New art show in Tacoma

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A gaggle of great new art shows recently opened around town. Over the last two weeks, I attended opening receptions at the Gallery at Tacoma Community College, The Feast Arts Center Gallery, the 950 Gallery, Minka, and Tacoma Art Museum. What follows are some notes on each of these.

The Gallery at TCC
TCC Bldg. 4, near the corner of 12th and Mildred. Visitor parking is available in Lot G
Washington Overseas Chinese Artists Association Exhibit
On view through Aug. 9
www.tacomacc.edu/tcc-life/arts-culture/the-art-gallery

This is a milestone for the WOCAA, it being the organizations 25th anniversary exhibition. The art in this exhibit ranges stylistically from traditional Chinese calligraphy and ink paintings – of landscapes, botanical and wildlife paintings – to works that reflect Western modes of art making and depiction.

During the opening reception, several of the artists involved with the association were on hand to do demonstrations of ink painting as well as calligraphy. These works included an impromptu portrait of Rick Mahaffey, a member of the TCC art faculty. The ink painter deftly captured Mahaffey’s countenance and his impressive potter’s mustache.

It was mesmerizing to watch a master calligrapher creating a row of gestural script with a loaded brush on expanses of paper that are so delicate and thin. I can’t help but feel that the experience would be so much more meaningful if I knew what exactly being written. Much of the calligraphy seems to be drawn from a canon of poetry and Buddhist sutras. As it is, the experience is akin to listening to Italian opera without being able to understand the lyrics. I can get a sense of the emotive quality and musicality of the language, but am unable to have reach extra dimension that would come of knowing what the language is saying precisely.

This exhibition is dense with artistic treasures like Yingzhang He’s “Pearl of Fragrance,” an ink and pigment painting of grape vines that is mostly in black and shades of gray, but includes clusters of muted purple grapes arranged along the lively grapevine.

Ricky Yip’s “Tao in the Mountain” is what I think of as a classical, vertical landscape with the steep, rocky peaks and contorted pine trees growing from rocky crags.

With “Fruits on a Chair,” meanwhile, Ning Wang uses a western, post-impressionist style of painting in bright color with thick paint to depict a plate of fruit on a modern chair.

During the July 12, opening reception, the gathered artists, guests and dignitaries received a message transmitted by Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who congratulated the artists on their 25 years of work. The governor also noted that the group is helping to enrich the community through art and that diversity is one of the strengths of our state.

Feast Arts Center Gallery

1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma

“Reliquary,” new work by Nicholas Nyland

On view through Aug. 11

www.feastarts.com

It is now July 19, and I am out exploring some of the art shows timed to open for Third Thursday. My first stop is the Feast Arts Center, on the Hilltop where work by Tacoma artist Nicholas Nyland is on view. This great show of new art by Nyland consists of both paintings and ceramic work. The latter includes vessels, free-standing sculptures and wall-mounted works.

Upon entry, I am immediately struck by a kinship to between this work by Nyland and some of the work of Henri Matisse, the French modern master. At first I thought this feeling came because I have Matisse on my mind. Just the day before I’d become absorbed in looking at some paintings of Matisse interiors. As it turns out, there was a bit of serendipity at work. Some of Nyland’s work in the show is indeed in dialogue with certain streams within the work of Matisse. Nyland discussed this at the reception, mentioning that his paintings in the exhibit are very much inspired by Matisse and the idea of a virtuous feedback loop between the artist and his work. For Matisse, completed paintings and sculptures often showed up in paintings of the interior spaces in which he lived and worked.

A table by the gallery window, which looks out onto the street, is arranged with a variety of Nyland’s slab-built forms. These could well become a fascinating still life painting that explores the interesting shapes and variety of colors of Nyland’s ceramics. Each one is different from the others, yet there is a family resemblance among them.

