Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Art Without Borders Part One

 Photos of eL Seed’s graffiti art at Matter
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 23, 2016
 “Vidigal Favela” graffiti art by eL Seed, photo courtesy Matter.
Originally published in the Weekly Volcano

The Tacoma design showroom and gallery, Matter:Tacoma made modern, is offering a rare opportunity to see the work of French-Tunisian graffiti artist and TED Fellow, eL Seed. His global initiative to share the message of peace through graffiti art is more urgent now than ever. eL Seed has given permission to show photographs of his work at Matter, with a portion of the proceeds going to support the work of Doctors Without Borders. This is part one of a three-part series called Art Without Borders.”

The art of this world-renowned graffiti artist is essentially fine calligraphy writ large on the walls of buildings and other structures. It is a far cry from mere tagging. 

Matter co-director Lisa Kinoshita wrote: “(eL Seed) has developed a signature form of art combining the fluid lines of Arabic calligraphy with the street dynamism of Western graffiti — in a style he calls, “calligraffti.” With stunning originality and vibrancy, eL Seed has created messages of peace on streets and buildings in the capitols of Europe, the U.S., the Middle East, and around the world. His artwork, which came to international attention after the birth of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, holds a universal call for peace and goodwill, as well as specific relevance for the places and cultures in which it appears.”

In “Didouche Mourad”, located in Algeria, Arabic writing forms a circle on the side of a white building approximately five stories high (as I deduced by counting the windows in the photograph). A wall label explains that it is a line from an Algerian song: “How could I forget the land of good? How could my heart be in peace?”

“Vidigal Favela” is writing in pink outlined in black on the roof of a building. It is nestled on the side of a mountain above a town on a calm bay. The photograph is taken from a vantage point even higher above showing the town, the bay and the surrounding mountains. The artist said of it, "At the top of the hill, I see this amazing rooftop — brand new, white. You never find a white rooftop. I started painting this poem from this writer from one of the favelas, Gabriela Torres Barbosa, I did my piece, took my picture and left." Later he found out the building was a new art school.

Pont des Arts in Paris is a bridge built by Napoleon in 1802. Thousands of modern visitors have left padlocks as tokens of love. Recently the locks were removed because there were so many that they thought the bridge would inevitably fall into the Seine, and eL Seed was invited to paint the structure. He chose the words of Balzac: "Paris is in truth an ocean: you can plumb it but you'll never know its depths." 

It would be nice if these and the other works shown at Matter could be seen on site, but we’re lucky to have the photos Also showing are photographs of works by Paris-based artist, Jean Faucheur, a seminal figure in the Paris street-art movement of the 1980s. He tagged in New York with Keith Haring and showed at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery. Today, he owns an art center in the Belleville section of Paris.

Art Without Borders Part One, noon to 6 p.m., by chance and by appointment through Dec. 15, Saturdays and by appointment; for appointment call Lisa Kinoshita 253.961.5220, Matter, 821 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.879.3701.

