Articles

  • Thursday, November 01, 2018 12:05 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


  • Thursday, November 01, 2018 12:02 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    Impossible


    Last week, I arrived in Port Angeles to teach a choreography class. I’ve known the director since she struggled with the idea of opening a studio. Her dance journey has been like witnessing a beautiful becoming.


    It’s been a long drive from Seattle. I’m eager to stretch, but I’m so taken by what happens next it literally stops me in my tracks. A little boy watches his sister’s ballet class as intently as someone viewing their own version of joy. He copies every move the girls make. I know his excitement, his readiness, as well as I know my own.  


    His mother is lost in her phone. So I tell the boy that I hope he takes class, too. This prompts a sudden lift of mom’s chin. I say what I am thinking anyway, “Boys make wonderful ballet dancers!”  


    Not in Port Angeles,” she said, as if ballet isn’t something her son should get too close to. The boy looked at me, at his mother, back at me. He jammed his fist into the palm of his hand. It was like watching a leaf wilt on the vine.


    I’ve grown used to arriving in studios where I can feel as if every move I make is not just visible to the parents but spotlighted. But even so, I know—and knew then—that I had to say something more. It wasn’t an overwhelming feeling, more like a ripple in a larger pool of ripples. But I could not have predicted what was about to come out of my mouth.“You are a natural born dancer!” 


    The boy smiled happily, if tentatively, stopping for a quick look at his mom who seemed a little stunned. The truth is that all children are natural born dancers. It’s only later that we learn to suppress the desire to move to the music we hear. 


    I know what it means to simply accept what I am called upon to do: teach a good class. And I do this. But I suppose what happened that day is that the belief that only girls should take ballet leaned a little too far in. Until a huge part of me screamed, “Don’t say that! Dancing is for everyone!” 


    I would not have put it like this, of course, but I had a deep sense that this bias would help shape this boy’s future.


    There is a magic inherent in a dance studio, in being surrounded by people who look like they’ve found what makes them feel most alive. I think this is what the boy wanted for himself, to move enjoyably through space. But I suspect he may have to learn to do it in other ways, most likely on the ball field. 


    And I cannot know if playing ball will make him as happy as dancing seemed to make him. Any more that I can know why his mother was so offended by it.


    But if I let myself remember what must have been happening in this little boy’s mind to make him look so happy, I suspect I found his mother’s response asked of me something that I found impossible to give—silence.


    Mary Lou Sanelli

    Sanelli, a writer and speaker, lives in Seattle. She is a regular contributor to Dance Teacher magazine. Her latest book is A Woman Writing. For more information about her and her work, visit www.marylousanelli.com.

  • Thursday, November 01, 2018 11:53 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    duck, tree, reflection


    the cold shimmer

    of winter

    a glass window

    in which

    the shadows

    of a tree

    trembles


    a lattice of shadow

    in which a duck

    must see

    her own reflection

    as she moves

    her feet

    under this web

    of water



    Alan Chong Lau

    Alan Chong Lau is a poet and painter exhibiting his art locally at ArtXchange Gallery in Seattle, Washington.


  • Tuesday, September 04, 2018 1:06 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    RYAN! Feddersen reaches out both geographically and conceptually for the intriguing show “In Red Ink” at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner. She breaks down boundaries of media, chronology, and above all clichés. 

    John Feodorov’s “Dance of the Colonizers,” made up of clips taken from the 1949 film, “On the Town,” exposes the racism of Hollywood as sailors team up with “girls” at the Museum of Natural History in New York City to mimic “savages. Caricature of caricature frequently appears in this exhibition. Andrea Carlson whose affiliation is the central Canadian and East Coast Anishaabeg/Algonquin, sends up the absurd cowboy and Indian stereotypes of dramatically leaping horses and men. Her style of pseudo cartoon, with heavy outlines and brilliant color, underscores her parody of popular culture.  

    Natalie Ball literally cuts up clichés in her large collaged art work that include river rocks, crow feathers, wool, and lodge pines, an intentional use of traditional Indigenous materials, along with European style painting, charcoal and oil stick on canvas. The central figure appears to be an “Indian” collaged and sewn together from mismatched pieces. It has the expressionist directness of a work by Jean-Michel Basquiat.

