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"Statements & Questions"

Selected works by faculty and staff at Evergreen

“Simple Machine” sculpture by Alair Wells. Photo credit: Gabi Clayton

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Based on previous experience, I expected anything but traditional in an exhibition of work by faculty and staff at The Evergreen State College. I expected political art and identity art and conceptual art, and I was surprised at how much traditional art there was - not that there wasn't plenty of the other as well. There was quite a variety in style, media and content.

Among the more conceptual pieces was a selection from or version of Anne de Marcken's Invisible Ink project now showing at the Feast Art Center in Tacoma (reviewed in this column last week.) It is a thought-provoking piece that will hopefully spur some viewers (specifically white viewers) to get involved helping others (specifically people of color).

Emily L.R. Adams' "Looking Glass" presents a feminist message. It is a wall of vintage, black-and-white photos of naked women - peep show shots, pornography circa 1900 - mounted on antique dinner trays or plates on a black wooden panel and framed by black and white curtains. The metaphor of naked women being served up on dinner plates speaks volumes about sexual mores then and now.

Among the more traditional works is a group of small multiple-plate etching of women by Lisa Sweet. Sweet is known for painting contemporary subject matter in the style of Romanesque or Renaissance frescos. There is usually a surrealistic and sometimes comical bent to her paintings, which also often skewer the Catholic Church, and her technique is usually flawless. This suite of four etchings is different from what I have previously seen from her in that they are not so odd and the juxtaposition of diverse images is not as obvious. The only thing odd that I can see is that the women have unusually long necks - reminiscent of Modigliani but more realistic in the smooth blending of colors and modeling of light and shadow. Her technique is typically flawless, and it is in these as well.

Shaw Osha is showing a couple of small acrylic paintings of figures in an indoor setting titled "S for Soul Train numbers one and two." These are expressive and softly brushed paintings in a style such as that of the Bay Area figure painters of the 1950s: Elmer Bischoff, David Park and early Richard Diebenkorn. Her paintings are even more diffuse and lacking in detail than the Bay Area painters, and while they are fascinating, they cry out for more detail and contrast.  As is, they seem mushy, unfocused and unfinished.

Michelle Pope's four mixed-media box constructions are little dioramas like stage sets from an earlier era, with moving parts that are operated by turning a crank. There are cut-out and painted whales in an ocean of waves that move when the crank is turned, a little girl flying a kite, a horse in the desert, and sailboats on the sea. They're cute like toddler's toys.

Bob Leverich has also created a diorama. His is much more interesting. It is a carved wood model for a proposed sculptural installation for the grounds of Vashon Island High School: a simple model for curvilinear forms with little carved wooden people to give an indication of scale. It is accompanied by architectural drawings. Envisioning the final product from the model and drawings, I suspect it is going to be quite an attractive addition to the high school campus.

One of the strongest pieces in the show is "Simple Machine," a sculpture of forged steel, cast iron, mirrors, gold leaf, and velvet by Alair Wells. It is a machine that looks like the furnaces at Museum of Glass, only much smaller, about the size of a typical dog house standing on metal legs with some kind of strange rust-colored metal pods hanging by the door. Inside is what looks like a molten figure of some kind surrounded by shards of mirror. The open door is shaped like the blade of a guillotine ready to drop. "Simple Machine" was impactful and unforgettable to me because of its rugged quality and because it sets up possibilities of so many possible interpretations.

"Statements & Questions," 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, through March 8, Evergreen Gallery, Library Building, The Evergreen State College, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Olympia, 360.867.5125, evergreen.edu/gallery

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