Monty Python’s Spamalot at Triad Theater

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 23, 2016
the “not dead yet” scene, taken from the Standing Room Only Facebook page with permission.
I must confess that I did not have high hopes when I went to The Triad Theater in Yelm to see Standing Room Only’s production of Monty Python’s Spamalot, since my previous experience with small town community theater has never been as disastrous as Waiting for Guffman, it had generally not been on a par with Tacoma and Olympia theaters. But the Standing Room Only players surprised me; they put on a first-class show.
Visiting The Triad Theater is quite an experience. For starters, I tried to enter via the backstage entrance and was told to go to what they called the front of the building, a barely lighted doorway on a side street. Inside was joyful bedlam. They were serving drinks and snacks. The auditorium was almost full half an hour before show time. The stadium-style seating was interspersed with comfortable looking old couches. Onstage some kind of game of chance was going on involving a catapult, and someone was circulating through the audience handing out snacks, which I took to be Spam and cheese on crackers. It was loud. I got the impression everyone knew each other.
The set looked inexpensive and shabby, which is perfectly Pythonesque. The costumes by Renee Cottriel were excellent. Some of the outlandish costumes such as those of the Knights Who Say Ni, were hilarious, and many of the women’s costumes, especially those worn by The Lady of the Lake (Earl Dawn) and the women in the ensemble were lovely.
For those not in the know, Spamalot, written by Monty Python’s Eric Idle, is loosely based the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, or as the program declares, “lovingly ripped off” from the film, with a few comic bits and the song “Look on the Bright Side of Life” taken from Python’s Life of Brian.
The show is excellently directed by Daniel Wyman and choreographed by Fred Loertscher with additional choreography by Marcela Martinez and Deanna Waldo, both of whom also perform in the ensemble cast.
There is only one cast member I recognized, Richard Frias, who has a cameo as God, and who has extensive stage experience in the South Sound area. The rest, as well as I can tell from reading the program biographies have experience on in Standing Room Only show and school productions, which means this cast is the epitome of amateur theater — but I surely couldn’t tell it from watching them. Every one of them from King Arthur (Dave Champagne) to unnamed members of the ensemble threw themselves wholeheartedly into their roles and showed professional quality acting chops. Kudos to one and all. Especially outstanding for their expressiveness and physical comedy are Will Champagne as Patsy, the coconut-clapping sidekick, and Kevin McManus as Sir Robin.
From the monster rabbit to the man who’s not dead yet to Sir Lancelot’s gay wedding, this musical farce is filled with all the craziness that made the movie and the Broadway show the hits they were, plus there are a few local bits thrown in like the “Don’t P*ss Off the Stage Manger” skit and bringing up a member of the audience (who might or might not be a plant) for a selfie with the cast.
Driving to Yelm is not a difficult commute from either Tacoma or Olympia, and I guarantee you this show is worth the drive.

Spamalot, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m., Sunday through Nov. 27, $xx, The Triad Theater, 102 Yelm Ave E, Yelm.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Jason Sobottka paintings at Tacoma Community College

Adventures Through the Anthropocene
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 17, 2016
 “Kevlar Wolves,” painting by Jason Sobottka, photo by Gabi Clayton
Jason Sobottka is a fascinating painter. It’s tempting to label his paintings fantasy art, but that would be too easy. There are fantasy elements aplenty, but there is much more to it than that. He paints fantasy creatures and mythological creatures, and he paints common animals such as dogs, rabbits, and deer in fantasy settings. More importantly, he combines many of these, often within a single painting or in some instances within a single animal. He places his creatures in the Anthropocene (defined as relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment) and calls his show Adventures Through the Anthropocene. 
The images he creates and his style of painting may not be unique in and of themselves, but in combination they are as inventive and as unusual as anything you’re likely to see. It is like Jackson Pollock with his drip paintings. He wasn’t the only one to do it, or even the first, but nobody did it with such consummate skill and passion as he did. So it is with Sobottka.
And it is not just the strange creatures. Many artists who grew up reading graphic novels and watching sci-fi movies invent strange creatures (I have no idea how young or old Sobottka is or to what degree he might have been influenced by sci-fi and fantasy). But few other artists create their fantasy images with such skill or with such a variety of ways of painting — an intermingling of geometric patterns, cartoon line drawings, realistically rendered figures, flat shapes and colors, smooth modeling and heavy impasto, plus spray paint, glitter and pasted-on googly eyes. 
A few examples:
“Elkotaur Blessing” depicts a man with a deer head and tattoos of cartoon figures on his body. He is seen from chest up. He has two antlers. One of them is normal and is rendered realistically, the other is pink and painted flat with glitter.
“Deer Spirit with Pitcher Plants,” acrylic, oil and glitter on canvas, pictures a seated nude female figure seen head to toe. She has the head of a deer and is holding an assault rifle.
“Elkataur with Tattoos” is like “Elkataur Blessing” except the man’s body is seen from head to foot and there are googly eyes glued onto much of the image.
“Kevlar Wolves” pictures six fierce running wolves drawn and painted in a variety of styles. Some are realistic; some are line drawings; one is a head only that fades into the background; and one is a flat white silhouette. Throughout the background and partially overlapping the wolves are geometric patterns and architectural forms.
“Anti-poaching Intervention,” acrylic and screen print on canvas, depicts two rhinos with machine guns mounted on their backs with transparent circular collars around their necks. One of them has a blue and purple polka dot body.
Adventures Through the Anthropocene is a fun show. To me, the visual elements of line, shape, color and texture and the way they blend, merge, contrast and complement each other is even more fascinating than the fantasy creatures.
Jason Sobottka Adventures Through the Anthropocene, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through Dec. 16, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Native American Art Exhibition at South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC)

