Thursday, March 5, 2015

Two shows: Hart James and Aisha Harrison

Collaboration Installation, Aisha Harrison and SPSCC art students, courtesy SPSCC
“In the Forest Dark,” oil on canvas by Hart James. Photo courtesy the artist.


Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 5, 2015

If you’re reading this on Thursday, March 5, you have only two days to see Aisha Harrison’s collaborative installation at South Puget Sound Community College and only until Saturday to see the big Hart James exhibition at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia. So get moving. I’d hate for you to miss either one of these.
Aisha Harrison is the best realist sculptor in the South Sound. I don’t mean realist in the sense of slick, fool-the-eye realistic stuff like Duane Hanson and John de Andrea’s figures. I mean realistic like Rembrandt and Courbet. Harrison is the real deal.

In the gallery at SPSCC she has collaborated with 17 art students to create a marvelous installation comprising a single black skeleton lying on an island of white rock salt. It is life-size and sleek and shiny as obsidian, and the skeleton and its bed of salt reflect in the equally shiny black floor like an island afloat on still water. It is simple but mesmerizing to look at.

The students are in Joe Batt’s Introduction to Sculpture class. Also helping with the installation was ceramics technician Robin Ewing.

Harrison wrote, “I am interested in the experience of power and privilege derived from an individual’s race, class and/or gender identity.” Each viewer of the installation may wonder for themselves or discuss with other viewers how this applies to the black skeleton — the harsh contrast of the blackest black and whitest white, the reference to death, or other meanings not overtly stated in the work.

Hart James is a landscape painter who is fairly new to Olympia. Her show at the Washington Center includes 48 paintings spread throughout the lobby, mezzanine and balcony. Most are woodland scenes with dense tangles of trees and patches of sky poking though. In almost every instance the sky seems to advance forward to lie on the same surface as the trees — everything flattened in the modernist fashion. The paint is predominantly a heavy impasto applied with palette knife or other flat instrument, sometimes applied in contrast to lightly brushed background colors. Cezanne immediately comes to mind, and to a lesser degree van Gogh. But her landscapes are not from French woodlands but most definitely the dense forests of Western Washington. One striking exception, however, is a painting titled “Land, Water and Sky — Iceland,” which has an open feel, a windswept ski and colors that are cold as ice.

Another exception is “Meditation on a Group of Trees,” which is brushy and sketchy. I suspect some viewers might think it looks unfinished. I single out these two not because they are better than the others but because they are so different, signaling perhaps new directions the artist can pursue.

This is a large show, and the work is excellent.

Hart James, noon to 4 p.m. through March 7, The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, enter through the Black Box door.
Collaboration Installation with Aisha Harrison, noon to 4 p.m. through March 6,
The Gallery at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527,

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