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The girlie show

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The latest show at A.O.C. Gallery is called “Divergent Metaphors.” I’m tempted to call it “The Girlie Show.” But that would be sexist.

It is a show of fiber art by four recent graduates of the University of Washington: Julia Waldeck, Robin Sterling Brewer, Liz Frey, and Deborah Gregory. Overall, this show is too crafty for me, but that may be more personal taste than considered artistic judgment.

Frey’s pieces are the least crafty and the most formally pure of the lot. She weaves and dyes fibers into rectangular hanging shapes in monotone colors, most of which hang bannerlike a foot away from the wall but one of which drapes nicely over a sculpture stand. After weaving these objects, she etches into them with acid leaving transparent and open areas of spidery fiber in organic shapes. In her larger pieces, two hanging sheets are stacked in layers in such a way that the transparent openings and the space between become part of the design. The forms change depending on how much of the back sheets can be seen through the openings in the front sheet as the viewer moves about. These are very effective. Also effective is the one piece mentioned above that is draped over a sculpture stand. The colors in this piece are rivulets of dull blue and tan. Sitting on top are rocks covered with the same blue and tan woven fiber. The overall effect is that of a mountain stream. Very beautiful and peaceful.

Weldeck’s collages of found objects — mostly paper, cloth and flowers — are delicate and with admirable use of color and texture. But her compositions are uninspired, consisting mostly of items stacked in the center over pages from paperback books. The best of her collages is one in which she has drawn a female figure, which seems to be floating ghostlike away from the viewer. In the forefront is a large, boney hand. This image evokes mystery and combines disparate materials in an attractive way. Her cowgirl boots in the front window are pure camp, and her plastic dress figure is simply silly. The boots are great for what they are. The dress form — why bother?

Brewer offers a series of little square images of houses and various figures. They have a real folksy flavor. You could almost imagine them being done by a freed slave in 1860. What I’d love to see would be a whole wall of these in repetitive patterns like an Andy Warhol silkscreen. In their present form, they’re a little too precious.

Gregory’s pieces are beautifully crafted, but she needs to do something more original or more startling with her imagery. In an artist’s statement, she says she is working with themes of growth, decay and renewal in nature, but I can’t see that her work conveys those ideas other than in one series of four vertical wall hangings with subtle green and violet colors in a central cavelike opening surrounded by dark blacks and browns. The colors in this piece are really marvelous, and there is a feel for nature in it that I don’t believe she captures in any of her other works.

If any of the works in this show are metaphors for nature’s decay and renewal, it is Liz Frey’s work. Her eaten-away surfaces are like foliage eaten by insects (also like spider webs and growing mold and fungus). Eventually her cloth will rot and crumble into nothingness; she has accelerated and then halted that process with the acid etching. What separates art from craft? In Frey’s case, it is the use of metaphor and the understanding of material and formal design.

One might easily say there are three craftswomen and one artist in this show.

[A.O.C. Gallery, through July 31, Tuesday and Wednesday 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday 12-5 p.m., 608 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.230.1673 or 253.627.8180]

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