Beaded bag by Denise Emerson
The Native American Art Exhibition at South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) features a wide variety of works by regional Native American artists. Look for paintings, basketry, carved wood pieces, textiles and mixed-media art curated by Mandy McCullough. McCullough is an Ojibwa from White Earth, Minnesota, who has created jewelry since she was in grade school. “This is the seventh year I have curated the exhibition. My family works along with me each year,” McCullough says.

See the complete review in Oly Arts

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Lightfall by Christian Carvajal

a review

This is my review of Lightfall by Christian Carvajal, recently posted on

The first thing you need to know about Christian Carvajal’s Lightfall is that it is funny. The second thing you need to know is that it is true, not true in the sense of a dull recitation of historical facts but truth in spirit and intent (and for all we know and as you may discover when you get near the end of this book, it just might be a historical recitation of facts after all).

Lightfall is the story of the apocalypse, the rapture, the end of the world as we know it (or think we know it), as experienced by the denizens of Sugar Roses, Oklahoma, “where Jesus looks a lot like Kenny Loggins.” Sugar Roses, a fictional town, is the quintessential small town in the heart of the Bible Belt “clustered around a minor college campus but focused on its forty church spires,” where “five thousand families eat hearty suppers behind bay windows and unlocked front doors.” It is a town whose major industry is Saving Grace, Inc., purveyors of Christian novelty items and where you will find, not far away, a Christian nudist camp.

The story is cram packed with clever word play and pop-culture references, but right under the surface of all this playfulness is very serious theology and social study. In places, it almost but not quite becomes mired in didactic sermonizing or theorizing—but the author’s intelligence and wit saves it.

The core story of the people of Sugar Roses—including an atheistic womanizing college professor, a librarian, and a Hollywood script writer back home to write a script about Sugar Roses’ one and only notorious crime—is interrupted repeatedly and cleverly by emails, blog posts and stories from the local newspaper which paint a picture of the town and its reactions to the strange events that portend the coming of the end.

Unlike many of the other reviewers who have praised Carvajal’s depiction of characters, I think the book’s biggest drawback is that the central characters are not developed as fully as I wish they were. It’s a relatively short book, and I feel it could have benefited from an additional fifty or so pages to help readers get to know these characters even better. I tended to get lost in some of the asides and forget some of the major characters.

Overall, Lightfall is a unique, well written, enjoyable and thought provoking book. I highly recommend it for thinking people.

