Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ahoy, A Maritime Exhibition, at B2

Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 28, 2015

“Salish Canoe” linocut by Mary Pacios, courtesy B2 Fine Art Gallery
“Ahoy, A Maritime Exhibition” at B2 Gallery features paintings of ships and boats and people at work on the water by Mary Pacios, Susanna Rodriguez, James Cole and Austin Dwyer.
In many ways, Dwyer dominates the show, due to his technical skill and the high drama of much of his work. But his paintings are in the style of 18th century seascapes, a melding of William Turner and Winslow Homer for the 21st century, and I have a hard time crediting that as legitimate art. In this post-modernist time of appropriation it might be old fashioned of me to say so — ironic though it might be — but I think contemporary artists should make art that looks contemporary. Like bird by Audubon, Dwyer’s ships are more interesting as documents than as art.
Having said that, I am impressed with the way Dwyer paints sea and water, with the detail of his contemporary and historical scenes, his composition, and his use of color.
In the center gallery there are three historic paintings by Dwyer. “The Vasa” is a painting of a 17th century Swedish warship that sank on her maiden voyage. The two versions of the “Battle of Copenhagen” show warships from the 18th century with cannons firing. Both are Turner-like with stormy seas and flaming explosions, but not as misty or mysterious as a Turner, nor as bold.
Among his paintings of more contemporary scenes, “Symphony of Rust” depicts a trawler out of Anchorage with a confusion of poles and rigging that create a pattern of diagonals against the white of a glacier or snow-covered cliff, and a fishnet being rolled out to sea. This is a powerful painting, with just the right balance between sharp detail and parts of the ship shadowed and misted by sea and sky. Similarly, he beautifully handles stormy sea and windswept clouds in “Wawona, Cod Fishing in Alaska.”
One of his best contemporary scenes is a painting of ships at the Port of Seattle, with Quest Field visible in the background. Blending old and new, the tall ship “Lady Washington” is seen in port.  The most dramatic works in the show are two prints by Pacios. “Salish Canoe” is 104 inches long and 43 inches in height. “The Crew” is even larger at 148 inches by 43 inches. Both are stark black-and-white images. “Salish Canoe” pictures two rowers in a canoe, while “The Crew” depicts a crew of eight rowers lined up in perfect synchronization as seen from directly overhead.
Rodriguez is showing small acrylic paintings of boats at sea shrouded in fog to the point that they become almost unrecognizable. “Emerald Sea I” and “Emerald Sea II” are both watery images devoid of detail of black vessels in a blue sea that remind me of Whistler’s foggiest sea scenes but with even less detail.
Cole has a group of small seascapes, some in oil and some in watercolor. I think the watercolors are the more successful of the bunch.
B2 Fine Art Gallery, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 9 p.m. through June 30, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065]

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Have you met Travis?

"Fin" painting by Thornton Willis

I invested a lot of heart and mind in the invention and development of Travis Earl “Red” Warner. He was the protagonist of my first novel, Until the Dawn, and he resurfaced as a minor character about a dozen years later in Return to Freedom, the second book in the Freedom Trilogy, and loomed somewhat larger in the sequel, Visual Liberties.
It would be a lie to deny that there’s a lot of me in Travis. I think he is what I would be if I were a bit gutsier and didn’t give a damn what others thought of me.
From the start I was aware that people who knew me would think he WAS me. So I took efforts to make him different. I’m a tiny man, so I made him huge—red headed, strong as a bull and bull-headed, which I don’t think I ever have been. I made him a high school football hero in his youth, a fierce defensive lineman who would mow down his own teammates in order to tackle an opposing runner—inspired by my nephew, the artist Willie Ray Parish, who went to Ole Miss on a football scholarship. I was too small to play football, but I tried; my gridiron career ended with a knee injury in junior high school.
Travis was also an artist and an avid fisherman. The first scene I wrote for Until the Dawn had him fishing on Mary Walker Bayou where I had fished back in my high school years. Interestingly, in the first draft the novel opened with that scene, but it was moved to near the end in the final draft.
I wanted to give Travis some physical characteristic that would make him stand out, and what I came up with was his index finger was cut off at the first knuckle. Once I did that I had to imagine why the tip of his finger was cut off. Once I figured out how it happened that became a central element of the plot, which I’m not going to explain here because some people reading this may not have read the book yet. Suffice it to say it might or might not have had something to do with an alligator.
So Travis was an artist and so was I, but in describing his art I did not make it anything like my art. At least not at first. The descriptions of the paintings that first made him famous were based on early paintings by Thornton Willis who shared a studio with me when I was a senior in college and he was in his first year as a teacher in the Art Department. He later moved to New York and became quite successful as a painter. 
When Travis reappeared in Return to Freedom, he had aged and mellowed somewhat but was still an outrageous and fun-loving character, no longer so angst-ridden as in his earlier incarnation.  Over the next few years, as described in Return to Freedom and Visual Liberties, his art also evolved. He went through periods of making art that resembled my own paintings and also works by Willem de Kooning at various stages of his career—de Kooning being the painter who influenced me more than any other. Finally, toward the end of his career, Travis started making paintings based on some ideas for paintings that I dreamed up but could never successfully complete.
So there you have him, the infamous Red Warner, a favorite character who has shown up in three of my novels and who was the artist I wish I could have been.

