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Visual Edge: 'Paint, Steel Porcelain'

Brick & Mortar Gallery re-opens in Tacoma

“Lafawnda’s Cancan” oil and copper on canvas by Laura Hanan. Photo courtesy of Laura Hanan

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It makes my heart happy to see that Laura Hanan has re-opened Brick & Mortar Gallery. The once funky little gallery on Pacific at 9th street is now elegant and welcoming and in business again after a hiatus of six years with a selection of Hanan's paintings plus porcelain wall reliefs by Steve Portteus, and steel sculptures by Josh Lippencott.

Both Lippencott and Portteus are showing work that is gift-shoppy and appealing to popular taste but finely crafted and, particularly in the work of Portteus, original in concept. By way of contrast, there is absolutely nothing gift-shoppy in Hanan's paintings. They are pure, bold and unpretentious. They are abstract oil paintings on canvas based on an image of a workbench, a photo of which is projected onto the wall of the gallery.

"My new paintings were inspired by minimal marks left in construction environments such as the stains and scars on a carpenter's workbench and the paint-splatter left on sidewalk public works barrels," Hanan said. "The intrinsic beauty in these random marks, textures, contrast, and earth/mineral tones motivated creations of strange, otherworldly landscapes and creatures."

Many of her paintings have one or two circular discs made from copper and glued to the surface of the canvas amidst loosely painted organic shapes applied in washes so thin as to soak in and show the weave of the canvas. In contrast to the Helen Frankenthaler-like washes of color are the hard circles and black shapes layered on with thick paint that looks like hot tar. The contrasts of these divergent forms and methods of paint application is bold and startling, yet the different shapes and surfaces blend together into a single whole. This is painting that is gritty, raw and accomplished.

The paintings look spontaneous and quickly done, but Hanan confirmed that some of them were re-worked extensively.

Viewers should be able to easily read landscape into her forms, and they may also see reflections of grease and oil and tar soaked into concrete or brick or the surface of the afore-mentioned work bench.

I like all of her paintings, but if asked to pick a favorite it would be "Cryptonic Crusades," which has a black shape in the center perched atop a white shape. It looks like a black bear on a floating chunk of ice.

Lippencott's welded flower sculptures and cut-steel landscapes are technically well done but not original in thought or execution. His two standing steel sculptures are by far his best works in the show.

Portteus's relief sculptures of landscapes and flowers are quite attractive. The most interesting aspect of his work is the use of little multi-colored balls of clay arranged into fields of color.

"Daisy" is a single flower with white petals and a yellow center on a field of blue, green and olive balls. It has a pop-art sensibility that is refreshing. His best works are "Tide Pool #1" and "High Tide." The former is a tide pool created from clear epoxy at least an inch deep with star fish and flowers floating on the water and a crab clinging to the rocks. The latter is a field of large clay balls partially submerged in clear epoxy. It is the most abstract of his pieces. It is astonishingly beautiful.

"Paint, Steel Porcelain", Tuesday and Thursday,10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Fri.-Sat., noon to 9 p.m. through June 15, Brick & Mortar Gallery, 811 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.591.2727

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