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Academic paintings

"Liberal and Phenomenal" at UPS

“Symmetrical Four-layered Ovoids & Lattices III,” oil on canvas by Michael Knutson. Photo courtesy Kittredge Gallery

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"Liberal and Phenomenal" is not my assessment of the two current shows at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound. It is the name of the combined shows, each with works by five painters. "Liberal" in the main gallery features paintings by painting professors Michael Knutson (Reed College), Richard Martinez (Whitman), Cara Tomlinson (Lewis & Clark College), James Thompson (Willamette University), and Elise Richman (University of Puget Sound), and "Phenomenal" features paintings by Eric Elliott, Anne Gale, Emily Gherard, Ron Graff and Jan Reaves.

The first thing to hit your eyes as you enter the gallery is the array of four stunning paintings by Michael Knutson on the back wall. These are bright, almost pulsating op-art paintings with many layers of overlapping kaleidoscopic patterns of spirals and ovals in seemingly every intense color available. They are simply gorgeous, almost too much so -- too ornamental, too decorative, too perfect.

Representing the local art faculty, UPS professor Elise Richman is showing five oil paintings from a series called "Ripple Ellipse." Each is a painting in rainbow colors of concentric swirls of primary colors painted with precision with paint application that is heavy and opaque. In "Ripple Ellipse: Vortex," the spirals form a whirlpool going down, while in its neighbor, "Ripple Ellipse: Rise," the spirals rise to form a perfectly conical mountain peak.

Many of the works are scientific and mathematical in concept and require thought and concentration. Such as in James B. Thompson's 12 paintings from the series "Water is Sacred; Water is Life." Each of the dozen is square. His medium is a mixture of ink, acrylic, pigment and shredded United States currency. That's right, paper money cut into tiny strips and pasted to the canvas in clusters. Similar clusters of marks, lines, dashes, squiggles, some like tangled clumps of fine hair or fish nets, float across the canvases; and in each painting a transparent rectangle of blue sits on top. The dozen paintings are almost identical but with nuanced changes in color. They coalesce into a single unit.

Outstanding in the back gallery are Anne Gayle's two paintings of a woman, one a life-size, full-figure nude, and the other a portrait head of the same woman. She is a large woman with dark brown skin. The many shades of brown paint are applied in short dashes of color like brushstrokes in a van Gogh painting. Seen up close, these paintings are almost abstract fields of closely related dashes of color. But as the viewer steps back for ever more distant views, the strokes come together to create realistic images of the woman.

Also attention-grabbing in the little back gallery is "Rigorous Devotion," an oil and acrylic painting by Jan Reaves. This is an odd abstract painting with a few clearly defined shapes in dull colors that are applied with painterly drips and runs. The shapes do not represent anything recognizable and teeter provocatively between randomness and order; these odd shapes fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Remove any one shape from this painting and the solid composition would probably fall apart.

Overall, these are academic paintings. There is nothing startling or new about any of them, but they are all painted with skill and sensitivity to light, shape and color. It is an enjoyable show.

"Liberal and Phenomenal," 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday; noon-5 p.m., Saturday, through Nov. 4; exhibition reception, 5-6:30 p.m., Nov. 4, Kittredge Gallery, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701

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