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Back to Reviews 97

Cheryl Comstock
 If Ever the Lid Gets 
Off My Head, 1995

Claudia Fitch
Mannequin Head #5, 1996

Installation at 
Crockett Rodeo, 
from left: George Raggett, 
Night Light-blue 
Darrin Little, 
Fortress, 1996 
(foreground); and 
George Raggett, The 
Puddle (1996-97)

 Hung Tran 
Cindy, 1995-97

Jeffrey Mitchell, 
Jesus, in the Garden, 

Jeffrey Mitchell, 
Hello, I'm Sorry, 

Sebastian Rodriguez
Funeral of a Miner 
Killed in an Accident, 
c. 1928

Suzan Frecon

Denzil Hurley
NB 9, 1992-96

Robert C. Jones

the seattle 

by Marilu Knode

In what local broadcasters are calling our 

"Holiday Blast"--almost two feet of snow in 

as many days--I wonder which was worse: the 

cabin fever that overcame me after spending 

a half day inside, or the fact that my 

neighborhood brew pub ran out of beer? The 

snow and subsequent rain damaged G. Gibson 

Gallery, forcing it to close the back room 

for renovation. And Greg Kucera gallery 

posted pictures of the water damage that 

destroyed an estimated five percent of its 

inventory, but the space was cleaned up 

sufficiently to mount January shows. 


The first show of the year at Kucera 

featured works by Seattle artists Claudia 

Fitch and Cheryl Comstock. A not-so-sly 

feminist tingle resonates in this pairing. 

Comstock's layered, confection-like 

paintings begin with a subtly penciled grid 

that is then covered by snowflake doilies 

delicately sprinkled with little pearls. 

Cartoon images, taken from vaguely 

recognizable fairy tales, play out the main 

message. I Felt the Wind Within Her (1995) 

has a black line drawing of a little girl 

sitting at a vanity, a large gray doll 

house behind her. A slash of pink paint is 

scribbled on her cheek, damaging this fairy 

tale with a sour potion. In other works, 

girls play with geese and chickens (animals 

bred for human slaughter), and animals are 

presented as childish stand-ins. (Bruno 

Bettleheim's analyses based on Freudian 

horrors come to mind.) Comstock uses a 

deconstructive, disjunctive layering to 

orchestrate her obsessive yet crisp 

camouflage decoration. This rescues the 

work from well-trod and bloodless political 

illustration, allowing her audience the 

chance to play with the live wires of this 

new, dangerous girlhood.

Claudia Fitch's baroque wall-mounted and 

flocked steel sculptures, all from 1996, 

simulate truncated store display mannequins 

and bring to mind 1930s Surrealist 

photography. Her transmogrification of the 

female figure into fashionable cadavers 

vivisected the female and the feminine, 

both real and metaphoric. The acidic, pop 

colors of the flocking dissemble the steel 

structure beneath--the forms could be of 

more malleable materials such as Styrofoam, 

plaster, or sculpey--while the matteness of 

the colors, from a canary yellow to a 

deadened black, give little sensuous 

pleasure to the viewer. The shifting 

vistas, anecdotal passages and hard-edged 

shadows cast from Fitch's hat armatures, 

miniature toilet bowls or David Smith-esque 

drawings-in-space play the real against 

shadow, inside against out. The viewer is 

set up for a shopping romp at Bergdorf's 

and instead hits the wall of feminine 



Seattle's newest gallery, Crockett Rodeo, 

opened Jan. 3 with works by three young 

artists--George Raggett, Darrin Little and 

Hung Tran, all recent graduates from U. 

Cal. Santa Barbara. Their works reflect 

SoCal's funky, conceptual, beautiful anti-

art esthetic. Pragmatic rather than ironic, 

they use traditional art-making genres such 

as landscape, still life and portraiture, 

but with a difference. This is the most 

engaging and humorous group show I've seen 

in Seattle, the work being satiric and 

self-conscious without being self-


Raggett's low sculptures include a minature 

golf hole with volcano The Puddle (1996-

97), which rises five inches off the floor 

and is made with plaster, architectural 

model flocking, Plexiglas and paint. This 

miniature artificial wonder forces the 

viewer to stoop down to marvel at its 

fragility. An imperialist's dream, to 

dominate and re-make nature in our own 

image, from vicious volcano to destination 

resort golf links. Night Light-blue (96-97) 

is a plaster, bundt-cake form complete with 

dribbled acrylic icing, with an ankle-high 

night light that casts a blue moon glow. 

This is a dreamy little alien scene, both 

poignant and practical, the ghostly 

illumination for the puddle before it. 

Darrin Little's still life, hung in the 

gallery entry/kitchen area, is a wooden 

shelf with a mismatched group of crockery; 

both sets of cup and saucers are impaled 

with a red, green or yellow safety 

reflector. This is a warning: don't use the 

good china. Or is the bone china a stand-in 

for the frailty of human beings? Little's 

dry-wall medieval castle, a humorous do-it-

yourself war toy, is complete with 

crenellations for pouring boiling oil, toy 

knights with a wood stick battering ram, 

and two rocket models hidden inside the 

guard towers, ready for blast-off. Little's 

third work has three components, all 

focusing on the idea of shooting down a 

World War I toy model airplane, with paper 

pilot, from a sited location at the far 

gallery space. History, action, landscape, 

all combined in this little viewer 

participation piece.

Hung Tran made the largest of the works in 

the show, Cindy (1995-97), a shaggy hook 

rug with slightly different colors of yarn 

giving the work a slightly used look. The 

floppy, amebic piece is wedged between two 

walls, the rug confined and slumping. 

Knowing that the work is named after Tran's 

former girlfriend set my mind spinning: is 

this her public area, stuck sensuously 

between the legs of the space? Tran's five 

small acrylic paintings, done on the wall 

in the back room, show him in various poses 

he strikes every morning, stretching and 

reacting to the pains gained from every day 

acts of living and working. 


Seattle artist Jeffrey Mitchell lived in 

the Elliott Brown Gallery during the 

holidays, producing (almost) all the works 

for his show "The Tomb of Ree Morton." 

Featured are a series of playful, 

scatological plaster works, all made in 

1997, where sculpted bunnies stand in for 

Christ and his disciplines, their pudgy 

little bodies and the polyp-like 

environment of trees, pedestals and stools 

all slyly suggesting how religious faith 

was, in the past, so tied to nature. Christ 

in Communion with the Mothership presents a 

rapturous little white bunny looking up in 

awe at an odd round beast whose two halves 

are covered in bulbous extrusions. Each of 

the plaster works, except a turtle shell 

that has pink stripes on its up-ended 

belly, are pure white plaster, 

monochromatic essays whose maximal, messy 

materials and content undermine a wish for 

purity and calm. Evident in the bunnies' 

stages are hints of bronze age decorative 

motifs, and the Eastern three-part 

hierarchy of earth, human and sky. 

These narrative bunny cycles are joined by 

a variety of objects in other materials 

such as the deliberately sloppy drawing 

Purity of....Something!, a botched but 

sincere exercise in lettering whose 

enthusiasm embraces the watercolor drips 

and residual mistakes. Also in this 

apologetic vein is Hello, I'm Sorry, two 

plaster vases set on a low white pedestal 

and filled with lovely pink and white 

tulips languishing over the edges. I guess 

if you added water for the flowers, the 

vases would be destroyed. Rounding out 

Mitchell's far-flung show are a floating 

glassine ball, two pink cast-plastic bunny 

sets, several very spare drawings 

delicately colored with tenuous imagery, 

some older Rorschach-like prints, and a 

minimal floor construction based on the 

Budweiser brewery in Newark, N.J. 

The show is dedicated to `70s artist Ree 

Morton, whose work also combined a wide 

range of materials in socially gregarious 

but disjointedly private installations. 

Mitchell's works then are elegies--

mourning, leaving, teaching, apologizing--

recalling Minimalist process verbs like 

throwing, drooping, sitting. If the show is 

a "tomb," then what, or who, is buried 

inside--Morton's ideals, or Mitchell 

himself? Doesn't any artist bury themselves 

in their objects for later veneration?


Seafirst Gallery is hosting two traveling 

exhibitions "Visions of Modernity: 

Photographs from the Peruvian Andes 1900-

1930," organized by Houston photographer 

Peter Yenne and Peruvian curator Fernando 

Castro, and "Traditional Arts and Trades of 

Chile," organized by the Foto Cine Club of 

Chile. The former is a museum-quality show 

presenting known and obscure artists living 

and working in Peru during the early part 

of the century. All of the black-and-white 

works, newly printed from vintage 

negatives, convey--through their rich 

tonalities, deep field of vision and 

unselfconscious combination of old world 

and new--a shifting place, its people in 

transition and dealing with cataclysmic 

changes from an industrialized outside. 

Primary are commissioned portraits for the 

newly prosperous, and various studio shots 

of "types," reminiscent of August Sander. 

Although the Peruvian content is 

unfamiliar, the photograph's basic 

capabilities render the images 


Until recently Martn Chambi has been about 

the only well-known Peruvian photographer. 

His self-conscious Self-Portrait with 

Negative Self-Portrait (1923) shows the 

artist in a romantic pose gazing at a 

negative of himself. Chambi's portrait of a 

woman bullfighter subtly suggests that an 

interest in feminism may arrived along with 

modernist esthetics. First Airplane Over 

Cuzco (1925) captures, from a bird's eye 

vantage point, a populace arrested at the 

sight of an airplane flying low over the 

city's central square, whose two-story 

buildings seem diminished by the invasion. 

The view proclaims the preeminence of this 

new soaring outside world, dwarfing the 

pedestrians below. Chambi worked not to 

present the contents of a colonialist's 

territory but, with a critical and 

sensitive eye, represented the issues and 

people of his community.

Among those artists newly discovered are 

the Vargas brothers, whose night scenes, 

including Nocturne-Scene in an Atrium (c. 

1930), are noirish, brooding images of a 

city's shady nighttime denizens, where 

shadows menace and fountains become the 

curvaceous form of a forgotten lover. Their 

Gallery of the Vargas Brothers Studio (c. 

1920) is a photo of the studio, re-shot 

with cut-outs of sitters from other prints. 

The deep, three-dimensional room is skewed 

by the two-dimensional cut-outs, providing 

one of few deliberately surreal moments in 

the show. 

From Jos Gabriel Gonzalez's portrait of a 

dead baby laid out on a table like a still 

life, her eyes staring at the viewer, to 

Avelino Ochoa's Two Women (1930), with a 

nude woman sitting on the lap of a woman 

dressed in drag, the photographs are 

startlingly inventive. These photographers, 

as well as Juan Manuel Figueroa-Aznar, 

Crisanto & Filiberto Cabrera, Miguel Chani 

and Sebastian Rodriguez, provide us with 

images to fill in the gaps of our knowledge 

of another part of the world, one captured 

just as it was slipping away. 

The second of the two exhibitions, 

"Traditional Arts and Trades of Chile," is 

less interesting for its straightforward 

documentary photographic style (none of the 

works are dated), although some images do 

suggest how little some Chilean traditions 

have changed in the past 100 years. Even 

the nighttime color photograph of 

firefighters and a building in flames 

cannot compete with the strange 

otherworldly presence of the images of 

Peru. Here there is no struggle to retain 

traditional culture (and perhaps its 

values) in the shadow of cars, planes and 

the fast pace of urbanization. Rather, 

these seem more like anecdotal shots 

commissioned by a chamber of commerce of 

the people who make their country function. 