Olympia Family Theater’s ‘Pinocchio’

from left: Russ Holm, Kate Ayers, Xander Layden, Korja Giles and Stephanie Claire. Photos by Dinea DePhoto

Hey parents, you should take your children to see Pinocchio at Olympia Family Theater. I guarantee they’ll love it. You will too.
This new adaptation of the classic children’s story may be targeted for pre-school and elementary school kids, but kids of all ages can enjoy it.
It is not like any version of Pinocchio you’ve ever seen. In this version, Actor Kate Ayers walks out into what is supposed to be an empty theater and is shocked to see that the seats are filled with children (the actual audience). Before I go any further I should explain that the stage is … well, a stage. It appears to be between performances and the stage is littered with ladders and a scaffold and paint cans, and the actors are playing the part of painters. I may also note that they are identified only as Actor 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
So back to Kate Ayers, Actor 1. She’s the boss of the painting crew, and she and her crew are getting ready to paint the theater when she sees all the children in the audience. The children think it is show time, and they don’t leave when she tells them to go home. Understand, I’m talking about the actual audience at Olympia Family Theater. It’s a Sunday matinee and more than half the audience are children. When Actor 1 tells them to go home, after some confusion because some of them really are not sure what to make of this, they shout “No!” (Throughout the show the real children in the real audience shout at the actors on stage — spontaneously, without being cued; it is a laugh riot.)
So Ayers and her crew of painters (Russ Holm, Xander Layden, Korja Giles and Stephanie Claire) decide to pretend to be actors and give the children the show they’ve come to see. But boy, it’s certainly a different kind of Pinocchio, even though many of the familiar story elements are kept intact: Pinocchio turns into a donkey, is bamboozled by his “so called friends” Cat and Fox, is swallowed by a whale, and of course his nose grows when he lies.
Korja Giles

Russ Holm
A delightfully innovative aspect to this production is that objects lying about in the theater become imaginative props. Paint brushes, for example, become a fairy’s magic wand and donkey ears.
Ayers plays Jiminy Cricket and other characters; Holm plays Pinocchio’s papa, Gepetto, and other characters; Claire plays a stage hand or usher (and actually is an usher before the show starts), and she plays the accordion; Layden plays the naughty kid who encourages Pinocchio to skip school; and Giles is loveable, sweet, gullible and innocent as Pinocchio. It’s a marvelous cast of great actors, and for the adults in the audience they should stand as proof positive that playing in children’s theater takes every bit as much acting skill as playing Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams.
Go see it. You’ll love it. I promise.
Only four shows remaining.
Pinocchio runs Thurs.-Fri., 7 p.m., Sat.-Sun. at 2 p.m. through May 31. Olympia Family Theater, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia, 360-570-1638.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Boycott! The Poster Show

 The Art of Economic Activism

"Boycott" by Ricardo Levins Morales, Northland Poster Collective, digital print2002, Minneapolis, MN

“Rosa Parks” by Donnelly/Colt, offset print, 1990. Courtesy American Friends Service Committee
The featured art exhibition at Obsidian CafĂ© in Olympia is Boycott! The Art of Economic Activism, a traveling poster exhibit of 58 posters highlighting diverse historical boycott movements, from Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott that fired up the civil rights movement in the 1950s to today’s Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions.

The exhibit features posters for more than 20 boycotts, including, in addition to those mentioned above, the United Farm Workers’ grape and lettuce boycotts in the 1970s and divestment from Apartheid in South Africa in the ’80s.

Protest posters are designed to be bold and grab immediate attention. Like advertising art of all types, poster art tries to convey the most information with the fewest words, to have an emotional impact and to move the viewer to action — whether that action is to attend a lecture or meeting or to spread the word or to not buy lettuce. Unlike a lot of advertising art, such posters tend to be less than aesthetically sophisticated or sophisticated in a way not normally associated with fine art – although that lack of sophistication itself can have an aesthetic impact, as witnessed by much of pop art or, as a prime recent example, rock posters by the likes of Art Chantry (see my recent review of Art Chantry Speaks in the Weekly Volcano).

Some of these posters are all words with no images, crudely hand-written, such as Ricardo Levin Morales’ poster that reads: “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let’s work together.”

Some are simple and elegant, such as the Rosa Parks poster with a sepia-tone photograph of the civil rights icon seated on a bus and the words: “You are the spark that started our freedom movement. Thank you sister Rosa Parks” — lyrics from the song by the Neville Brothers.

Bob Zierings’ poster “Divest Now” from 1978 is an anti-apartheid poster that combines strong and beautifully rendered drawing of a face with hands breaking chains with bold and simple Helvetica type in all caps: “FREE SOUTH AFRICA – DIVEST NOW.”

Another poster from the same year has a black and white line drawing of a stereotypical black mammy with a head scarf in the style of 19th century woodcuts and the legend “Del Monte Profits from Apartheid.”

One of the strongest images with the simplest message of all is a fairly recent (1992) poster by an unknown artist that has nothing on it but the words “Boycott Colorado” in all-caps with white letters over a black silhouette of a mountain range. Without knowing the story behind it there would be no way of understanding that it was in protest of an amendment of Colorado’s state constitution that prevented any city, town or country from recognizing LGBTQ individuals as a protected class. At the time, no explanation was needed.

Overall the posters in this show are bold and colorful, innovative and well designed. Artistically they accomplish what good posters should, and the show as a whole presents a history of political movements over the past half century that should be appreciated by everyone, whether or not they agree with the advocated political positions.

The show was organized by the American Friends Service Committee and Center for the Study of Political Graphics and is sponsored in Olympia by the Rachel Corrie Foundation.

Boycott! The Art of Economic Activism, through May 30, Obsidian, 414 4th Ave E, Olympia