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Two intriguing shows at University of Puget Sound

Christopher Paul Jordan and Gustavo Martinez

“Wall painted construction,” mixed media by Christopher Paul Jordan. Photo credit: Gabi Clayton

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Christopher Paul Jordan might well be Tacoma's most prolific artist, and his fame is quickly spreading to Seattle and elsewhere -- deservedly so for this recent Neddy Artist Awards winner, if his latest show at Kittredge Gallery is any indication.

The show is called "Latent Home," and it features powerful work in painting, video, and other media that is astounding both in terms of cultural commentary and as pure aesthetics. Most of the work is what I would call sculptural painting, meaning it is three-dimensional but painting in concept. It is painting with an expressionist bent that harkens back to artists such as Willem de Kooning and burlap collages of Alberto Burri, and sculpturally it is like the bent car body sculptures of John Chamberlain.

Along one wall is a series of photographs of urban landscapes printed on styrene that has been bent, scratched and apparently melted in spots. These pictures depict modern, gritty, urban scenes that are hyper-realistic and made even more so due to the rough handling of the media. To the left of these photos hangs a mesh metal screen upon which a photo is projected. The projected image is filtered through the screen and lands on an abstract painting of incised, concave lines like bent and broken tree limbs on a rough white surface that appears to be Styrofoam. These lines dig into the surface about an inch deep and look as if they were gouged out of stone. Abstract though it is, it calls to mind remnants of ancient forest scenes.

Along the back wall are large photographs and paintings of landscapes into which are incised more of the limb-like lines. Also on this wall is a piece with jagged and multicolored cloth-like styrene draped over a short rod that projects a foot or two from the wall, and near it another similar piece that hangs from the ceiling like melted rubber or plastic, or colorful laundry on a clothesline.

And then there is a painting applied directly to the wall with colorful rectangles and protruding from it a black box covered with many more of the multicolored scraps and shards of painted styrene, and on the face of this box is an orange cardboard slide viewer that looks like the face of ET.

Taken as a group, Jordan's pieces defy easy description. They combine harsh reality with lyrical abstraction. They reflect the realities of abandoned city basketball courts and landscapes encroached upon by urban sprawl and the mountains of debris that pile up in our landfills. They are gritty, rough, colorful and quite beautiful.

In the back gallery is Gustavo Martinez's "Guardians, Warriors, and Allies," 14 ceramic sculptures of creatures that call to mind ancient Aztec gods. Rough and imaginatively, these clay figures stand four-to-five feet tall and are embellished with feathers, deer antlers, steel and epoxy, painted with acrylic paints. They suggest Native American figures as well as fantasy gods and monsters.  

These are shows that should be seen.

Christopher Paul Jordan's "Latent Home" plus "Guardians, Warriors and Allies" by Gustavo Martinez, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday; noon-5 p.m., Saturday, through Dec. 9, Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701, pugetsound.edu 

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