The Center on Contemporary Art's show 

"square painting/plane painting," organized 

by Lauri Chambers with Rhonda Howard, 

presents abstract painting produced by 

well- and lesser-known artists from around 

the country. CoCA's space, handsomely 

configured into discrete bays, was a bit 

too densely installed. Thomas Nozkowski's 

works, for instance, were hung on endcaps, 

taking up the interstices that should have 

given viewers some breathing room. The 

installation itself moved from the hard-

edge abstraction of Paul Mogensen, Suzan 

Frecon and Mary Henry, to more conceptual 

and systems work by Denzil Hurley, to some 

funky mixed medium works on cardboard by 

Dan E. May; to the more expressive 

paintings by Jacqueline Barnett and Robert 

C. Jones. There is a definite generational 

slant here; the youngest of the group, 

Alfonse Borysewicz, was born in 1957. This 

progressive movement made visual sense, 

allowing the viewer to focus on broader 

categories of abstract "style" without 

suggesting equivalences in direction or 


In the press release Chambers states, 

"These are not pictures, they are 

paintings....There is no text which will 

explain it," providing us with a clue that 

Chambers seeks a purely visual response for 

the work. And yet there arise traces of 

architectural edifices, evidence and 

metaphor of human obsession, hints of 

spirituality and duress, and the 

claustrophobia of society's strictures, all 

divined through the viewer's human need to 

find meaning. Abstraction was a mind-blower 

at the beginning of the century, one so 

daring that it continues to feed and 

nourish artists, but it was an unfamiliar 

vocabulary--where is the universality in 

that? So, in fact, the viewer one way or 

another brings in outside text, conjuring 

rhyme and reason themselves, some gleaned 

from personal experience, some from 

ingesting the critical evaluation of 

others. How can text, social or other, not 

come into play with this work? 

Is the title punning when it says the works 

presented are "square," meaning not just 

their geometric shape but their social 

status? Are the works not just "plane" 

(where meaning and surface stay squarely in 

the two dimensions) but "plain," not fancy, 

just doing my job ma'am? In posing this 

descriptive title most of the works then 

break it down in some way or another, by 

introducing space, activity or figurative 


Suzan Frecon's tight, flat, architectural 

works are appealing despite a rather 

limited range of straight-edged 

interlocking shapes. One piece, a deep sky 

blue central field with an orange strip 

running along the bottom, up the right 

side, with a small dip into the main pool 

of blue, might even be the most stylized 

seascape ever--blue sky, beach, and wave 

about to crash down. Frecon's references 

touch upon `70s Minimalism, yet her teasing 

a landscape out of abstraction recalls the 

work of Robert Motherwell. 

Denzil Hurley's systemic NB9 (1992-96), 

consists of 36 small white canvases, either 

a square or a rectangle, each with a 

centered black square. As installed, in 

alternating patterns of square and 

rectangle, they line up to make one larger 

work. Although using a predetermined 

pattern, Hurley is still able to tease out 

a dynamic visual experience; the viewer's 

eyes trace back and forth to find the 

irregularities in paint application, the 

way the shadows perfectly fill in the space 

between the works, or divine alleyways made 

when the variably shaped works change 

places. With an economy of means, Hurley 

allows that mathematics and geometry are 

the only type of universal language that 

could inform our reading and bring the 

works into dialogue with the outside world.

Like Hurley, Dan May too uses a grid 

pattern in his Untitled (1994), in which a 

deep cardboard box holds 13 rows of 8 

envelopes, lined up on each side with black 

hatch marks. The envelopes are lightly 

washed in green, with a central transparent 

white dot in their center. Each envelope 

sports its own simple lines that suggest a 

house, or a dog-earned roof line, a bridge, 

a tightrope or a trap; even infinity came 

to mind. Here, as with the artist's smaller 

collages and paintings, a sense of 

pictorial depth is avoided but references 

are retained to the outside world, one 

inhabited by bodies, and minds, and ideas. 

Robert C. Jones's over-all strokes with 

wrought iron forms that hold his garden-

like palette of yellow and blue in spatial 

tension brings to mind certain, more 

ascetic works by Matisse; the interlocking 

forms and irregular black outlines release 

the painting, and the viewer, from any 

sense of urgency about the work. Jake 

Berthot's works suggested Rothko's 

abstraction, although without the scale and 

glowing surfaces of a spiritual experience. 

(But, as always, when organizing an 

exhibition the work one receives may not be 

the one that the curator most specifically 

wanted; indeed, sometimes the artist's 

inclusion is a sign, one set to bolster a 

premise without illuminating specifics 

about the artist's oeuvre.)

The most scumbled, dense and dramatic 

works, by Jacqueline Barnett, have the 

agitation of a Soutine without his implied 

social commentary. Although it is unfair to 

draw these parallels, generally one makes 

such correspondences to push and tease out 

some sense of continuity. In organizing 

this show, the curators surely meant to 

state that abstract painting is alive and 

well; this statement would have been better 

supported with the inclusion of a younger 

generation or two of practicing artists.

MARILU KNODE is a Seattle curator. Her 

email address is