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"Joe Hedges: Empirical Evidence" at SPSCC

“Line Quality” digital print by Joe Hedges. Photo courtesy South Puget Sound Community College

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"Joe Hedges: Empirical Evidence" is the latest exhibition in the gallery at South Puget Sound Community College. The exhibition blends traditional art with science, mechanics, science-fiction. The show includes still-life paintings in oil on canvas, digital prints of imaginative machine-like objects, and fantastical installations involving sculptural objects that appear to be scientific instruments with video and sound. 

If Hedges is trying to convey a message, I don't get it. But as purely aesthetic objects and images, they are fascinating; and perhaps that is the point, that they make the viewer wonder what is going on, what kind of future world have we entered.

The largest and most imposing object in the show is something called "Inscriptions," which sits somewhat ominously in the middle of the gallery. It is made of various electronics with a couple of television or computer monitors and a large inflatable egg. The egg is gray and about the size of a medicine ball. Everything is connected by a jangle of electrical wires, and there is a Lasko brand tower heater and a large hose that snakes down from the ceiling. It's like some kind of steampunk machine but sleeker and more modernistic. In terms of how effectively it conveys whatever the artist is trying to say, I am at a loss for what to say. But it is fun to look at.

Much the same can be said for the other sculptural objects in this show.

The paintings, on the other hand, are traditional pictures of objects aligned on a table with curtains, like paintings of fruit and bowls and kitchen implements that have been museum staples since the Renaissance, only the objects he paints are unrecognizable as anything that actually exists. My first thought upon seeing them was of William Bailey, one of the rare contemporary painters who still successfully paints in that tradition. And then I thought of another artist from an earlier period whose works Hedges' paintings look even more like. I couldn't think of the name until I saw that two of his smaller paintings were tributes to the 19th century trompe-l'œil painter William Harnett.

There are a lot of these little paintings, all with strange objects on a table with extremely dark brown or black backgrounds, beautifully balanced and painted with finesse, the tables upon which they sit almost vanishing into the dark backgrounds.

There are two much larger paintings, approximately four-by-five feet. One of these, called "Color Field Painting," has a computer monitor with a bright blue screen and a bright yellow curtain in front of a dark brown wall, and in front of it sits an actual chair. The field of blue on the monitor is the "color field," a play on words referring to a modernist art movement.

Hedges' sculptural objects, paintings and prints are all meticulously crafted and beautifully designed. The attempt to figure out possible meanings should be intellectually challenging and enjoyable for viewers.

"Joe Hedges: Empirical Evidence," noon to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday, through May 12, South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia, spscc.edu

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