Friday, April 29, 2016

Marit Berg & Melinda Liebers-Cox at Tacoma Community College

Myth, the Mundane and Many Animals
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 28, 2016
Made in Japan: Bulldog” by Melinda Liebers Cox. All photos  courtesy Tacoma Community College

Made in Japan: Bulldog” by Melinda Liebers Cox. All photos  courtesy Tacoma Community College

“Halycon Malimbiaca” (blue-breasted kingfisher) from the Halcyon Kingfisher series by by Marit Berg , oil on panel
First impressions upon entering a gallery are often misleading. Art that might dazzle at first glance often turns out to be flashy but with“Halycon Malimbiaca” (blue-breasted kingfisher) from the Halcyon Kingfisher series by by Marit Berg , oil on panelout substance, and works that may be off-putting could be too new or too outside the ordinary to be appreciated until you’ve had time to study it and let it sink in. 

My first impression of paintings and prints by Marit Berg & Melinda Liebers-Cox in The Gallery at Tacoma Community College was the misconception that it is not a particularly good show.  With the exceptions of Berg’s painting of a horse, which hangs behind the reception desk and a sensitive and airy graphic drawing by Liebers-Cox titled “Endangered Species,” the works appeared to be mostly competent but not outstanding illustrations of animals as might be seen in an encyclopedia or textbook. But after having let the show digest a bit, I’ve decided there’s more to it than meets the eye. There are levels and levels of meaning that are not apparent at first. There can be found visual commentary of the relationships between the natural and artificial worlds, a look into other cultures, such as in Liebers-Cox’s series of paintings of Japanese ceramic dogs, and symbolism and mythology such as in Berg’s series on the Greek myth of Alcyone and Cyex.

Thirteen small paintings in gouache of the Japanese ceramic dogs line the back wall of the gallery. These are odd-looking little toy dogs juxtaposed with mundane household items such as jars, cups, note pads and whistles, set in front of decoratively patterned wall paper. If identifying information had not been provided, it would be easy to think they were not quite successful attempts at realistic depictions of actual dogs; but once you realize they are pictures of ceramic dogs they become more interesting, and the visual interplay between the dogs and the other objects and background patterns, and the balance of open and closed space becomes intriguing.
“Endangered Species” by Liebers-Cox is a picture of a woman’s alligator purse and shoes thrown out into a tangle of vines and leaves along with what looks like fox pelts, and there is an alligator head poking out of the top to the purse — all making for a strange and striking marriage of nature and the creatures of nature with the fashion items created from their sacrificed bodies. This, to me, is the hardest-hitting social commentary in the show, and it is nicely composed in that everything is locked together in an endless circle created by the leaves and vines.
Berg’s paintings on the myth of Alcyone and Cyex is her Halcyon Kingfisher series, 12 small paintings of Kingfishers in oil, a single bird in each painting, with a 13th painting centered in the row on a wood panel with a shelf at the bottom holding a nest with an egg in it. Each painting in the series has a bright sun in the background. They are painted in a semi-realistic manner with luscious brushstrokes. On an opposite wall are four relief prints of rabbits and hares. They were inspired by Dürer’s “Young Hare,” but stylistically are more like some of Dürer’s etchings, but with pointillist shading on both the animals and the backgrounds.
In many of Berg’s paintings and drawings the animals are enclosed in (perhaps even imprisoned in) house shapes. I don’t know if this was intended to symbolize the clash between the natural and the man-made or not, but it sets up an effective visual dichotomy. The horse painting I mentioned earlier, which you’ll find behind the reception desk is an excellent example of this dichotomy and also an example of Berg’s sensitive use of space and contrast between drawing and painting.
This show will remain on view for only another week.
The Gallery at Tacoma Community College, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, through May 6, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

No comments: