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Critic's Picks: SEATTLE
by suzanne beal
Mar 2012

Susan Dory
Acrylic on canvas over panel, 56" x 62"
Photo: courtesy Winston Wachter Fine Art

For her first solo exhibition in the Northwest, New York and Seattle based artist Karin Davie explores her interest in painting, the relationship between representation and abstraction, and their connections to the human body. In three large-scale works (no 1, 2 & 3) placed panoramically in the gallery, bands of vibrating monochromatic color surround a blank white opening reminiscent of a portal or orifice, and envelop the viewer even as they seem to fold back upon themselves. These compressed energies that Davie so succinctly captures begin with a humble thumbprint-shaped mark at the bottom of the paper, built up through layers of overlapping brushstrokes in circular fashion, working from the outside in. Her works appear to literally breath--large undulating strokes imitate the viscosity of liquid or bodily fluids, while simultaneously effectuating the sensation of being submerged within them. In addition, Davie's pulsating works are imbued with the powerful presence of the gestures used in creating them, effectively functioning as bridges between the audience and the artist. Seen as moving material, Davie's beautifully composed paintings may confuse interiority with exteriority, but it's one exhibit that audiences should definitely get in on. "Liquid Life: New Works on Paper" opens February 2 and runs through March 17, at James Harris Gallery.

Using imagery from Judeo/Christian legacies, Lauren Grossman transforms religious symbolism into mechanical sculptures that require the viewer to take action. Borrowing equally from specific texts and general religious principles, Grossman creates would-be artifacts out of porcelain, cast iron, wool, fiberglass and rubber. Audiences are required to crank, pump, or grind in order to complete their function. While well-worn industrial scraps, yellowing resin, and repaired goods visually mirror her playful recreating of religious narrative, the mechanical function of her works operates as metaphors for faith. But Grossman's creations are more pulpy kitsch than properly preachy. My Holy Mountain, of cast iron, lead, steel, and fur, consists of a mountain form precariously balanced within a steel frame and able to be adjusted by individual viewers. Still, incorporating brass, porcelain, and propane, marries hard science to the ecclesiastically scenic, with a Christ-like bust whose bodily fluids are being drained into a delicate silver chalice. Grossman's work allows viewers to get close up and personal with what look like hands-off artifacts, allowing audiences to giddily transgress while having the holiest of intentions. "Lauren Grossman: New Work" opens April 21 at Platform Gallery.

Armed with a photography degree from the University of Washington, Arizona-born Allison Manch made a mark by embroidering pop lyrics onto her grandma's hankies. Recently she's turned to textiles to explore the far West and the odd-duck inhabitants of desert towns. Part pistol packin' mama, part precision seamstress, Manch employs embroidery, ink, and natural dyes in conjunction with vintage fabrics, cotton muslin, and the occasional back jeans pocket to evoke the inner worlds of wide-open spaces. The predictable cacti and lizards coexist (although not always peacefully) with unexpected elements such as a man hiding menacingly behind a leafy branch and his own nemesis in the form of an encroaching snake in Cave Creek. Deceptively delicate, Manch's images pack a wallop by alighting upon well-worn stereotypes of western nostalgia and thoughtfully re-crafting them with a modern sensibility. If many parts of the desert remain inhabitable, Manch nevertheless strides into the unchartered territory guns blazing, to break in a pair of boots all her own. "Squeeze Hard (Hold That Thought)" with paintings by Sharon Butler and embroidery by Allison Manch runs from April 8 through June 30 at Seattle's Season, the privately operated gallery-cum-residence of visual artist Robert Yoder.

An abstract painter primarily known for richly colored large-scale canvases featuring elongated capsule forms made up of poured-on paint, Susan Dory has recently switched gears. Her current painted work suggests three dimensions with sharply delineated shapes that seem to pulse and throb in an effort to pop off the canvas. Her geometric blocks of saturated color recall Op Art, Sixties fashion prints, and futuristic cartoons like The Jetsons. Whereas her former layered capsules, shuttling in groups through space, were an almost pure celebration of color, Dory's explosively stretched, and twisted shapes suggest sci-fi structures, swirling matter, and beautiful worlds in chaos. Her former work calmly graces public spaces like the TF Green International Airport in Warwick, Rhode Island, the W Hotel in Chicago, Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, and the United States Embassy in Laos. With movement on canvas that mirrors a personal shift in artistic production, and a no-holds-barred thrill of the new, her recent creations are certain to find far-flung homes as well. "Contiguous" opens February 28 and runs through April 12, 2012. At Winston Wachter Fine Art.

Teapots, light fixtures, drinking vessels--these are the kinds of basic wares that have served as sources of mean inspiration for Seattle-based artist Saya Moriyasu. Moriyasu's quaint ceramic forms are often clustered to create sprawling assemblages that hint at multi-cultural consumer schemata. Of Japanese and European descent, Moriyasu's work pulls equally from Eastern and Western sources, to tease out potentially hidden historical meaning. In recent work she's shined her light on Fu Dogs--protective carved deities that originally guarded Buddhist temples, and that can now be purchased as plastic trinkets in any five and dime. Tracing the path from fine art to fluff, however, is only half the battle. Moriyasu's real strength lies in her ability to single out meaning (and humor) in artifacts that have long lost any sense of supremacy, turning seemingly banal objects into visual art dramedy. Whether hanging from the ceiling in the form of chandeliers, placed directly on the floor, or pedestal bound, Moriyasu's strangely comforting creatures and familiar forms offer an eyeful of beatific charm and a reminder of the temporality inherent to most, if not all, cultural symbolism. Saya Moriyasu's recent work is part of a two-person show at G. Gibson Gallery opening March 1 and continuing through April 14.

Seattle-based artist Ben Waterman's extensive travels to the East and experimentation with a wide variety of art forms has often resulted in earnestly understated, quietly poetic work. But paying close attention bears big returns. Waterman earned an MFA from the University of Washington, studied wood-fired ceramics in Japan and the United States, worked as an organic farmer, and studied political philosophy at Whitman College. Primarily known as a sculptor, his diverse life experiences formerly came together in sprawling installations such as the 2008 Reckoning of Mile, consisting of 16,180 subtly glazed hand-formed ceramic spikes (roughly the number of spikes in a mile of railroad track) that, placed in an controlled overlapping pattern, ultimately culminated in a disorderly mountainous heap. Currently Waterman is just as likely to produce equally powerful visual punches with small works on paper that marry traditional and non-traditional materials, creating compelling images of empty beds, chairs, and other objects you think you've seen before, and enabling viewers to travel as far inward as Waterman has ventured out. "Midnight Lullaby -- Sculpture and Paintings" opens February 23 and runs through March 31, 2012, at Greg Kucera Gallery.

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