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A peek at the future

"11th Annual Student Art Exhibition" at SPSCC

“When the Oceans Used to Sing,” mixed media by Tanner Jenkins. Photo courtesy South Puget Sound Community College

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I almost missed seeing the "11th Annual Student Art Exhibition" at South Puget Sound Community College. It has only another week to run. If I were cynical enough, and I admit that I often am, I could say, "What's the big deal? It's only a student show." There's some truth in that, too. It is not museum-quality art, but there is art in this show that is definitely worth seeing.

It's good to see student work because student art provides a good barometer to what young people are thinking, and therefore what kinds of art you might expect to see in galleries in the next few years. Or, perhaps it just shows the influences of popular culture and of certain highly influential professors. Take Joe Batt, for instance. Batt teaches ceramics at SPSCC. His work is quirky, humorous, provocative and wonderfully inventive, and I see a lot of Batt's influence in the many ceramic pieces that are in this show. They're on sculpture stands throughout the gallery, mostly small ceramic sculptures of comical-looking animals and human-animal hybrid creatures. For example, a pair of deliciously inventive ceramic creatures by Rider Drutz. One is a creature that looks a little bit like a water buffalo with a head that is a bleached white skull with big horns. It is riding - like a bucking bronco - a creature that looks like a hybrid alligator-turtle. Next to this is another ceramic creature by the same artist that looks like a headless woman on her back with an infant in her arms. Her head seems to have melded into an old rotting log. Stylistically, these pieces are put together with rough little slabs of clay that remind me a lot of some of Willem de Kooning's sculpture. If these pieces could be done large, they would be powerful.

There is also a project that some 28 ceramics students worked on together called "Woodard Bay Bat Commute Installation." Some 3,000 bats of many different species roost together at an old railway trestle at Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area. The students made ceramic sculptures of many of the bats, and they are displayed on a stand in a corner, and up the wall and across the length of the longest wall in the gallery, both on the wall and hanging from the ceiling. It is quite impressive - not so much in the individual pieces, which are naturalistic and not particularly outstanding, but in the cumulative effect of the whole swarm rhythmically flying across the gallery.

Another inventive ceramic piece that I particularly enjoyed was Sarah Farley's "Summertime Shoe," a blue ceramic sneaker that becomes a tiny doll house with a window and little pieces of doll furniture inside. This one is joyful. Not at all joyful is Suzanne Petrie's "Woman's Wall," a tiny wall of white clay bricks that appears to have been bombed, and lying on the ground behind the wall is a woman in a fetal position who appears to be dead (and who also happens to have a head like a lizard). It is a deathly scene of desolation.

There are not many paintings in the show. One of my favorites is "Chiclets in Hand" by Emily Bullock. This one depicts a hand extended palm-out and holding a handful of multi-colored Chiclets. It is impressive for its heavily applied impasto paint and its glowing colors.

Also very interesting are two pieces by Tanner Jenkins ("When the Ocean Used to Sing") and Minji Jang ("The Pumpkin Carriage"). I thought they were by the same person because of their similarities. Each is made of digital images cut into strips and woven together - something I've seen whole classes do as a class project, which I imagine is what was going on with these. The precision and intricacy of geometric patterns combined with more lyrical organic shapes in beautifully subtle color combinations make these works stand out.

"11TH ANNUAL STUDENT ART EXHIBITION", Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. through June 10, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia, 360.596.5527

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