Review: Seattle's Center on Contemporary Art showcases an eclectic array of Eastern Washington artists in "Across the Divide: Contemporary Art from the Scablands and Beyond."
Head west to the outer shores of Shilshole, and you can catch up on what’s happening, artwise, on the other side of the Cascade Curtain.
The Center on Contemporary Art’s new show, “Across the Divide: Contemporary Art from the Scablands and Beyond,” highlights the work of Eastern Washington artists from a variety of backgrounds, working in a variety of media. Curator David Francis says the aim of the exhibit is to re-examine “the so-called isolation” of Pacific Northwest artists working outside the I-5 corridor. He’s come up with some real goodies, some true oddities and the occasional misfire.
Only a few items here qualify as “regional art” — and even then with caveats. Kevin Bell’s oil paintings, “Ditch” and “Plot,” suspend naturalistic “excerpts” of ordinary real estate (a drainage ditch, a vacant lot) in white space, making you see their nondescript qualities in a new light. Kevin Haas’ two beautiful black-and-white lithographs do something similar with storage tanks and barbed-wire fences: parts of our “everyday landscape,” as he sees it, that often remain overlooked. Both Haas pieces boast a strong, silhouettelike design.
Farmer-photographer Joseph Peila at first seems to share Haas and Bell’s fond eye for slice-of-life detail — but he’s playing an odd game. The men pictured in his “Identity” series are actually one guy: Peila himself in various facial-hair/weight-gain/weight-loss incarnations, photographed over an extended period of time. “Four Brothers Reunion” sends the viewer’s eye in four directions, as the “brothers” react to camera attention in entirely divergent ways. Peila’s notions of “identity” are still more mutable in “Four Brothers Go Hunting,” where testosterone antics threaten to get out of hand.
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In “Duo” and “Ax,” Stehekin artist Mark Scherer (one of the few in the exhibit without a Web site — does that make him “regional”?) attaches hammer heads and an ax, respectively, to fancifully torqued wood handles. Scherer, in his artist’s statement, calls hammers and axes his “faithful companions and helpers.” Here, they look like they’re dancing.
The most lavish pieces in “Across the Divide” are Yuko Ishii’s “Contemplation 2” and “Dream Horse (Cathedral).” A self-taught artist, born in Japan and living near Omak, Ishii builds on Joseph Cornell’s box assemblages, but takes them in a more opulent, polished direction. Her found objects — bottles, cabinet trimmings — are sublimely tricked out with her own calligraphy and acrylics. Their overall effect is both complex and ravishing.
Another self-taught artist, Barbee Teasley, is more of a provocateur. Her “Aunt Jemima Is Here to Serve You” pictures the breakfast-food icon in a crown of thorns with the hand of God giving her His blessing. “Peggy Loses the Fight” depicts a housewife knocked flat by giant, leaking fried egg. The politics of the kitchen are clearly on Teasley’s mind, served up with surreal panache.
A few items feel derivative or underwhelming. Michelle Acuff’s “Untitled” — two cast-glass pistols facing each other — is too close to Charles Krafft’s porcelain Uzis for comfort, while Selene Santucci’s “World Members” doesn’t seem much more than a vague colorist exercise.
Much of this work is eye-catching and beguiling, however, with Ishii and Peila the most exceptional finds among a talented bunch.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com