Monday, November 7, 2016

“Lit” spotlights The Wizard of Oz at Lakewood Playhouse

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 3, 2016

 Emily Saletan as Dorothy) and Waffle as Toto, photo by James Venturini
The Lakewood Institute of Theatre and Lakewood Playhouse are teaming up this year for a joint production of their annual all-ages show. This year’s show, their fifth annual, is the perennial favorite of kids and adults alike, The Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum as adapted by Robert and Willie Beale. What’s truly different about this adaptation is that it is a steampunk reimagining of this American classic. How contemporary can you get? Plus, since it is a collaboration between the Lakewood Playhouse’s Mainstage and its Education Department, it brings all the production elements of a Main Stage show and combines them with the even bigger sense of wonder and adventure brought by the youth and educators.
The show is directed by The Lakewood Institute of Theatre’s Education Director, Jeremy Thompson.
“When we were selecting a title for this season's annual LIT/LP mash-up Spotlight show, the entire staff came immediately around to the idea of presenting Oz,” Thompson says. “It had never been produced on the LP stage and with the previous productions of A Year with Frog and Toad and Treasure Island we proved that the equation of putting less experienced actors of all ages on stage with seasoned veterans, also of all ages, and giving them a big, main-stage production experience with education along the way was a sure-fire winner. The title holds such a special place in the hearts of all familiar with it, the movie is immediately recognized worldwide, so when you approach such an iconic piece of culture the job becomes to make it our own. To tell our version of the story we all love and know so well. So we approached it with a fresh script that takes the known elements and develops them slightly giving a chance for new characters and relationships. We assembled a top-notch design team and incredibly talented cast of 20 artists ranging in age from eight to 47. We approached it with a fresh aesthetic and created a unique Oz while giving a nod to the elements we simply can't do without. It has been a director's, designer's and actors’ dream to bring it all to life. We can't wait to share the countless hours of work by this fantastic team with our community — a perfect way to kick off the holiday season with the entire family.”
Performing are returning actors Karly Dammel (ensemble), Isaac Gutierrez (Pocus), Lydia Helt (Glinda), Gabi Marler (Gatekeeper), Andrew Redford (Tin Man / Mr. Woodman) and Tony L. Williams (Lion / Mr. Lyon).  The show also introduces a number of new faces such as Kyla Alphier (ensemble), Sky Gibbs (ensemble), Diane Johnson (Aunt Em / ensemble), Ellie Johnson (Hocus), Ethan Jones (ensemble), Hunter McCann (Ozma), Ed Medina (Uncle Henry / ensemble), Crystalann Meyer (ensemble), Zenith Ortiz (Scarecrow / Mr. Crowe), Nate Schmidt (The Wizard), Kate-Lyn Seimers (Ogma), Kyle Yoder (ensemble) and introducing Emily Saletan (Dorothy) & Waffle (Toto).
The show need no introduction or synopsis. It’s the story everyone has come to know and love about Dorothy, the silly Scarecrow, the lovable Tin Man, and the hilarious cowardly Lion and their harrowing adventures in the Land of Oz . And need I repeat that this time it takes place in a Steampunk setting?
There are nine performances only. Warning: some scenes may be scary for younger children.
The Lakewood Institute of Theatre nurtures students of all ages, at all stages, by offering a variety of educational and performance opportunities; and it empowers life skills through the experience of theater.
The Wizard of Oz, 7 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. and 2 p.m. Sunday, special performance Nov. 9 at 7 p.m., Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, $15, 253.588.0042,

