Friday, July 29, 2016

No Theater Review This week

I am taking a break from writing theater reviews. Watch for upcoming season previews in both The News Tribune and the Weekly Volcano and for a story about Olympia's story slam, Story Oly in the Aug. 11 edition of the Weekly Volcano.

Colored pencil art

Photo: “Len (Roofer)” colored pencil, by John Smolko, courtesy American Art Company

Surprisingly impactful show at American Art Company

Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 28, 2016

“Len (Roofer)” colored pencil, by John Smolko, courtesy American Art Company
The Colored Pencil Society of America's 24 International Exhibition at American Art Company is surprising on many levels. For starters, the 119 works of art that crowd the gallery walls are really paintings, not drawings, by almost any criteria, despite being done with pencils. Second, the detailed technical expertise and attention to detail in each and every work is mind-boggling.

As a longtime artist, critic and former teacher, I feel obligated to point out that pretty pictures skillfully executed do not necessarily qualify as art. (I think this is what the critic Peter Plagens was referring to when he coined the phrase “wall fodder.”) Art must at least strive toward something higher — call me an elitist or a snob if you must, but art should be transformative.

These are not transformative works, but they are mind-boggling in their skill. The intensity, dedication and patience it must have taken for these artists to create these works is almost beyond comprehension.

Nearly all of the works shown are photo-realist or trompe l’oeil paintings. In most, you have to look close and hard to even see that there are pencil marks; in some, I would defy anyone to see a single pencil mark, not even with a magnifying glass.

There are a few exceptions, and I wish there were more. One of the exceptions is John Smolko's "Len (Roofer),” a portrait of a working man taking a break from his work. He sits on the peak of a roof looking out in a contemplative stare. It is a highly realistic picture, yet Smolko does not attempt to hide his pencil marks. There are definite contour lines, most noticeably on the arms. Energetic, swirling lines almost reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting fill the background and even overlap the figure in places. The use of these marks seems to be the artist’s way of reminding the viewer that it is, after all, a drawing. Plus, these marks unify figure and background and energize the picture.

Another exception is Jill Kline's "Cause and Effect." This is a picture of a young woman seen in an extremely foreshortened view standing on or above what looks like a landscape seen from an airplane. There is a heroic and almost unreal quality to the image, even though she too is drawn realistically. The shading is simplified and looks like it was done with pastels, and there are definite outlines around the body that, like the marks in Smolko’s drawing, announce that yes, this is a drawing.

Perhaps the most astounding of the many astoundingly hyper-realist works is Jesse Lane’s “Resolve.” This is a portrait of a dripping-wet man in extreme close-up. Water drips down his face and pours off his chin. The background is solid black, and his face glows as if under a spotlight. The luminosity and heightened contrast of this one is powerful, but may be a little too stagey for some viewers.

There are a lot of flower pictures, many portraits, a lot of old things — such as old typewriters and rusted old cars and trucks — a few landscapes and animal pictures and dreamscapes. As noted, they are all realistic in style. Most are also nicely composed. They have to be admired for their technical skill. They also have hefty price tags, ranging from around $2,000 to $20,000.

Despite what might have been implied by my earlier remarks about pretty and skillful not being sufficient to constitute art, I very much enjoyed seeing this show.

Colored Pencil Society of America's 24 International Exhibition, Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Aug. 13, American Art Company, 1126 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma, 253.272.4327,

