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Neddy finalists

Tacoma Art Museum hosts the Neddy Fellowship Finalists

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Once again Tacoma Art Museum brings us works from the Neddy Fellowship Finalists — the Neddy being “ … one of only a handful of prestigious regional awards,” according to TAM director Stephanie Stebich.

The first thing to meet the eye when entering the gallery is Buddy Bunting’s impressive ink and pencil painting, “Coyote,” a black-and-white painting executed directly on the museum wall panel. Though pen and ink is normally thought of as drawing media, this work is truly a painting in scale and in concept. Filling a 9-by-12-foot wall, it is a delicate and dramatic painting of a crashed truck. “Like many painters, Buddy Bunting finds beauty in the American West, but he focuses on how people inhabit the region rather than the sublime landscape. In this painting of a smashed truck, Bunting evokes the tragedy of immigrant smuggling in the Southwest. The title alludes to a slang term for the smugglers, who will destroy lives in order to profit from illegal border crossings,” reads wall text accompanying this painting.

The twisted shape of the mangled truck calls to mind John Chamberlain’s sculptures from crushed auto parts even though Chamberlain’s sculptures are bombastic and brightly colored and Bunting’s painting is softly muted. Bunting paints with a sure hand. It looks as if every line and every wash of ink were laid down with a single stroke without hesitation and without correction. Anyone who has ever tried his hand at painting with wet media such as ink or watercolor knows just how hard that is.

On the back of this wall panel is another painting executed directly on the wall. This one is Vicoria Haven’s “Rabbit Hole #4,” which was seen in the recent eighth Northwest Biennial. It’s a tricky little painting that plays with perspective and optical illusion. Note the almost invisible trompe l’oeil cast shadows.

Bunting was also in the biennial. Not to cast aspersions on Bunting and Haven, but the way the same artists keep showing up in these award shows seems awfully suspicious. I think that consciously or unconsciously the jurors pick artists who are familiar to them. I suspect they think something like “Well, if everybody else thinks they’re so good, they must be.”

Charles Whiting Tennis was selected for the painting fellowship and Charles Craft for ceramics. I doubt that I would have picked either of them for top awards. Tennis’ painting, “Blue Tarp,” is a wall-size painting consisting of random painterly marks and angular lines on a big blue tarp. Craft’s hand-painted earthenware bunnies and commemorative prison plates are cute and ironic.

My choice for the top awards would probably have been Bunting and Yuki Nakamura.

Yakamura’s “Dream Suspended” consists of porcelain soccer balls suspended on neon wires. It is a contemplative work that comments on sport as a path to fame and riches for the lucky few and a false hope for so many more. The dull, white balls hanging at different levels on brilliant neon wires create a kind of visual ballet in air.

One of the more powerful images is Tip Toland’s self-portrait, “Painting the Burning Fence,” a painted stoneware bust of an old woman applying lipstick. It is paired with “Pretty, Pretty Baby,” a portrait of the artist as an infant. From birth to death, these paired works imply, women are expected to make themselves beautiful. The baby exuberantly smears lipstick all over her cheeks while the old woman carefully paints her lips. The one thing about the baby that bothers me is that she is about five times life-size and thus looks as cartoonish as a balloon in a Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.

Also showing are sculptures by Eric Nelsen and Alex Schweder.

[Tacoma Art Museum, “2007 Neddy Fellowship Exhibition,” through Aug. 19 Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., $6.50-$7.50, Third Thursday free, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4258,]

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