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Beauty of Shared Passion

The Benaroya Collection preview show
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 3, 2016
“Three Faces Mirrored,” painting on carved glass and wood by Ulrica Hydman Vallien, Promised gift of the Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Collection, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum
The latest exhibition at Tacoma Art Museum, The Beauty of a Shared Passion: Highlights from the Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Collection, is but a small selection (65 major works of art, mostly from well-known Pacific Northwest artists) of the huge collection the Benaroya family has promised as a gift to TAM — a teaser, if you will.
The family began their collection with a single purchase, Dale Chihuly’s blown glass “Tomato Red Basket Set.” From there, they built one of the largest collections of Northwest glass art to be found anywhere, including works by Ginny Ruffner, Lino Tagliapiertra, Cappy Thompson, William Morris and others. But their collection is not just glass. Far from it. This exhibition also includes paintings, drawings, photographs and sculpture by such artists as Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, Guy Anderson, Mark Toby and others. By any standard, it is an impressive collection.
While nicely executed, many of the smaller glass vessels are either works or types of works that have been seen almost too much in the Northwest. Given that, there are still enough unusual and outstanding works to make this exhibition quite impressive.
One piece that caught my eye and stays with me is Mary Van Cline’s “Fragment of Time,” a larger-than-life photograph on photo-sensitive glass of a lone woman standing in a bleak desert landscape. The wall text indicates that the image is probably a self-portrait of the artist. It is printed black and white on clear glass and repeated, slightly out of sync, behind the surface image, thus creating a doubled image. This image has a mysterious, haunting quality.
Manuel Neri is an artist whose work I do not see enough of. His “Mujer Pegada Series I” (the title translates to “Sticky Woman” or “Woman Stuck”) is a cut bronze sculpture of a female figure partially embedded in a heavy sheet of metal and painted with broad slathers of dripping paint. The contrast of the smoothly modeled figure with large swaths of abstract-expressionist painting creates an intriguing tension between figure and ground and density and openness.
There are several flower paintings by Graves and some drawings of birds by Callahan that are interesting because they are so atypical, but which are nowhere as interesting as their more signature works. More typical and outstanding in every way is an untitled oil painting by Callahan with large, energetic oval swipes of paint combined with more carefully painted rock-like formations.
There are two imposing and heavy-appearing minimalist glass sculptures by the Czechoslovakian team of Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslave Brychtová. Their “Green Eye of the Pyramid III,” the first work of art to greet the visitor when walking into the gallery, is stately and evokes mystical symbols from ancient societies.
Morris’s “Suspended Artifact” has a similar stateliness and mysticism with references to animals and Native American tribal art. I consider Morris the greatest of all the artists to emerge from the Northwest glass art movement centered around the Pilchuck school.
Ulrica Hydman Vallien was a ceramicist and an outstanding draftman before she turned to glass. Her “Three Faces Mirrored” is painting on carved glass and wood. The painting, loosely drawn and mystical, reminds me of Fay Jones, but it is not derivative. These distorted female faces are of Vallien’s own invention.
The gift of the Beneroya collection to TAM is a great gift to all of Tacoma and the South Sound.

Tacoma Art Museum, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through April 23, 2017, $15, third Thursday free 10 a.m.-8 p.m., 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My Wandering Mind – Smart Fiction

I’ve noticed that many of the great writers fill their works with cultural and historical references, puns, double entendre, and other sneaky stuff. I suspect they know full well that only a fraction of their readers will get all their bon mots, but they put them in there anyway, I assume for the sheer pleasure they get from it and perhaps in hopes that some their references and word play will give some readers a delightful ah-ha moment.

Salman Rushdie is a master of these literary devices. His books are crammed with puns and other forms of word play, and pop-culture, historical and literary references. I have thoroughly enjoyed those I’ve caught, and I know there must be many that pass me right by.

In Nabokov’s Lolita, almost every paragraph contains some esoteric reference to history or literature—or sex. I know I would have missed almost all of them if my friend Larry Johnson had not loaned me an annotated Lolita. The index was almost as long as the book. Wading through it was hard work but worth the effort. My friend Larry is a great poet, and his poetry (Veins and Alloy) is so crammed full of literary and historical references that I spent almost as much time looking things up as I did reading his poems. As with Lolita, it was worth the effort.

I remember reading A Prayer for Owen Meany and thinking how ludicrous it was that tiny little Owen was obsessed with trying to dunk a basketball. It was funny but ridiculous that Irving (never shy about excessive repetition) kept bringing it up until finally it paid off grandly, and suddenly the reader understood. There was also the clever naming of the town Gravesend. By-the-way, speaking of excessive repetition, how many John Irving novels does one have to read before one gets the idea that he likes writing about bears and wrestling?

The thing that made me start ruminating on these things was Christian Carvajal’s novel Lightfall, which I am reading for the second time. Both Lightfall and his second novel, Mr. Klein’s Wild Ride, written under the pen name Lynn Savage, overflow with clever names and witty pop-culture references. I’m sure I can’t fully appreciate all his nerdy references to sci-fi and fantasy, because my delving into these genres has been limited. But the ones I have grasped are brilliantly-sneakily funny.