    Also collage-like and humorous, but entirely painted, is the series of works by Ka’ila Farrell-Smith (from the same tribal affiliation as Natalie Ball, Modoc, Klamath) with her three large “bundle” paintings painted on plastic exhibitionbanners. The term “bundle” is applied to various entities “Time,” “Chief,” and “IAIA Students.” IAIA stands for Institute of Indian Arts in Santa Fe, a renowned Indian Art School. A bundle of sticks appears below them, amusingly transposed as the group of students who themselves echo, in their clothes, a mix of the contemporary and traditional.

    Northwest artists Tanis S’eilten and Joe Feddersen both provide humor with less caricature and more politics, S’eilten by her crazy medium in “Totem and Tabu,” a Freudian book title, with pink shoes, pink suitcase, and neon referring to the stereotype of Native sexuality. She inserts the rip off of Native cultures with an old postcard of the stolen totem pole that came to Pioneer Square as a literal totem. Joe Feddersen’s show stopper, “Charmed,” a wall of symbols cast in glass, gives us a delightful mix up of high tension wire towers, petroglyphs, “teepees” and various other “symbols” that can be read as either caricatures or real objects. 

    On a serious note, John Feodorov’s second group of works reinterpret both media and content. Weaver Tyra Preston created special plain white Navajo rugs for him on which he painted with some trepidation given the rugs’ powerful importance as metaphor of land and culture. The four “Desecrations,” refer to pollution on the land: a coal plant, pipe lines, a yellow radiation house and fracking cracks in the earth.

    Other serious works include the photographs of Matika Wilbur that document contemporary tribal members in a long running project. Amy Maleuf (Metis, another Canadian affiliation), whose” Iamthe caribou/the caribouisme” offers two small braids of caribou and her own hair that refer to the reciprocity of humans and animals. With the dramatic summer of Tahlequah holding her dead baby Orca for 17 days, we are all painfully aware of the threats of extinction to Orcas and other animals. In the medium of glazed ceramic Erin Genia addresses toxic oil leaks in “Facing/Not Facing: Toxic Devastation from Oil.”

    RYAN! Feddersen herself has a rye sense of humor, an impatience with historical stereotypes, a deep commitment to redefining what we mean by contemporary Indigenous art, and a generous spirit that reaches out into the community. Her show reflects these qualities. Curated in collaboration with Chloe Dye Sherpe of the Museum, it gives us a refreshing new point of view, while also making us think about the history of indigenous misrepresentations. 

    We are so fortunate to have contemporary Native artists who speak to both their heritage and to our contemporary world about the state of the earth and the colonialism that has led us to where we are now. Humor traditionally masks politics and urgency. “In Red Ink,” a term that can mean emergency, editing out, deficits, and highlighting, all at once, gives us a chance to understand where we are now and where we can go, with the guidance of these creative artists.

    Speaking of that creativity, look out for “yəhaw̓,” an exhibition of 200 indigenous artists sponsored by the Office of Arts and Culture and the Na’ah Illahee Fund, opening at King Street Station in January 2019.

    Susan Noyes Platt

    Susan Noyes Platt writes a blog www.artandpoliticsnow.com and for local, national, and international publications.

    The Museum of Northwest Art located at 121 First Street in La Conner, Washington, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M., and Sunday through Monday from 12 to 5 P.M. For more information, visit www.monamuseum.org


  • Tuesday, September 04, 2018 12:50 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    We all think we know the photographs of Edward Curtis from a handful of frequently reproduced images that offer us romanticized, nostalgic views of Native Americans from the turn of the twentieth century, a time when Native peoples were thought to be vanishing. Curtis set out to preserve their traditional way of life, when it was already almost destroyed by assimilation efforts by the US government.

    This summer, on the 150th anniversary of Curtis’s birthday, the Seattle Art Museum along with many nearby museums and cultural centers, is reexamining his work, his legacy, and his relationship to contemporary native culture and art.

    At the entrance of “Double Exposure” at the Seattle Art Museum, a voice in Lutshootseed and English welcomes us, as we are immersed in the stunning installation by Marianne Nicholson. Two back to back glass panels, etched with native imagery, and a light inserted between them, cast shadows on the floor. Ḱanḱagawi (The Seam of Heaven), metaphorically presents the Columbia River, in its beauty and disruptions. The name means “sewn together.” The two pieces of glass suggest the breaks caused by dams and borders, while the light and shadows offer possible healing as the treaty between Canada and US comes up for renegotiation. 