Friday, July 22, 2016

Creative Colloquy

South Sound’s premiere reading event
Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 21, 2016
The Creative Colloquy team listening to a reading at B Sharp Coffee House from left: Jenni Prange Boran, Joshua Swainston, Melissa Thayer, William Turbyfil, Chris Casella and Jackie Fender. Photo by Lee Heath.
Created by Jackie Fender a little more than two years ago, Creative Colloquy has become the South Sound’s preeminent literary event. Creative Colloquy is an online magazine featuring short stories, novel excerpts, poetry and other literary work by mostly Tacoma and Olympia writers. Starting in March of 2014, CC started holding readings at B Sharp Coffee House once a month.
“That first event came along and I anticipated a room full of just our friends and family. Instead, 60 people came out, many complete strangers to everyone involved in that first reading, and it was clear from that day that CC was filling a void that many of us had felt,” Fender says.
The public readings featured, in the first hour, local authors reading the stuff they had published in the online CC publication, followed by an open mic in the second hour with brave local writers, some professional and some beginners, reading their stuff in public for the first time. It was a huge hit from the start.
When it comes down to it, I started CC at the prompting of my writer friends who daydreamed of a platform to share stories. The CC vision of contributing to the local literary culture has exceeded anything we could have hoped for. It's a lovely beast where established and novice writers of all genres can connect and share,” Fender says.
In celebration of their first year, CC published an anthology of local writers and held a Creative Crawl, a kind of literary arts walk with readings in many downtown Tacoma venues such as King’s Books, Sanford and Son, Embellish Multispace Salon and others. CC has now published its second anthology and is scheduled for a second Creative Crawl in October with readings at Zodiac Supper Club, Kings Books, Tacoma Cabana, Doyle’s Public House, Odd Otter, Harmon’s Tap Room, Destiny City Comics and B Sharp.
“We have returning community partners like Drunken Telegraph and UWT curating line-ups as well as some new faces producing storytelling hours like Beautiful Angle. The inaugural C3 was pretty amazing and boasted an impressive attendance and we are looking forward to making this year a larger and more astonishing production. Should be a lot of fun,” Fender said.
Among the regular readers at the monthly events are local favorites such as Christian Carvajal, Titus Burley, Marissa Meyer, William Turbyfil, Lucas Smiraldo, Melissa Thayer and Jennifer Chushcoff.
This year Olympia CC has started with readings at Traditions CafĂ©, which will move to Forrey’s Forza Banquet Room in Lacey in August.
“It’s amazing to see how much support Creative Colloquy has gotten,” said assistant director Joshua Swainston. “The witing talents for the South Sound seems to be an endless well. We never know who’s out there until we put out the call for submissions, and we are always surprised and delighted by what we get from the community in return.”
Creative Colloquy, every third Monday at 7 p.m., B Sharp Coffee House, 706 Opera Alley, Tacoma, and every first Monday at 6:30 pm, Forrey’s Forza Banquet Room,
130, Marvin Road Southeast, Lacey. Creative Crawl, Mon., Oct 5, 6-9 p.m., various locations in downtown Tacoma.

Other Desert Cities

 Published in The News Tribune, July 22, 2016

Bonnie Vandver as Silda, James T. Patrick as Lyman, Toni Murray as Polly, Cameron Wates as Trip, and Silva Goetz as Brooke. Photo by Toni C. Holm
Olympia Little Theatre quotes the New York Times’ description of Jon Robin Baitz’s Pulitzer Prize nominee “Other Desert Cities” as a “witty, deeply enjoyable family drama.” Such a description could easily mislead people into expecting a light comic-drama, and this play is anything but light comedy. There’s comedy, yes. Biting, witty, sarcastic word play between five family members whose sophisticated banter balances on the edge of outright warfare.

Lyman Wyeth (James T. Patrick) and his wife, Polly (Toni Murray) are the epitome of wealthy Americans wasting away past their prime in self-satisfied pseudo comfort. Both retired, he was a B-movie cowboy star famous for long death scenes, and she was a writer along with her cowriter sister Silda (Bonnie Vandver) of a long-running television series. The Wyeths are Republican party functionaries. Silda, a recovering alcoholic, is politically liberal, as are the Wyeth children, Brooke (Silva Goetz), a successful writer suffering from depression, and Trip (Cameron Waters), a reality TV producer.

It’s Christmas 2004, and Brooke has come home from the East Coast to visit her family. She has brought with her a manuscript of her soon-to-be-published book, an explosive memoir that reveals family secrets and threatens to destroy whatever family unity still remains.