Reading smart fiction sure is fun. Even for those of us who may not be as smart as the fiction we read.

A Piece of My Heart at Dukesbay Theater

Jermaine Lindsay playing all the American men, and Sissy (Erin O'Laughlin, all photos courtesy Dukesbay Theater

LeeAnn (Helen Martin) and Steele (LaNita Hudson),

A Piece of My Heart at Dukesbay Theater is the real deal. It is the horror and the heroism of the Vietnam War brought to life, not with action and special effects but through the troubled memories of six women who lived through it — true stories mostly told by those who remember, but also acted out to the background of rock and roll. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, the songs that reverberate in our ears and in our memory along with the sound of helicopter blades.
Martha (Kathryn Grace Philbrook), Whitney (Jill Heinecke) and Steele

MaryJo (Melanie Gladstone), Martha and Steele
The play was written by Shirley Lauro based on a 1986 oral history by Keith Walker in which 26 of the estimated 1,500 American women who went to Southeast Asia recounted their experiences, whether as nurses, civilian do-gooders or entertainers. The women of A Piece of My Heart are Army, Navy and Red Cross nurses, an intelligence officer, and a singer/guitarist from an all-girl band who was sent to Vietnam to entertain the troops. They are: Martha (Kathryn Grace Philbrook), an idealistic military brat who follows in her parents’ footsteps by becoming an Army nurse; MaryJo (Melanie Gladstone), the lead singer in Sugar Candies from Beaumont, Texas; Sissy (Erin O’Loughlin), an idealistic but fearful Army nurse; Whitney (Jill Heinecke), a Red Cross nurse; LeeAnn (Helen Martin), an Asian-American hippie who becomes an Army nurse thinking she’s going to get to serve in Hawaii; and Steele (LaNita Hudson), an Army veteran of 18 years who joined wanting to be in the Army band but was told Negroes couldn’t be in the band. She works in intelligence and is probably the smartest and most accomplished of all the women.
The one man in the cast, Jermaine Lindsay, plays all the American men, from hard-partying soldiers to double amputees in the field hospital to a succession of officious officers.
Vietnam is a shock to all the women, and coming home (the entire second act takes place back home) is just as big a shock. All but Steele are young and naïve when they go to ’Nam. They are horrified by the conditions and by the severity of the wounds they must treat. They are forced to grow up in a hurry, and when they come home they no longer fit in with their old friends or their families. Every one of them suffers from post-traumatic stress.
It is a horrible and destressing story, but thankfully it ends on an uplifting note.
About that ending — it takes place at the wall in Washington, D.C., long after the women come home, and it plays on the audience’s emotions in a way that a more cynical reviewer would probably dismiss, but I am a sucker for just that kind of play to the heartstrings as, it seems, most of the opening night audience was.
The acting by the ensemble cast is outstanding. The pacing and blocking is like a carefully choreographed dance throughout. And the set designed by Burton Yuen is a simple grouping of risers and a long ramp that is perfect for this presentation. The only problem with the set is that occasionally actors speak from spots that are hard to see, depending on where you are seated.
Finally, the rock ‘n’ roll sound track (a combination of recorded and live music) is the music not only of the era, but specifically of the Vietnam War — a combat veteran friend of mine said ‘Nam was America’s rock ‘n’ roll war.
Opening night sold out, so get your tickets early.
A Piece of My Heart, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m., Sunday through Nov. 13, $15, Dukesbay Theater, Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave., Tacoma, online tickets at

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Tracing Genetic Inheritance

Geraldine Ondrizek installations at The Evergreen State College

 “Chromosome Painting Edition II 1-X,” by Geraldine Ondrizek, photo by Becky Knold
Works from three major installations by Geraldine Ondrizek come together in the show Tracing Genetic Inheritance: Recent Work by Geraldine Ondrizek at the art gallery at The Evergreen State College. This is a highly unusual, beautiful and intelligent exhibition that combines science and art in ways that should open the mind and tease the eye.

Read the complete review in Oly Arts.