    “Double Exposure” features 150 historical images by Curtis, a selection from various chapters of The North American Indian, created between 1907 and 1930. The book is available online at http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu and well worth reading even a short excerpt from the detailed information that originally accompanied the photographs.

    Curtis created 40,000 photographs of more than 80 tribes, but they were meant to be seen in the context of tribal history, customs and much more. His accomplishment is staggering. His assistants also made 10,000 wax cylinder audio recordings of music, a few of which we can hear in the exhibition. We also can watch his pioneering film from 1914(!) “In the Land of the Headhunters” starring Naida as the bride. Her descendant holds the Curtis photograph in Will Wilson’s tintype.

    The stunning photogravure images, created on copper plates, glow on the wall. We revel in Curtis’s eye for composition, and his technical facility with a complex photographic process. Curator Barbara Brotherton offers detailed and nuanced labels. In some cases these images are posed works that followed Curtis’s romantic perspective, in others they document historical practices that had mainly been passed on through oral traditions.

    For more immersion into Curtis’s technical prowess, Flury & Co, our local Curtis specialists offers “Edward Curtis Photographs in Copper” (On view through September 30) featuring 30 copper plates, never before displayed, from the original North American Indian publication. Flury & Co is a like a small museum in itself. The family have rights to the sale of Curtis prints and plates, memorabilia and manuscripts, acquired directly from the artists descendants living in Seattle.

    In “Double Exposure,” we also can experience native commentary on Curtis. First, there is a new way to insert videos into an exhibition, the app “Layar.” As we scan a Curtis photograph of a canoe race, a video appears with an interview with a 16 year old youth who participates in contemporary canoe journeys. He speaks vividly of the endurance required to paddle a canoe as a team for 10 hours straight.

    This dramatically layering of the Curtis photograph with contemporary interviews by native speakers makes a dynamic intersection of past and present. Will Wilson’s large tintypes come alive as we scan them and hear from the contemporary person photographed, a poet, a state politician, an artist, a filmmaker, a drummer, a dancer. Tracy Rector’s experimental films record contemporary natives speaking of the threat of environmental contamination as well as the preservation of rituals and traditional practices.

    The exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum is one part of “Beyond the Frame:  Being Native” a collaboration of 20 native groups and cultural institutions reexamining Curtis in a contemporary context. Just up the street from the Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Public Library offers “Protecting the x əlč: Indigenous Stewardship of the Salish Sea” (On view through August 15). It has two parts; the first room emphasizes Curtis’s photographs of traditional practices such as fishing and harvesting (including historical artifacts); the second room presents contemporary life as in the flourishing canoe journeys, the success of the dam removal on the Elwha River, and contemporary resistance to industries, such as the Lummi defeat of a coal terminal on Cherry Point. Concluding the exhibition is a video with Brian Cladoosby president of the National Congress of American Indians and Chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, speaking about their pioneering plans to resist the effects of climate change.

    For a complete list of the exhibits and events affiliated with “Beyond the Frame:  Being Native” as well as information on contemporary native life see the website. https://www.beyondtheframe.org. Look out in particular for the exhibition of 20 contemporary native artists, curated by RYAN! Feddersen with Chloe Dye Sherpe, “In Red Ink,” at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Connor that opens on July 7. Also don’t miss RYAN! Feddersen’s amusing installation at the end of “Double Exposure” in which we take on the role of “post-human” types such as “Humans of the Glass Offices” and “Vanishing Human Types: People of the Outdoors,” echoing Curtis view of natives as the “vanishing race.” It’s online at http://posthumanarchive.site.seattleartmuseum.org.

    We are fortunate here in the Northwest to have a vibrant contemporary native art and cultural flowering that is gaining increasing visibility throughout our region thanks to the collaboration of traditional institutions with committed and articulate tribal groups in Washington, Oregon, and Canada.

    Susan Noyes Platt

    Susan Noyes Platt writes a blog www.artandpoliticsnow.com and for local, national, and international publications.


    Seattle Art Museum

    1300 First Avenue, Seattle, Washington


    Flury & Co

    322 First Avenue S., Seattle, Washington


    Museum of Northwest Art

    121 N 1st Street, La Conner, Washington


  • Saturday, August 11, 2018 12:28 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


  • Thursday, May 03, 2018 9:56 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    The Man & The Myth: The Epic Works of Michael C. Spafford

    What does it mean to separate a artist from his work? Is it truly possible to view art in a vacuum, separate from any outside historical context or influence? Are the stories behind the art separate from the stories within it? 


