Arts & Entertainment: UPS art seniors strut their stuff at new Kittredge show

The big wheel of time keeps on turning and in the cycle of its churning a new group of seniors from the University of Puget Sound’s art department have emerged to set their stuff beneath the gallery lights. The “UPS 2013 Senior Show” is currently on display at the Kittredge Gallery and will be available for viewing through May 18.

By and large, the 3-D work is abstract and the 2-D material is figurative. There are some digital video installations, a sampling of ceramic work and a tad of conceptual art.

The sculptors from the UPS art student body always prove to be an innovative lot in their choice of materials as well as in the manner of its placement. Yuri Kahan uses the masculine combination of metal and concrete to create complex appendages that jut out from the pillars that support the ceiling of the gallery space. They are both mechanical and organic, showing Kahan’s keen interest in the process of decay. Durable materials are ironically used to mimic objects in a transitory state of deterioration.

Erin Fremder, on the other hand, uses more traditionally feminine materials such as yarn and string that is netted and woven into ephemeral creations that dangle in clusters or hang like cobwebs. Her work is a kind of homage to a family tradition of crafting that set her on the path of joyful handwork from an early age. Some of her ephemeral creations are simply laid out on the gallery floor, so be careful where you step.

Mara Felman’s volcanic mound of plaster pods and parcels occupies the middle of the floor in the main gallery.

Ben Sample makes a strong statement. His very distinctive creations – part carpentry, part basket weaving – leave an indelible mark on the whole show the way a red hot brand leaves its mark on the haunch of a Texas longhorn. “In Place” is a large structure bolted into place between two of the gallery’s pillars. Amoeboid forms constructed of pliable slats of poplar wood are suspended in space by a nimbus of spikes. “Progress” is a series of three wooden circles with centers of woven, cedar strips that are stained black. The cedar-work forms a circular opening that migrates closer to true center with each consecutive piece.

Erin Wheary’s “Box” series consisting of screen prints over digital prints bridges the divide between the abstract and the figurative, between the 3-D and the 2-D. They are diagrams that could in theory be cut out and folded into the form of a box.

Those of the art students that have chosen paint as their medium (so easy to use yet so difficult to master) are given over to figurative works. Ursula Beck, for example, has done a series of vertical canvases in order to depict the white pines of Minnesota in a variety of moods and atmospheres. The trees are pictured in daylight, moonlight, in fog and in overcast conditions. The operative concept is similar to that of Monet’s “Haystack” series in which haystacks were painted in a range of different light. Beck’s style is more free and easy than that associated with the French Impressionists. Her tree trunks are serpentine and the foliage is bulbous.

Other painters in the show have involved themselves in portraiture for a variety of different reasons. Valerie Cordova’s ghostly, gawky, gothic portraits of persons who have had an influence on the artist are quite striking. Kelsey Vogan, meanwhile, does extreme close-ups of faces using dripping sepias and greens. Darker, charcoal line work is used to transform the faces into compositions like contour maps. Vogan is interested in structure and layers and the way that mood can emerge via that process.

Louise Blake is inspired by the spiritual impact of Seattle’s techno dance scene to create a honeycomb arrangement of hexagonal paintings of individual dancers into one big composition that suggests a community.

Frieda Kahlo meets Paul Gauguin in Lehualani Shiroma’s big, feathery paintings of women in puffy-sleeved dresses and surrounded by peacock feathers and exotic foliage.

Tess Warner appears to be the odd woman out. She uses the portrait painter’s skill to paint pictures of antique firearms in an attempt to depict the object-ness of guns and as homage to her upbringing in gun-loving Texas. While her statement denies a political agenda behind her work, she cannot avoid being embroiled in the current political debate on gun violence in America.

A similar theme is touched upon in a video installation called “Drive By” by Elisabeth Geissinger. A constant loop projected onto a 3’x6’ panel shows a shadowy figure shooting a machine gun from the window of a red car. A more meditative, mysterious and perhaps foreboding mood is created by Geissinger’s videos in which hulking human shadows are juxtaposed against light-speckled palm trees or a beautiful face is superimposed over dazzling facets of light.

The sweetest and most light-hearted piece in the gallery is “Silver Cloud” by Symantha Lee-Harkins. This simple animation depicts a fairy-like figure walking along a street past San Francisco row houses. Everything is black and white until a cloud of colors chases the character. The protagonist at first runs in fear but is swept up and taken on a magic carpet ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. After that everything is in color and the enriched protagonist is deposited to walk the street past now colorized row houses. The watercolor enhanced-prints of the row houses used in the animation accompany the display.

UPS’s art student shows generally include some edgy ceramic work but there is very little of it in the current show. The only example of ceramic art is K.C. Paulsen’s “Us,” a grid of fragmented, crackle-glazed tiles arranged on a long, low wooden tabletop. Each tile corresponds to names of people on a list, thus making the work another kind of very abstract portraiture.

Finally, Wheary’s “Kittredge” is almost entirely conceptual. The artist uses white chalk lines usually employed to mark grass sports fields. Here the chalk marks out the outline cast by the shadow of Kittredge Hall, the building that houses the gallery. Always lively, engaging and inventive, the 2013 UPS art seniors show themselves full of promise of things to come.

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