In Comfort of Chaos at Kirkland Arts Center…Chloé Dye Sherpe

Tuesday, May 03, 2022 1:18 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

Chaos can be defined as a feeling or state of constant confusion, which has essentially been the general mood over the past few years. But do you ever feel numb to the chaos? Maybe it is a way for human beings to survive challenging times, but sometimes our initial reaction to sadness or challenges is to shut down emotionally. Maybe these times will hurt less if we feel nothing at all. These are the questions and considerations exposed in the exhibition, “In Comfort of Chaos,” at the Kirkland Arts Center. Hanako O’Leary, the juror for the show who is also an incredible artist, states in the exhibition statement that she selected artworks that evoked emotion for her. She writes, “Chaos can be numbing. Art helps us return to our feelings.” This exhibition is both a personal exercise in reflection, but also a way for the viewer to connect with the artist through a visual dialogue. Hopefully, the viewer leaves the exhibition feeling comforted in our ever-changing and tumultuous world.

The importance of personal connections and emotion are shared amongst the organizers of the exhibition. Kirkland Arts Center gallery curator J. Gordon reiterated O’Leary’s comments about how chaos is experienced in a personal way, so the work in the exhibition needed to connect on an emotional level. Gordon is also the exhibition designer for Kirkland Arts Center, and each artwork placement is carefully considered to ensure that there is both synergy and thoughtfully considered juxtapositions. A dialogue between artworks is important, especially in exhibitions like this one where conversation and reflection is considered. 

The exhibition includes many wall-mounted artworks, but there are several key sculptures included to ground the show. Nancy Bocek’s ceramic artwork, “Captive,” stood out. The artwork is black with reddish-brown outlines that are reminiscent of cracks. The viewer can make out a figure, or possibly two, wrapped up in arms and legs. Unlike Michelangelo’s “The Four Captives” who battle with the stone to free themselves, Bocek’s figure seems to be an internal captive. The sculpture evoked similar emotions with this writer as when they saw those by Käthe Kollwitz for the first time. The figure is fiercely embracing another or themselves in this raw example of physical connection. 

It is worth mentioning that O’Leary selected an impressive variety of artistic styles and mediums. In addition to the sculpture, there are prints, paintings, watercolors, embroidery, performance videos, and many mixed media artworks. Naoko Morisawa’s oil stained wood and paper mosaic entitled, “Target Forever VIII: Happy Dreamer, Bonzai,” is a meticulous arrangement of textures and geometric elements. Two similarly impressive mezzotints by E. Valentine DeWald II, an artist with a decades long relationship with Kirkland Arts Center, are also included in the exhibition. Both prints by DeWald II include the face of a central figure, their wrinkled expression exudes a mix of astonishment, anguish, and pain. The exhibition also includes an incredible selection of photographs, including several by Puerto Rican artist Jo Cosme. In her artist statement for the exhibition, Cosme writes that she seeks to encourage conversation through her work about the challenges Puerto Ricans face as a result of colonialism, lack of resources and economic support, and the destruction caused by natural disasters. The photographs are compositionally complex with layers of meaning tied to the political history of Puerto Rico and the United States, and the effect of that history on the present-day situation.  

Upon entering the exhibition, the viewer is immediately faced with a wide range of materials, perspectives, and artistic visions. The artists come from across the United States and all bring a unique reaction to the events over the past few years. This aspect of the show is an important part of the exhibition program at Kirkland Arts Center, and the exhibition is arranged to reflect the diverse voices and to make connections across the country. The artist’s own words are captured in their artist statements, available in a binder placed in the gallery. Jeanette Jones, the artist who received the Juror’s Choice award, summarized the exhibition well in her statement when she writes that the work, “tackles topics of anxiety and futility, tempered with the driest of humor.” Jones’ paintings are installed side-by-side in a corner of the gallery. The large oil on canvas artwork titled, “Stigma and the Tale of How I Lost Two Years,” is likely a painting that many visitors can relate to on some level. The two roses in the painting are losing the petals, but the vibrant green leaves of the rose bush still exude life and energy. Yes, the exhibition is about both shared and personal experiences of pain, confusion, and anxiety. But maybe it is also an exercise in growing the new, too. 

Chloé Dye Sherpe

Chloé Dye Sherpe is a curator and art professional based in Washington State.

“In Comfort of Chaos” is on view through May 21, Wednesday through Friday from noon to 6 P.M. and Saturday from noon to 4 P.M. at Kirkland Arts Center, located at 620 Market Street in Kirkland, Washington. For more information, visit

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