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.

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