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Show of darkness

Larry Calkins at Feast Art Center

Masks and collages by Larry Calkins. Photo credit: Alec Clayton

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The first thing that strikes the eye upon walking into Larry Calkins' show "Something Happened Again Tomorrow" at the Feast Art Center, is a pair of rust-colored figures hanging in the windows. Hanging as in lynched. The overall impression, not just of these figures but of the entire show, is of darkness. Darkness as in despair.

Some of Calkins' drawings, collages and sculptures look like ancient artifacts found in some dark cave, preserved in amber. There are, what appear to be, voodoo dolls and figures pierced by nails. Some of the art looks like old photos found in a scrapbook from the earliest days of photography. Mysteries and implied narratives abound.

Encaustic is the one common material in all of the work - encaustic with aluminum, encaustic with found photographs, with paint, with cloth. And in each instance, the artist displays both understanding of his media and a willingness to stretch that media in unexpected ways.

In addition to the hanging figures in the windows, there is an eerie photograph of a hanging man with a silhouetted house behind him, and above this image is an animal mask made of aluminum, cloth and encaustic. It is the elongated face of an unidentifiable animal with tiny round holes for eyes and bear ears, a projection on top of its head that is shaped like a house with a peak roof.

Gallery owner Todd Jannausch says the figures in the windows are Calkins and his wife, the wife being the one on the viewer's left (there are no recognizable gender markers). She has a cone-shaped protrusion on her forehead. Both have numbers on their chests, indicative perhaps that they are in prison. She is number 5650 and he is 1255. If there is any narrative intent to these surrealistic figures, I do not get it. But I like their power and mystery.

Along one wall is a large encaustic collage with old photos grouped and overlapped like scattered pages from some old scrapbook. There are pictures of dolls, of nude figures, a bandaged man, scenes from an operating room. It could easily be the history of a tragic family. There is writing. It is handwriting that is unreadable - drawing that looks like writing but no actual letters.

Hanging on one wall is a little rusty figure impaled head-to-foot with nails. He brings to mind Saint Sabastian shot through with arrows.

On the right-hand wall when facing the window are two sets of collages and animal masks. There is one set of four collages with encaustic in amber and black and white collaged onto old picture frames with fascinating texture. Pictured are faces and type. Next to it is a similar set of two collages stacked vertically. The lower one features a black-and-white drawing of a face. The top one features the flat and transparent shape of a head and chest in bright red, one of the few instances of color in the entire show. Arranged in a triad above these are three of Calkins' strange animal masks. One appears to be a bunny, one a deer, and one a human face.

I like that there is very little color in this show. The black, white and gray, the rust, and the amber of the encaustic lends to the images the patina of age. This is a marvelous show, strange and mysterious with work that is beautifully executed, depicting people and animals and events that one can only marvel at and wonder about.

"Larry Calkins: Something Happened Again Tomorrow," noon-4 p.m., Saturday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday, and by appointment, through June 10, Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, feastarts.com 

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