Saturday, March 24, 2018

Captive Light

The Photography of Ella E. McBride at Tacoma Art Museum
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano
untitled gelatin silver print by Ella McBride, private collection, photo by Lou Cuevas, courtesy Tacoma Art Museum
For a short period of time during her long life, Seattle photographer Ella E. McBride was revered internationally, but after her death in 1965, at the age of 102, much of her work was lost, and today she is little known. Perhaps this exhibition will help restore her rightful stature in the art world. A late bloomer, she did not start taking photographs until she was 58 years old and actively worked as a photographer for only about 10 years. Only about 150 or her photographs survive; 57 of them are included in this exhibition, all done between 1921 and 1927.
McBride was associated with the pictorialist movement of photographers, who in many ways emulated the art of painting. Her specialty was flowers, but she also did figure studies, portraits, and both urban and nature scenes. No matter what she pointed her camera at, she was aware of light, composition and narrative potential. She did extreme closeups, which were just beginning to become common. She used selective focus and much soft focus, and dramatic lighting. Much of her soft-focus photography brings to mind atmospheric paintings such as James McNeil Whistler’s “Nocturne: The Thames at Battersea.” Her use of dark and light make many of her portraits and figurative works look like Rembrandts.
“In the Spring” from 1922 pictures a bearded old man contemplating a vase of flowers. It calls to mind Rembrandt’s “Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer.” You can almost see the brushstrokes, which are literally not there. An untitled photo from the same year pictures the same man contemplating a globe. Variations on a theme of this nature is a painting tradition, not a photographic tradition —evidence of how McBride worked like a painter.
Another fine example of her love for painting can be seen in her untitled photograph of an artist painting a large picture. The artist is seen mostly from the side and back. He sits in shadow. The only light on him is a sharp highlight in his dark hair and bright light on the arm and hand with which he paints his picture — making the act of painting the central focus of the picture. The light on his arm looks like heavy impasto laid on with a brush. The painting itself takes up most of the picture and is so dark that the man and woman in the painting can barely be seen.
“Leaving the Temple” depicts a vase, a statue and part of a hanging plant, all of which become secondary to the shadow cast by the vase, reversing the customarily relative importance of objects in such a still life arrangement and doing a switcheroo on light and dark by “highlighting” the statue with shadow. This is artistic sensitivity of the highest order.
McBride’s flower pictures are mostly shot in soft focus, emphasizing the delicacy of the flowers, or they are closeup images that take on a sculptural feel. Her outdoor scenes are atmospheric, misty and mysterious. I found myself wishing I could sit down, hold the pictures in my hand and meditate on them. And guess what. I can. Because I took home the book Captive Light: The Life and Photography of Ella E. McBride, a beautiful book available in the museum gift shop.
McBride was left out of the history books that I and most art majors studied. I’m so thankful for curators Margaret Bullock and David Martin for bringing her works to Tacoma Art Museum.
The photographs of Ella E. McBride, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through July 8, $13-$15, third Thursday free 5-8 p.m., Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma,

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Return to the Forbidden Planet at Centerstage

By Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, March 21, 2018
Captain Tempest (Jimmi Cook) and Miranda (Helen Roundhill) , photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis
The Forbidden Planet meets Shakespeare meets Rocky Horror on stage at Centerstage in Federal Way, so be ready to rock and roll with the bard.
Return to the Forbidden Planet by Bob Carlton is a campy musical spoof on space exploration shows based on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, with rock and roll music from, mostly, the 1950s and ’60s.
On a set patterned after the bridge of “Star Trek’s” Enterprise, Captain Tempest (Jimmi Cook) and his science officer, Gloria (Olivia Lee), argue about the importance of men and women on earth to the tune of the James Brown hit “It’s a Man’s World.” When the ship gets hit with a meteor shower, the science officer escapes and the space ship is drawn to the planet D'Illyria, where they meet the mad scientist Dr. Prospero (Mark Waldstein) who comes onboard with his daughter, Miranda (Helen Roundhill) and his robot Ariel (Fune Tautala).
Madness ensues. The ship’s cook, Cookie (Nick Hyett-Schnell) falls madly in love with Miranda, and Miranda falls just as madly in love with Captain Tempest. This love triangle is hilariously played out to rock and roll with Miranda pining away to “Teenager in Love” while the Captain tries not so successfully to hold her at arm’s length with “Young Girl (get out of my mind)” and Cookie tops it off with a marvelous rendition of “She’s Not There,” on which he plays a knockout guitar solo.
The science officer returns followed by a giant green monster that looks like a mushroom jellyfish octopus bug, and Dr. Prospero takes the experimental drug he’s invented called Formula X, which is supposed to enhance brain power, and Cookie steals Formula X, but Ariel steals it from him — and in true Shakespearean fashion, all’s well that ends well, which is more fun than other Shakespearean endings in which everybody dies.
The show is cram-packed with quotes not only from The Tempest but from Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet and other Shakespeare plays, plus jokes on popular space movies, much of which are so ridiculous they’re funny, such as when the entire crew flashes the Vulcan hand sign and says, “Love well and Prosper-O,” and when Star Trek’s tribbles make brief appearances.
Captain Tempest is a cross between Captain Kirk from the original “Star Trek” and Fabio. He’s a muscular hunk who keeps preening and posing and tossing his long hair. The science officer is a tall and statuesque woman with pointy Vulcan ears, and Prospero’s hair and glasses make him look like a cross between Groucho Marx and Einstein. The singing and acting from all is superb.
As if all this madness were not enough, the theater gives out audience-participation bags and encourages the audience to join in the fun by following cues on the shipboard computer. Also on the computer screen is narration by a surprise celebrity whose identity I won’t divulge but who avid South Sound theatergoers will recognize.
Finally, I must mention a handful of the other great songs in the show, including “Shake Rattle and Roll,” “Only the Lonely,” “Born to be Wild,” and “Great Balls of Fire.”
Director Taylor Davis and her cast do a great job of bringing outrageous music and fun to Centerstage. Even people who do not normally like camp will be swept up by this one.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through March 31
WHERE: Centerstage at Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way
TICKETS: $29 adults, $25, Seniors (65+) and Military: $15; Youth (18-25): $12 17 and younger
INFORMATION: (253) 661-1444,

