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Thursday, May 05, 2016 This Week's Paper

UPS Seniors use traditional forms to create new meaning

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There is a lot going on at University of Puget Sound’s “Senior Art Show,” which is currently running at UPS’s Kittredge Gallery, an understated space that almost never fails to deliver dynamic art shows.
The show features the work of nine art seniors, the majority of whom are painters. The art on the walls is inviting, drawing the viewer to come in for a closer look. They almost seem like traditional – tame even – still life paintings and portraits. Yet there is far more at work here.
Carly Brock’s paintings of shot glasses, beer bottles, and alcoholic beverages are deftly rendered—capturing the glass surfaces of the vessels and the sultry tone of the intoxicating liquids. These are also, however, the artist’s means of musing upon and processing the personal trauma of having lost her fathers in a premature, alcohol-related death several years ago. Each painting suggests a different social setting in which a specific type of alcohol is often consumed. A row of shot glasses, for example, suggests drinking with a small gathering of close friends. A single glass of whiskey on the rocks suggests solitary drinking. All of the things depicted were things used by the artist’s father. The paintings go beyond a representation of objects and become markers for moments spent with alcohol, which is used for both good and ill in our culture.
Rachel Kalman’s nearly photo-realist paintings of coffee pots and teapots set against backdrops of patterned cloth are also more than a visual reportage of inanimate objects. Kalman is playing with our very human propensity to recognize personality in the objects around us. The vessels that she depicts thus become characters on a stage interacting wit one another. “The Talk,” featuring shiny metal teapots, a copper tray and a tin can—all reflecting upon one another and the polka dotted backdrop—is brilliantly conceived and executed. The objects are in some sense in a dialogue with one another.
In a similar vein, Maia Raeder covers surfaces with paintings of monochromatic cloth; complete with all the shadows and highlights and contortions of the fabric. These paintings are a meditation on the gendered nature of cloth and fabric. Raeder notes that textiles, and the care of them, has historically been a female occupation.
Issues of gender and identity are also at the heart of work by several other artists in the show. Matt Hufford’s “Portraits of Humanity,” a set of nine mottled, impasto paintings, is a set of portraits of transgendered and “non-binary” individuals that attend UPS.
Leanne Gan’s installation examines a dark aspect of identity by doing small portraits of individuals that have been victim of identity-based crimes. Little flashlights mounted on the walls allow gallery visitors to shine a light on the portraits and see the invisible ink that reveals the names and ages of the people depicted.
Grace Best-Devereux, in an installation called “Commercial Individuality,” a variety of sprays of artificial hair suspended from the ceiling, explores the fascinating topic of a hair and hairstyle as a marker of personal identity, social position, and health status. The installation is eye opening and the line of inquiry is fascinating. Elsewhere in the gallery, Best-Devereux displays a Barbie doll, sans clothing. The doll’s hair has been replaced by the artist’s own hair done in a long braid.
The other three artists in the show each explore their own realms. Gabriela Yoque’s  “Walking With Angels” is a series of digital photos combined with screen-printed elements in which the artist explores familiar features of her hometown of Las Angeles.
Dina Mustakim has done a trio of black and silvery pink paintings of women with butterflies. Black bowls of water and decomposing flowers are arranged on the floor underneath the paintings. Mustakim likes to explore the spaces between opposites like beauty and ugliness; creation and destruction; vitality and decomposition.
Finally, Maddie Peckenpaugh’s “Warrior in Red” is a suit or armor (made of paper) with red velvet parts that is made to evoke the presence of a warrior character that the artist summoned from an imaginative place. This character is influenced by the artist’s fascination with Greco-Roman art and mythology.
The UPS Senior Art Show has plenty of good artwork and the ideas presented by them are quite engaging. The show runs through May 14. For further information visit pugetsound.edu/Kittredge.

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