Even with the holiday season upon us and schedules packed to capacity, Pioneer Square Art Walk was filled with art enthusiasts and patrons. I was struck by the playful quality found in many of the current shows. Bright colors, vintage toys and animals bring a childlike endearment (and wide-eyes) to the exquisitely executed works.
Stallman at Hall Spassov Gallery
This artist duo, featuring Stephen Stum and Jason Hallman, has been previously featured on Vanguard Seattle for their stunning use of paint on canvas—turned on its side. Stallman’s masterful understanding of color is on full display for this exhibit, Four-Handed at Hall Spassov Gallery, which states rightly, “The work of the artist duo transforms substrate to medium in a burst of originality….Each piece begins to breathe as the viewer moves around it. Elevated line drawings become massive color groups that possess an ebb and flow, shifting with even the slightest step to the side.”
The viewer is drawn to look closer and investigate the swirling, vibrant, cellular structure of the work. The canvas-edge works explore the materiality and essential structure of the medium of painting, transforming it into sculpture. It fits into the art historical canon and theory developed by Clement Greenberg, whose philosophy—primarily centered on Jackson Pollock’s action painting—explored both the limitations and abilities of the medium. Stum and Hallman follow in a similar vein by exploring the possibilities of the essentials of paint and canvas.
Susanna Bluhm at G. Gibson Gallery
Susanna Bluhm’s Carry Me at G. Gibson features a colorful, layered and abstracted approach to landscape painting. Bluhm, the 2014 Neddy Award winner for Painting, states, “These paintings are based on my experience of Yosemite National Park in California—as a child visiting with my family every year from Los Angeles, and as an adult in 2013 with my wife and son.” Iconic images of Yosemite (such as Half Dome) can end up as kitsch, but Bluhm’s work is infused with her own experience and is humanized with a vibrant palette and the artist’s own hand, which is active and expressionist. It captures the softness and structure of these natural settings broken by startling bursts of color, such as in “Yosemite Peaks with Pink + Foil.” Bluhm states, “More intimately, the paintings explore landscape as a lover and loved one, enmeshed with the paint.”
Cathy McClure at METHOD
If I am taking a playful quality as my theme for the selected works this month, it is Revisionism by Cathy McClure that succinctly captures what threads these diverse mediums together—a split between the past and future, the private and the public through the lens of play. McClure’s study of mechanical plush toys is in that split between childhood enthusiasm and the uncertainty of our future. McClure states, “Using plush and tin toys as metaphors, I create kinetic sculptures, installations and videos highlighting the societal penchant for over-consumption and over-production.”
The show for METHOD features an arrangement of numerous “Mickey Twelve Pack” robots that are wired together so as to synchronize their movements. METHOD states, “[The movements are] as aligned as she can get them; each Mickey quickly veers from the embedded movement patterns and chaos ensues.” The installation’s contents are deep and worthy of consideration, but also proved very popular and entertaining to the younger art walk-goers. The encouragement to play and engage with these metaphorical and uncanny forms brought the associations of the work full circle: the playful images and connotations of plush toys transformed to sociological meaning and then back to the pure childlike endearment of the unique creations.
The Toy at Gallery 110
Gallery 110’s group exhibition, The Toy, delves deeper into the cultural and sociological meanings behind toys. Gallery 110 states, this body of work is a recognition “that toys and play exercise our imaginations, and help us interact with our world and each other.” It features work by David Beckley, Nancy Coleman, David Haughton, Joan Kimura, Sabe Lewellyn, Pascale Lord, Kevin Marschall, Emmanuel Monzon, Maylee Noah, Amy Pleasant, Ray Schutte, Sonya Stockton and Li Turner. The exhibit is an exploration of toys and games—“playfully, critically, literally, and obscurely.” The approaches to this subject matter range from social commentary to the juxtaposition of adulthood and toys. (Creepy dolls, anyone?)
Sabe Lewellyn’s “Sturmgewehr” features paper constructions of guns strung from the ceiling like a delicate mobile. While the subject matter does not seem suitable for children, Lewellyn states, “these paper versions of a variety of guns, including the Sturmgewehr assault rifle were made by following instructions in YouTube tutorial videos from children ages 8-10.” This is Babes in Toyland in the 21st Century, apparently.
The black and white photographs by Maylee Noah call upon common experiences of childhood that seem eerie to our adult eyes. Noah’s “Tea Party” features lifeless and expressionless dolls enjoying a nice, warm spot of tea. The uncanny aspect of dolls seems to become more apparent to us as we age, and these works throw a stark light on how these and other perceptions change over time.
Rachel Denny at Foster/White
Rachel Denny turns taxidermy of its head (literally and figuratively) in her exhibition, Strange Menagerie, and transforms Foster/White into a colorful take on the hunting lodge. Denny calls upon our fascination with animals—a fascination that exists from childhood to adulthood. Foster/White states, “[Denny] effortlessly delights viewers with whimsical representations of wild creatures bedecked with re-purposed knits and sequins.” Strange Menagerie features a wide variety of animals, both domesticated and wild. Our natural delight in these creatures is enhanced by Denny’s exquisite decoration and artistry.