TCC sculptors demonstrate creative freedom

James O’Brien’s “Urban Giraffe,” an assemblage of bicycle parts, exemplifies the no holds barred artistic license granted by TCC sculpting instructor Kyle Dillehey. Dillehey’s students consistently exhibit a lack of inhibition in their use of all manner of non-traditional materials in their three dimensional assemblage work. Photo by Dave R. Davison

The school year is drawing to a close and the art galleries of all the local colleges are hosting shows of student art to show off what their pupils have accomplished. This week, I visited the Gallery at Tacoma Community College to have a look at the 2018 TCC Student Art Exhibition. 

The show is arranged by instructor. Work by students of each TCC art teacher are clustered together – more or less.

I have to confess that I have always been put off by work of Kyle Dillehey’s sculpture students. They are generally a bizarre mish-mash of objects that radiate a discord of color and often exhibit shoddy construction. They are not neat, orderly, clean objects. This year is no exception. A case in point is James O’Brien’s “Urban Giraffe.” The titular animal constructed out of bicycle frames and a bicycle seat forms the animal’s head. The whole construction seems made to clash (if not crash) with the neat geometries of the other art in the gallery (paintings, drawings, prints and photographs on square and rectangular surfaces, and symmetrical ceramic vessels). It was while looking at the odd messiness of Wenging Xu’s “Relax Your Teeth,” however, that I had something of a revelation. I had a sensation of raw, creative freedom as the touchstone of Dillehey’s classes. I can almost hear Dillehey telling his students that “the whole world is your studio and you are free to use any material at hand to create without bounds.” This sense of primal, instinctual, gut-level making was inspirational. Dillehey’s students are encouraged to use anything and everything and assemble it however they wish for whatever purpose they wish.

“Relax Your Teeth” is a hodgepodge of electronic parts, clumps of moss and objects wrapped in aluminum foil. A pair of chopsticks set on an electronic board indicate that this is all displayed as a meal, but it looks very unappetizing. Wenging Xu also did a glorious abomination called “Spirit,” a wild whirl of red yarn, chicken wire, cotton balls and extruded metal. Again, I had the sense of an unbridled, creative force and imagined what marvels this artist will come up with if this kind of creative freedom is applied steadily over a sustained period of years or decades. I realized that the strange constructions of Dillehey’s students is the beginning of something. He has managed to teach a letting go of conventions and a reimagining of the uses of the all objects that make up such a large component of our consumerist culture. 

Some of Dillehey’s students take his lessons and seek to apply them in a focused way. Bianca Wiseman, for example, made a piece called “Running Out of Time,” in which racing bib numbers from a variety of half-marathons form the background for the display of a pink and white running shoe. The shoe has been cut open to expose an inner diorama: a collage of photos (presumably of the artist) and a trio of little white plastic figurines. A quote from John Bingham, the guru of slow running, reads: “The miracle isn’t that I finished, the miracle is that I had the courage to start.”

Stacy Harris’ “Element Head” is poetic. A Styrofoam head has been covered in gold glitter. Moss is used as hair (Dillehey’s love of moss has evidently been transmitted to some of his students.) The top of the head is covered in small lightbulbs. An eye is placed in the forehead. The piece is mounted on a clean slice of log.

Next to Harris’s piece is another Styrofoam head: “Self Portrait” by Thao Nguyen. This one has an intricate diorama to examine, a diminutive interior space inside the head. There is a tiny image of Godzilla, jewel-like seashells, a tiny stump table with tiny stump chairs with a tiny vase of tiny flowers. Nested in a little crate is a little book, a journal by the artist. “Top Secret” is written on the cover. Miniature streams of “work zone” ribbon partition off the upper loft of the interior of Nguyen’s head. Black paint has been poured over the exterior and a pink flower is stuck in the mouth. The piece has all the charm and intrigue of a shadow box, the more you look, the more you see in this cranial treasure chest.

The presence of that muse of creative vitality, shown by the sculpture students, was my main takeaway from the show, but there are plenty of other students of all the other instructors that have contributed a heaping helping of good work. There are drawings and paintings of students of Melinda Leibers Cox and a row of lovely prints made by students of Marit Berg. Karen Doten’s students have contributed examples from their life drawing and still life sketchbooks. There are examples of graphic design and digital photography by students of Anthony Culang. In addition to sculpture Dillehey also teaches 2D design and old school, dark room photography.

The show also includes some great pottery done by students of TCC’s two master potters, Rick Mahaffey and Reid Ozaki. Bernie Short, Daniel Perez and Hilary Ernst, students of Mahaffey, make a fine exhibiting group as do Ozaki’s students Rowena Forde, Jill Rohrbaugh, Irene Hewing and Logan O’Grady.

The 2018 TCC Student Art Exhibition runs through June 7. Swing by and catch some inspiration. For more information call (253) 460-4306 or visit

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