own movies, left Mississippi to become an artist in New York. So did Lane Felts, the main character in Imprudent Zeal. He worked for an organization called Everything for Everybody that provided housing and meals and clothing for poor people and was a magnet for hippies and artists of all types. Being who he was, it would have been unnatural if Travis Warner had not found his way to Everything for Everybody sometime in the mid-to-late seventies. It would have also been natural if not downright inevitable for Maddie Jean from my unpublished novel Tupelo to also escape to the Big Apple and end up at EFE. (She already knows Travis).
I’ve already written a scene in my head where the three of them meet.
Damn, this is fun. I wonder if I can work in characters from Reunion at the Wetside and the Freedom Trilogy without it becoming too contrived. We shall see.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ringside: The Boxing Show at B2

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 17, 2015

“Daily Drill,” oil on canvas by Julie Snyder, courtesy B2 Fine Art Gallery
Ringside at B2Fine Art Gallery is an unusual departure from the regular fare at art galleries. It is an art exhibition about boxing featuring photographs by veteran sports photographer Chris Farina, paintings by international kickboxer Kevin Brewer, and paintings by Julie Snyder. Also listed in the show announcement is sculptor Robin Antar, whose work they were unable to get in time for the show. I was told, however, that some of his work may be available through the gallery.
"Unstoppable," acrylic painting by Kevin Brewer,
courtesy B2 Fine Art Gallery
The biggest potential downfall with a lot of figurative art is the danger of letting the subject matter become more important than the art. A lot of the art in this show closely skirts that, but does not quite cross the line. Photography by its very nature nearly always balances on that edge and often tumbles over, so I will start my analysis of this exhibition with a discussion of Farina’s photographs.
After seeing her photographs in this show, my immediate thought was that Farina must be the Annie Lebovitz of sports photography, but when I looked him up online I discovered that his range is much broader, specializing in entertainment and celebrity photos as well as advertising and corporate publicity. On his website at you’ll find photos of celebrities ranging from Donald Trump to Prince. At B2 he has action shots and portraits of such famous boxers as Muhammad Ali; Manny Pacquiao, a.k.a Pacman; and Rocky Balboa, a.k.a. Sylvester Stallone. There are photos of Stallone with Pacman and with Sugar Ray Leonard; a great photo of Mike Tyson called “Mike’s Best Side,” which is a close-up portrait highlighting his facial tattoo; and a portrait of an ageing Ali in which his face looks puffy but in which his essential impish humor and kindness shows through. This may well be the best of photo in the show.
The reference to Lebovitz is telling in a way that does not make Farina look good, because even though his photographs are well composed, beautifully lighted and sharply focused, they display none of the artistic genius of a Lebovitz and are, as I indicated in the opening, more interesting in who they picture than in how they are pictured.
Snyder has the fewest pictures in the show, but her modest oil paintings are my favorite things in this show. They are unassuming paintings of boxers in the ring painted in a style such as was seen in many early American artists such as George Bellows, George Luks and John Sloan. They are dark, with subtly expressive brushwork and a dynamic use of dark and light contrasts. One of her best is “Before the Bell,” a moody painting depicting a pensive boxer waiting in his corner for the bell to ring. Another great one is “Daily Drill,” a dramatic painting of a woman boxer working on a heavy bag. There’s more movement in this one than in any of her others. I was told it was inspired by a Northwest regional boxer known by the nickname “Queenie.”
Finally, there are a number of large paintings by Brewster based on idea of using the figure of a boxer, or boxers, as abstract shapes that divide the canvas into almost symmetrically balanced shapes that are painted in bold swathes of color seemingly applied with a trowel. To me (and this is personal taste, not based on any rational critical criteria), they just barely miss being outstanding paintings. The concept is great, the compositions are nice, but there is a cumbersome feel to them that I find off-putting. I think his most successful paintings are two of the same subject, boxers clinching against the ropes. They are “Unstoppable” and “On the Ropes.”

Ringside, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 9 p.m. Third Thursdays, through Jan. 9, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065.