Saturday, June 24, 2017 This Week's Paper

TCC art faculty displays versatility in new works

The Gallery at Tacoma Community College is currently hosting a show of works by Marit Berg, Melinda Cox and Frank Dippolito – all members of the TCC art faculty (or retired faculty in Dippolito’s case). The three were given free reign to do what they wanted and the result is a display of versatility. Each of the artists demonstrates a mastery of more than one art medium. More by coincidence than design, birds appear in the work of each to provide the show with an accidental theme. Berg is an expert paint handler as is evidenced in her “Biomes” series. A biome is a regional climactic zone characterized by the plants and animals that live there. She stretched a quarto of house-shaped canvases upon which she laid out some of North America’s biomes: grassland, desert, deciduous forest and tundra. The colors chosen convey the visual “flavor” of each particular environment. A lacework of gray-white lines delineates the birds and animals that reside in each of the biomes. This lacework overlays a background landscape. Berg’s intent was to use the house-shaped canvases to depict each biome as a home for the plants and animals that live there. The series can evoke philosophical ideas, but it also comes across rather like a visual teaching tool that one might find in an elementary school classroom or on the cover of a children’s introductory biology text. While Berg is undoubtedly skilled with the paintbrush, it is her etchings that seem her true strength. In this medium Berg has done a series of traps – ominous, mechanical contraptions that promise nothing but pain, loss of freedom and death. Another avenue of exploration is Berg’s “Extinct Birds” series. “Demise of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker” presents that creature in four different artistic states in a sequence on a single sheet of paper. There is a color illustration, a black and white rendering, a drawing that has been smudged by an eraser (“rubbed out”) and, finally, a ghostly impression of the bird in the paper itself. This is a visual representation of the way some species fade, are wiped out. In the end, all we have is the impression or memory of a living thing that once existed. Berg’s “woodpecker” is a sad and somber work of art. A series of works on paper by Melinda Cox presents pigeons and crows in a more comical, light-hearted vein. In works like “Juggling Birds” and “Balancing Birds” Cox exercises a degree of whimsy. Her birds are tossed bemusedly and defy gravity. In “Sobriety Test,” a pair of crows and a pigeon walk the line along the edge of a highway as if being tested for drunkenness.

Cox also presents a series of sumptuous acrylic paintings called “Prariescapes” in which the drama of earth and sky is shown in a variety of moods. “Watermelon Truck,” meanwhile, is a large canvas depicting a wonderful jumble of melons heaped in the back of an old yellow pick up. Each of the melons is lovingly depicted as an individual. In other works such as the “Pick up Stix” paintings or the “Chinese Painter” color pencil compositions, Cox demonstrates her remarkable dexterity at rendering complex patterns such as those found on Persian carpets or old world table cloths. To cap it all off, there is an example of a felt scarf and some mod-barbarian jewelry. Dippolito is a restless explorer forever pushing the boundaries. In his two dimensional work (which he sometimes folds and rolls to make them 3-D) he seeks to get beyond the traditional manner of presenting a painting or drawing as a framed, bounded object that is hung on the gallery wall. He has done paintings and chalk drawings that are not content to lay flat. Instead they project from the walls or they climb up a corner of the space. The back wall of the gallery is dominated by a gigantic, triangular arrangement of chalk drawings called “Supper Setting” which looks like a sacramental table setting viewed from above. Big and bold as the concept is, the chalky drawings feel hasty and ephemeral. More fascinating than the drawings and paintings are Dippolito’s excursions into the ceramic medium. Dippolito is quite adept at handling clay and he ranges from traditional vessel forms to very abstract, sculptural pieces. One of his vases is a wondrous oval done in a glistening glaze that is dark as molasses on top and oozes down into honey tones. His “Cylinder Vases” have a rustic and brash sense of their own tactile presence. Two pieces entitled “Not a Vase” look as if they were constructed of the potter’s trimming scraps piled up one upon the other. There are also a pair of conceptual pieces such as “Nest” in which Dippolito surrounds ceramic bird heads with more of the bisque fired trimmings and scraps that potters normally consign to the trash heap. The exhibition of works by Berg, Cox and Dippolito runs though Dec. 14. For further information call (253) 460.4306 or visit