Elsewhere, there is a series of “mirrors,” flat ovals of clay that are mounted on stands. Each has its own gestural, design-oriented surface decoration. They are colorful, but not in an in-your-face way. Nyland prefers the charm of hand built (as opposed to wheel thrown) ceramics. The mark of the maker’s hand is visible in them.

One of the most striking pieces in the show is the “Charm Burro,” a form made of terra cotta that one can hang charms and jewelry upon. Nyland, however, has taken the trouble to provide the charms in the form of downsized versions of many of his creations.

The Feast Arts Center and its gallery have rapidly become a haven of art. It is part of a flowering of art venues that are making the Hilltop something of an art mecca. Along with the Fulcrum Gallery, Tacoma Gallery, and Fabitat (Fab Five Headquarters,) The Feast Art Center is doing its part to expand the vitalizing sphere of healthy imaginations and creativity to the community.

Feast fills a vital niche, having become known for hosting bold shows that have often have a saliency in regard to contemporary events.

950 Gallery

950 Pacific Ave., #205 (entrance on 11th St.), Tacoma

“Study of Site and Space”

On view through Aug. 15

www.spaceworkstacoma.com/gallery

After visiting the Feast Gallery, I traveled down from the Hilltop, bound for downtown. On the way, I swung by 950 Gallery, which is run by Spaceworks. The new show is “Study of Site and Space” curated by Allison Hyde the City of Auburn’s Public Arts Coordinator.

What the show is aiming at an examination of the intersection of memory and identity with space, place, location and environment. The idea behind the show brings to mind some of the

concepts of philosophers like Martin Heidegger, who have much to say on the importance of place for one’s self conception. For Heidegger, our being is through dwelling. “We do not dwell because we have built,” says Heidegger, “but we build and have built because we dwell, that is, because we are dwellers.”

Again, the gallery space is a treasure trove of interesting art that examines some aspect of the meaning of place. Made from the most humble and accessible of materials (plywood and cardboard,) Alexander Keyes’ “From the Depths” looks like layers of tiny cardboard houses – like the pueblo of Mesa Verde – sandwiched between layers of plywood, suggesting a dense, beehive like dwelling. The piece is impressive, but it is pale by comparison what I’ve seen of some of Keyes’ other work. Some months ago, he exhibited an incredible space station, complete with a cardboard space ship in a stage of incompletion in the window of the Woolworth Building just across Commerce Street from the 950 Gallery.

Rick Araluce, meanwhile, constructs miniature, eerie interiors on a dollhouse scale. They are so realistic, however, that I took them to be full-sized installations when I first saw them via the internet. I was surprised to find them so diminutive.

Robert Hutchinson’s “Memory Houses” are iconic house forms made of a variety of materials like resin and cast concrete.

Jeremy Mangan’s oil and acrylic paintings are always striking. Employing a representational style akin to that of Rene Magritte, Mangan’s depictions achieve a hyper clarified surrealism. They have a vividness that seems more real than real. Standing in front of one of these paintings is like looking into the realm of pure ideas posited by Plato. His “Parlor Stove” is a portrait of an impossibly beautiful enameled, cast iron stove that stands in a partially deconstructed building. Every wood grain of every board is vividly present. And a chill, austere mountain landscape spreads out, clearly visible through the openings in the barely-there building that houses the titular stove.

With well over a dozen artists represented, this little discussion barely scratches the surface of the depth of the show, which includes work by some of Tacoma’s well known artists like Jessica Spring, Christopher Paul Jordan and Lisa Kinoshita.

Minka/Art Above

821 Pacific Ave., Tacoma

“Golden Age”

On view through Aug. 31

www.minkatacoma.com

Speaking of Kinoshita, her Minka is part boutique, part art gallery and part antique shop. There are tons of interesting things to see. But there something new in the space; ascending a flight of steps to leads to Art Above, a new gallery that is independent of Minka although it shares the same entrance. Art Above is more of traditional art gallery and art viewing space that is run by Brian Ebersole, former Tacoma mayor and Washington State Speaker of the House.