The setting is a suitably beige, ultra-modern desert home beautifully designed by Christopher Valcho that highlights the false comfort and respectability of the elder Wyeths and contrasts with the internecine family dynamics.

The writing is intelligent, and the story structure is classic, building steadily toward an unexpected and totally satisfying twist at the end.

The ensemble cast is solid. Patrick plays the family patriarch as a calm and reasonable peace-maker who quietly seethes with anger. Murray plays Polly as proud and sure of herself but more willing to let her anger show than is her husband. Waters plays Trip as laid-back, humorous, and wise beyond his years. Vandver is outlandish and wonderful as the outspoken Silda, who is disdainful of her sister and brother-in-law, and who is one-hundred percent on Brooke’s side and encourages her to not back down on publishing her memoir – which her parents desperately want her not to do. And this brings us to Brooke, the catalyst of all the drama. Goetz plays her as a mass of nervous ticks, quickly going from throwing witty barbs to tossing lethal bombs. She is smart, angry, mistrustful and filled with self-doubt, all of which she displays with powerful physical acting that crowds up to the edge of over acting without crossing the line.

“Other Desert Cities” is not an easy play to watch. It starts out as a sophisticated comedy and quickly becomes weighty. There is a quietly intense scene near the end that had audience members the night I saw it holding their breath in anxious anticipation. That’s good writing, good acting, and good direction from Toni C. Holm. At approximately two-and-a-half hours, it is a bit wearying, but worth sitting through. The one major fault is that the actors do not always project clearly, making some of the dialogue hard to hear. The theater does have hearing aids available for audience members to check out, but it would help if the actors wore microphones.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 1:55 p.m., through July 24
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia TICKETS: $11-$15, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, 360.786.9484
INFORMATION: (360)786-9484,

2016 Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition

Regional artists shine at SPSCC

Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 21, 2016

“21st Century Oxpecker” painting by Jason Sobottka, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College
Upon entering the 2016 Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition at South Puget Sound Community College, my eyes were immediately drawn to Bernie Bleha’s sculpture, “Minaret,” acrylic on wood, a colorful tower topped by a playful spire that looks like a tinker toy construction. From there, my gaze went to Carla Louise Paine’s painting, “I Died for Beauty,” an oil portrait of a contemporary woman in a flower-strewn interior painted in a style reminiscent of Rococo portraiture yet in a clearly modern setting. Both the Bleha sculpture and Paine’s painting are Merit Award selections from juror Esther Luttikhuizen.

“I Died for Beauty,” oil on canvas by Carla Louise Paine, courtesy South Puget Sound Community College
SPSCC has earned a reputation for cutting-edge shows like New York artist Benjamin Enterner’s installation of monstrous blow-up vinyl sculptures and Amanda McCavour's Embroadered Spaces, and for fun local shows such as their annual postcard exhibition. Compared to those, this exhibition is staid and safe. There is very little that is challenging, but there surely is a lot of good, solid artwork on display, not a badly executed piece in the show. Paintings dominate. There is not much sculpture, ceramics or photography. I’ll mention here just a few of my favorite pieces.

Olympia artist Gail Ramsey Wharton has her weird sense of humor on display with a couple of mixed-media collages: “Modern Family” and “Department of Humor Analysis.” The former is like Picasso’s “Family of Saltimbanques” moved to a modern-day beach with a frolicking family with weird faces that don’t match bodies; the latter is purportedly a graph showing the funniest places to hit a baby with a ball. Wharton’s collages are bizarre and skillfully executed.

Next to “Modern Family” are two more beach scenes, these from Marianne Partlow’s “Boys on the Beach” series, soft and simplified bodies in glowing pastel colors.
David Noah Giles, a recent transplant to Tumwater from Seattle, is showing a large abstract painting called “Times Square.” Filled with repetitive, similar but not identical shapes that dance across the surface in energetic movement, this painting is like an abstract expressionist version of Mondrian’s abstract city scene with the usual AE drips and splatters and collage elements that create a rugged surface. Had I been the judge, I would have picked this one for an award.

