Politics and literary art come together with visual art with a musical sensibility in the new show by Jean Smith and David Lester of the rock duo Mecca Normal. It's good to see a merging of various artistic expressions such as this.
Lester is a graphic artist; Smith is a painter and novelist. Individually and collectively they display their political beliefs, their talent as visual artists and their fertile imagination in this art exhibition.
Included are four acrylic paintings by Smith of the band Pussy Riot - much in the news lately due to being political prisoners in Russia, jailed for singing. There is also a painting by Lester of Pussy Riot behind bars, meaning these paintings must have been done in the brief time since they were arrested. Art doesn't get much more contemporary than that.
In Smith's paintings, the band members are faceless blobs. Their bodies are thin washes of paint with no details. They are recognizable as musicians only through their body gestures. The colors are dull and the paint application so thin and watery that the weave of the canvas is very clear. She captures the darkness of a night club and gives to the scene a sense of mystery.
Perhaps most intriguing of Smith's paintings are her series of paintings of paintings by Martin Lewis: five versions of "No coal by Martin Lewis," six from "Raven Coal Mine by Martin Lewis" and numbers two through nine in the series "Nine Symptoms of Narcissism by Martin Lewis." It makes you wonder who Martin Lewis is and why only eight of the nine symptoms are illustrated. The answer to the first part of that question is that Martin Lewis is a character in Smith's novel. He is an artist, and he paints these paintings in order to impress the woman in the novel he has fallen in love with. They are landscape paintings that he has abstracted. The central image in each painting is a glowing red blob or monolith.
In the first series, "No Coal," the blocky rectangular shape of the red blob is like a giant iceberg seen in the black of night under a red light. It is ominous and moody. The "Raven Coal Mine" series is more landscape-y with green and gray colors and an obvious horizon. The red blob is clearly a tree in most of them but becomes an amorphous fire in one. In the "Narcissism" series, the red blob goes away and is replaced by organic shapes in flat colors. This is the weakest of the three series with the exception of number nine, which is a very nice painting.
Lester is showing the digital print cover and pages from his graphic novel The Listener, a dark story about the holocaust as told in a conversation between a woman and an unseen man (out of the frame in the pages shown). The novel was a finalist in ForeWord Reviews's 2011 Best of the Year award.
He is also showing a large group of drawings from his "Magnet" series and a series of portraits of activists ranging from labor movement icon Joe Hill to Pussy Riot. These are very strong images in a style reminiscent of 1930s political posters.
[Northern,The Black Dot Museum of Political Art, Fri.-Sat 1-4 p.m. and by appointment, through Sept. 30, email firstname.lastname@example.org, 412 ½ Legion Way, Olympia]