Kinoshita, however co-curated this inaugural show of work by Eastern Washington artist Justin Gibbens. When you emerge into the galley, your attention is drawn to a cow skeleton. Each bone is coated in golden paint. It is sprawled out on the floor in the middle of the gallery. The skeleton was found by the artist on a parched trek. He transported the bones back to his studio, making numerous trips to do so. The golden skeleton is fitted with a long pair of horns from a water buffalo.

On the wall, next to the skeleton is a huge painting done in an Asian style. It is a marvelous rendering of a caucus of a water buffalo, an animal of proverbial strength associated with rivers and water. In this case, the rib cage is exposed to reveal that bees have moved in and have built their honeycombs inside of the deceased beast. There is reference here to an ancient belief that bees generated themselves from dead meat. For my part, the scene brings to mind a scene from Book of Judges in which Samson kills a lion and bees make honey in the lion’s head.

On the rest of the walls there are framed pages of manuscript – in Persian and Sanskrit – upon which Gibbens has done paintings of various animals. The animals are used to form an alphabet, which is also what the manuscript pages were written for. They look like examples of ancient codices placed in sheets of glass and kept as treasures of knowledge and art that have survived from antiquity.

Tacoma Art Museum
1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma
“Pressing Forward,” prints from the Quartermaster Press Studio
On view through Sept. 27

www.TacomaArtMuseum.org

Finally, I ended up at the Tacoma Art Museum. On July’s Third Thursday, the grand halls and galleries are abuzz with activity and people. Standing on the museum’s grand staircase and viewing the clusters of people in the immense interior, I have a sensation of being someplace like Greece or Rome in the classical age, gazing at people in a great temple or basilica.

I have never experienced this vibe at the art museum before. It now feels warmer and more public than it has seemed in the past. My hat goes off to those working behind the scene to make TAM feel so accessible. TAM seems to have found a happy balance. It is now vibrant and accessible to the wider community while still functioning as a shrine to art – a place where the artwork can be respectfully presented and contemplated.

I came here to view new show by the print artists associated with Vashon Island’s Quartermaster Press. This being near the tail end of Third Thursday hours, I find that I have arrived too late to see the printing demonstration, but there is still time to view some of the artwork. Like Brian Fisher’s charming images of puppets and Patricia Churchill’s condensed and stylized garden images that look like Mayan glyphs.

Meanwhile, the museum’s library is filled with youths enjoying the talents of one another in an open mic/spoken word evening. Elsewhere there are couples, small groups and families strolling the various galleries, taking in the exhibits. On this occasion, I decide to make a probe through the Haub wing, entering through the Pamela Mayer Sculpture Hall where I survey the bronze statuettes of animals.

Flowing into the Liliane and Christian Haub Gallery, I linger over some of the impressionistic Western landscapes that are part of the “Immigrant Artists and the American West” exhibit.

Further along, at “Places to Call Home: Settlements in the West,” I encounter a Jeremy Mangan painting for the second time this evening.

Again, an encounter with Jeremy Mangan painting, a large piece called “Pacific Northwest Desert Island.” Is shows a rocky little island densely grown with characteristic regional trees like Douglas Fir and Madonna. A campfire burns on the rocky beach and, at a cave entrance is a shelter made of firewood. The painting itself is a condensed chunk of images of Pacific Northwest nature and human habitation. It seems to engage the senses. You can feel those beach stones beneath your feet and the smooth, nude bark of the Madonna. You can smell the smoke of the fire mixed with the smell of the sea and the scents of the trees. You can hear the waves licking the stones and hear the breeze blowing through the evergreen boughs.

Finally, pleasantly worn out from my Third Thursday odyssey, I made my way back to where I’d parked my truck. I am ready to set a course for home, to enjoy a small cup of coffee and to ruminate over the recent viewings.

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