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.

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