Arts & Entertainment: Go local with the Gallery at TCC’s new exhibit

The Gallery at Tacoma Community College is showing its 11th Annual Juried Local Art Exhibition. The TCC show is the best chance to view some of the finest of what area artists, (ranging from Seattle to Olympia), have to offer. There are other shows of local art: the annual art show at the state fair in Puyallup, for example, is almost totally wide open to artists of every skill level (which is part of the charm of the show). At the other end of the spectrum, there is Tacoma Art Museum’s Northwest Biennial. TAM’s definition of the geographic boundaries of the northwest, however, includes Montana and California and the curatorial screens are so finely meshed that their “local” show comes across as cerebral and highfalutin.

TCC’s annual show of local art is in the Goldilocks spot: not as wide open as the state fair, not as hoity-toity at TAM’s biennial. This year's offering contains work by more that 40 artists working in the standard range of media: painting, drawing, print, sculpture, ceramics and photography. What follows is a mini-tour of some of the highlights of the show. There is so much to see that it would take a small book to engage every item on display.

Painters make up the majority of artists represented in the exhibition. There are small, intimate works that invite the viewer in for closer inspection, and there are gigantic canvases that take up huge chunks of wall space. Nathan Barnes is one of the latter with his large, slightly surreal scene of a possible hobo in an industrial district contemplating a young woman in a blue dress who appears in a state of ecstasy. Tacoma artist William Turner also works at a fairly large scale with his semi-abstract landscapes like “Caliente.” Former TCC faculty member Frank Dippolito presents a series of watercolors that are impressions of atmospheric conditions and moody cloud formations.

Thomas Nguivoum, originally from central Africa, is a life-long painter. His “The Flute Player” is a charming scene of an Orpheus-like flute player surrounded by sculptural animals. Exotic trees and round, thatch-roofed huts are in the background. Nguivoum’s colors are a rich, murky blend that creates a twilight atmosphere. Alain Clerc’s obsession with big slices of watermelon pays off big with his delightful “Green Dog,” a big, green doggie that is bursting with good cheer as it bites into a big slice of melon. The painter Jason Sobottka is perhaps the star of the show with “Deer with Pitcher Plants.” This horizontal canvas depicts several deer with unusual plant forms growing from their backs. Some areas are left as if unfinished. Some areas are broken into colorful facets. One trapezoidal space is done in purple glitter, a stunt that would seem over the top if attempted by a less sure-footed painter. Sobottka is so balanced and self-assured, however, that he can pull off such high wire tactics successfully.

Amongst the drawings in the show, one of the finest is “Lost” by Korean-American artist Patsy Surh O’Connell. This is a wonderful portrait of a crow set amidst a surrounding of dried leaves. Everything is crisp and concise and vivid. Former University of Puget Sound instructor Bill Colby is Tacoma’s master of the woodcut print. His several prints in the show feature natural wood grains, images of pine boughs and birds. His use of colored inks makes his works festive.

Sculptors include the likes of Ron Hinson, Gerry Sperry and Nathan Barnes all of whom have contributed wall-mounted, three-dimensional work. David Murdach’s “Drone (the magnificent killing machine),” composed of a variety of fancy, found objects, looks like a Victorian era rocket ship. Marilyn Mahoney’s “New Orleans Band” is a row of spontaneously formed, bronze-cast figurines of musicians and marchers in a parade. They seem like rustic antiques; loose and lumpy. The inclusion of a funny little cat in the procession is a whimsical touch.

There are a few artists in the show who work in ceramics: Michael Topolski has three eastern-influenced, lidded vessels. Two of these have the rustic, random glaze resulting from molten ash flow of a wood fired kiln. Laura Hoivik has several of her comical ceramic animals in this exhibit. Her free-form style and use of colorful glazes and playful patterns hearken back to the “funk movement” that was prevalent among some ceramics artists of the 1960s and 70s. Her work is comparable to that of Clayton Bailey, one of the foremost proponents of funk art.

This is by no means an exhaustive survey. There are many more highlights to see in this show. TCC’s Juried Local Art Exhibition should be an annual pilgrimage for everyone interested in getting a glimpse of what’s coming out of little studios in our midst. The show runs through Oct. 18. For further information visit http://www.tacomacc.edu/campuslife/thegallery or call (253) 460-4306.

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