Friday, January 11, 2019

Exploring Cultural bias

A powerful group show at Tacoma Community College
by Alec Clayton
published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 10, 2019
 “Foundations” oil painting by Hart James, courtesy Tacoma Community College
Culture, the new exhibition at The Gallery at Tacoma Community College, is billed as “an exhibition exploring the idea of cultural biases and its influence on the outlook of other cultures.” This is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful group show ever to be mounted at TCC. This is not to say that every work of art by every one of the 28 participating artists knocks it out of the park, or even that every piece even belongs within the theme; but there are enough that are stimulating, that have the capacity to touch the hearts of viewers, and that are aesthetically praiseworthy — starting with Bobbi Ritter’s series on the micro-brew culture of the Pacific Northwest.
There are five small assemblages in Ritter’s series, each with beer bottles and other objects attached to boards and painted. It is as if brewpubs had been wiped out by a volcanic eruption and this is the detritus that remains, stuff stuck to walls and covered with lava and ash. And within the ash are painted images, which relate to or are visual puns on the brands displayed. The one with an Irish Death bottle features a painting of a skull; the one on Wingman Brewery features Wingman beer cans, a model airplane and the painted face of the pilot. With an extra eye. The series as a whole and each individual piece is marked by visual variations and surprises within a unified whole.
Miles Styer’s entry is a model of a covered wagon that serves as a lamp and reminds us about the lives of those who trekked across the country in wagon trains. A wall label proclaims, “One side is a vision of opportunity and life; the other is a vision of destruction and death.” 
"Foundations" ceramics by Irene Osborn, photo by Alec Clayton
Irene Osborn’s ceramic sculpture “She Thought They Would Be Safe Once They Crossed The Border” is an emotionally intense commentary on the plight of refugees crossing into a new homeland where they are not welcomed. Roughly sculpted in chalky white clay, it depicts a screaming woman with arms and hands torn away, one unattached hand clutching an infant to her breast. Like Osborn’s startling and poignant sculpture “Refugee” in TCC’s juried show in October, this figure is hollowed out. The woman’s back opens into a deep cave, and inside the cave is another figure of a mother holding a child. It makes you want to cry or shout out in anger. 
David Keyes’s “King Leopold II’s Legacy” is a harsh reminder of the genocide of the Tutu tribe by the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda. It is a dark construction in rusted metal with a row of six metal cage-like structures with wax hands in them, in recognition of
Belgian plantation owners’ practice of cutting off the hands of workers who didn’t produce enough. 
A light-hearted but penetrating look at a common American cultural phenomenon is Frank Dippolito’s oil painting, “Welcome to Missouri Milepost.” It is a beautifully rendered painting of a billboard off an interstate highway, standing in tall grass. The billboard advertises an “adult superstore.” A smaller sign on the ground at the base of the billboard says “Christ died for your sins.” The adult superstore ads are common in parts of the country. I recently saw many of them in the drive through Louisiana and Texas. In addition to being a telling image, Dippolito’s painting is a great example of contrasting large and simple forms in complementary colors, in this case vibrant pink and green.
Hart James’s “Foundations” is simply a great painting, although I’m not sure how it relates to the theme. It is a dark and foreboding image of a man emerging from rocklike formations. 
Other pieces I enjoyed seeing were MaryBeth Haynes’s three sculptures of strong and defiant woman and Lavonne Haivick’s “Coyote’s ‘End of Day,’” sculptures of five long-legged and sad creatures that look vaguely like a cross between coyotes and anteaters.
I can’t recommend this show highly enough.

Culture, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through March 15, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

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