Next to Giles’s painting is another large abstract-expressionist painting, “Through the Rain” by Debra Van Tuinen, a local artist of long standing in the community. It is a field of bright orange and gold slashes of paint that almost cover the entire surface of the canvas like sheets of wind and rain. This is a stunning painting that captures the emotional power of a storm without resorting to imitative depiction of the subject matter.
Another favorite is Jason Sobottka’s “21st Century Oxpecker.” I had to Google Oxpecker to find out it is a kind of bird. I don’t remember seeing a bird in this painting, and there’s no mention of a bird in the notes I took. What I do remember seeing is a rhinoceros all decked out and ready for interstellar war, with glitter and what the artist calls “googly-eyes.” This is a funny, inventive, and nicely painted image.

There are a lot of talented artists in Southwest Washington. This show offers ample proof of that.

South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. through Aug. 25, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Peacocks, houses and muses

"Modigliani's Muse" plaster, acrylic and crayon on board by Lynette Charters, all photos courtesy the artist

Recent paintings by Lynette Charters

Published in the Weekly Volcano, July 14, 2016

“Housing Boom” 
Lynette Charters’ paintings are unique, not just in her use of media — china marker over acrylic paint mixed with plaster — but in her way of painting. On wood panels, she creates fields of heavily textured globs of color that are almost if not completely non-objective, and then either draws on top of those fields of color with the markers or creates line drawings by scraping into the not-yet-dried plaster, or in the case of some of her “muses” series, she tapes off areas to create negative images of figures in unpainted wood. Typically, similar methods of painting are seldom effective, because they create a separation between figure and ground, and because the end result is a figurative drawing on top of an abstract painting, which in the hands of lesser artists becomes trite and tricky. Not so in most of Charters’’ paintings. Through skillful manipulation of paint, she integrates figure and ground and creates a delicate balance of harmony and contrast between the abstract and the figurative. Note: not every painting in this show manages to successfully pull this off, but most do, and they are stunning to see. 

Charters’ show fills all three levels of the Washington Center lobby. Each level represents a different series: peacocks, houses and muses. The peacocks are joyful, colorful and ironic, since they have to do with preening and pomp. The muses, where the bare wood comes into play, are symbolic of women’s body issues; they reference other works from art history (for instance, there is one with four skinny women based on Giacometti sculptures and another based on a painting by Magritte); and the houses represent urban chaos. 

"Magritte's Muse"

“The theme of this exhibition is primarily about public image. How image is used to manipulate a position in society, how we are swayed by it and how we can be ultimately enslaved by projected images, even the ones we project ourselves,” Charters says.
In “Modigliani’s Muse” there is a flat image of a women in unpainted wood almost completely obliterated by a similar female figure that covers it so that only the head, feet and raised hands of the underneath figure show. The inserted figure is pictured wearing a light blue dress that merges into the background. The off-the-shoulder dress exposes one breast, and the woman’s breast and eyes are unpainted knotholes in the bare wood. The jigsaw puzzle-like integration of upper and lower figures is masterful in its peekaboo effect and play between positive and negative shapes.
"Deep Pockets"

“Deep Pockets” is a creative explosion of color with a peacock outlined in red with blue dots on its tail feather floating off into the burning reds and oranges of the background. The peacock is standing on an oval of unpainted wood that is part of a dress pattern with instructions and measurements marked. It is funny and beautiful.

“Housing Boom” depicts childlike line drawings of houses stacked up and taking off into a stormy sky like rockets, a playful yet ominous commentary on the real estate market and the overcrowding and sameness of suburbia.

These are but three of many works in the show. I wish I had space to write about many more. It’s a large and impressive show. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Lynette Charters, noon to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and by appointment, through Aug. 28, reception July 16, 5-7:30 p.m., The Washington Center for Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, 360.753.8585