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Michael Johnson sculpture and modern Chinese art at University of Puget Sound

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 15, 2018
 “untitled (Blue)” by Michael Johnson, courtesy University of Puget Sound
A line is defined as the path of a moving point. If the point is three dimensional and a foot or two in size in every direction, and if it doubles back on itself and crosses its own path like an Escher drawing or like a meandering line drawn without lifting the pen from the paper —and if it does all that while remaining a single cohesive form, what you have is a sculpture by Michael Johnson.
Michael Johnson: Sculpture in the front room and Rewriting Tradition: Modern Chinese Landscape and Calligraphy in the back room are the two shows now occupying Kittredge Gallery at University of Puget Sound. The obvious first-glance observation might be that no two shows could contrast so thoroughly. But after studying both shows, an interesting thought struck me, and it is this: if you isolate a letter or a word from the Chinese calligraphy and enlarge it into a large, three-dimensional form, the result would be the same thing as the meandering line mentioned above, a Michael Johnson sculpture.
Johnson’s sculptures are large and bold in the tradition of such artists as David Smith and Noguchi. They are painted in flat colors and are made from plywood sheets that are pieced together in such a way that most of them appear solid, with no joints, the only exception being one called “Confluence,” which is unpainted, and all the glued-together joints stand out like a sore thumb. I would love to ask the artist what his intention was with this one. Was it left this way as an example of his method? He does teach sculpture at UPS, after all. So maybe he included it as a lesson and will sand and paint it later.
One of the most intriguing is “untitled (blue),” which looks like a giant tuning fork. It rests at an angle on the curved fan-shaped part and looks as if it would teeter non-stop if touched. (I was so tempted to give it a little shove.) 
The sides double back upon themselves like pathways in an architectural maze. This is the one that made me think of Escher drawings.
It is fascinating to walk around Johnson’s sculptures to see how they look from different angles —surprises from every point of view.
There are five sculptures in the show, which is the perfect amount given the size of the works and the gallery. 
The other show features a variety of landscape paintings and calligraphy by modern Chinese artists. Local art lovers who are familiar with Japanese Sumi art, will recognize the style. These Chinese drawings and paintings are similar to the Sumi we’re used to, but there are subtle differences. Overall, the paintings have a softer look, and even though they are modern works —many from the 1950s to 1990s, but one from 1899, they look old.
Among my favorite pieces are “Picture of Blue Mountain” by Zhuo Hejun and a group of landscape paintings on rocks by Cynthia Wu. The blue of the mountain is subtle and seems to soak into the paper, and the composition enhances the height of the tall scroll, giving the viewer the feeling of looking up at a formidable mountain.
The works in this show are accompanied by wall texts with extensive information.

Michael Johnson sculpture and modern Chinese art, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., through April 14, Kittredge Gallery, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Art of Racing in the Rain reviewed for OLY ARTS

Harlequin Productions’ The Art of Racing in the Rain is a triumph of humor and humanity, guaranteed to make you laugh and maybe even cry. Adapted for the stage by Myra Platt from the bestselling novel by Garth Stein and directed by Linda Whitney, Racing is laugh-out-loud funny throughout most of the performance, but with moments of tragedy and grief and a disturbing personal event which I shall not divulge in this review.

Read the complete review on OLY ARTS.