    These are all questions that were percolating as I went to witness the colossal collection of Michael Spafford’s work that is currently on display at Greg Kucera, Woodside/Braseth, and Davidson Galleries. While I arrived full of questions, I left with a profound respect for both the depth of Spafford’s work and the ideas he is trying to unravel within it.


    At its heart, Spafford’s work is about storytelling. Not his own stories per say, but rather the retelling and depicting of ancient myths. He interprets the tales in a variety of mediums, each more nuanced than the one before. In oils, he is bold and sometimes even primal in his expressions. If you look closely at the paintings, you can occasionally find where his fingertips traced the tales into the canvas. In watercolor, he is more subtle, but by no means subdued, carrying ancient archetypes and his strong linear forms across each expression. The collection goes on to include works in charcoal, collage, and sketches to form an immense array spanning nearly six decades that proves that Spafford is impactful in any medium.


    The work is as intense as it is expansive. While some collections of this scale might contain only a few pieces that truly captivate, each piece of Spafford’s does its part to draw you in. This is not to say that all of the pieces are all particularly inviting. Many of the canvases come off as eerie, while others feel more bold and visceral, largely in part to the artist’s affinity for the color red. They are all however, consuming in some capacity, bringing each story they contain to life in a variety of renditions and sizes. In fact, it is Spafford’s unique use of both canvas and scale, and the way in which some works are cut, peeled away from the surface, or designed in obtuse shapes and pieced together, that makes the work feel as if you could climb inside and suddenly find yourself within the artist’s mythical world.


    Some of the pieces are striking simply because of their size, while others are because of subject they contain. All of the work shares a common thread in the depiction of Greek myths, many of which containing characters both human and animal. Half man, half bird, Icarus takes a spiraled flight. In bold blues, red, and black, the chimera meets its fateful end. Men battling serpents, Leda laying with the swan, Europa and the bull, the mighty minotaur waiting in the maze...so many of these pieces trace the lines and connections between man and beast. Looking at them, one starts to wonder, what is it that brings Spafford back to these stories time and again. On the surface, mythology appears to be the common thread, and yet, I found myself questioning: Where does Spafford see himself in these stories and struggles? 


    As I continued through the collection, I came to realize it isn’t just the artist that sees himself in these stories. In a way, mythology is one of our oldest forms of expressions, and by nature, stories like these are means to which we better understand ourselves and our common connections. These stories in particular explore the idea of both our humanity and our animality, and how intertwined the two truly are. We like to see ourselves as a species far evolved. And yet in modern day, looking at the bloodshed and beasts in Spafford’s work, you realize that our kind is only slightly less impaired by impulse and instinct than the creatures depicted in these stories from long ago. Reflecting on these tales of man and animals, make one start to question how distinct and divine we truly are from our fellow animal forms.


    While some may see the content of Spafford’s work as no more than depictions of tales from a far off ancient time, I think the artist is calling us to question something that lives beneath the surface of these stories. He is calling us to see the connection between past and present, between reality and recreation. He is wanting us to consider the thread that binds us to our most visceral self, and in turn these stories from the past. It is this questioning that makes this work continue to have a profound and primal way of pulling one in during the present day. Perhaps that is why Spafford and his paints return to these tales again and again, ever blurring and building the connections between the man and the myths that came before.


    Madeline Reeves

    Madeline Reeves is a Pacific Northwest writer and consultant. For more information about her and her work, visit www.fearlessintraining.com.


    Davidson Galleries

    313 Occidental Avenue South

    Seattle, Washington


    Greg Kucera Gallery

    212 Third Avenue South

    Seattle, Washington


    Woodside/Braseth Gallery

    1201 Western Avenue

    Seattle Washington


  • Thursday, May 03, 2018 12:50 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


  • Thursday, March 01, 2018 1:00 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    Keep an eye out for satire in the Seattle Art Museum’s new exhibition “Figuring History.” Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, and Mickelene Thomas all share a deep irreverence for traditional Euro American history as they rewrite familiar stories and turn clichés upside down and inside out. But first, immerse yourself in the sheer virtuosity of these artists. “Figuring History” the theme presented by Catherina Manchanda, curator of the exhibition and modern art curator at the Seattle Art Museum, emerges from brilliant formal games with color and space.

    Fortunately, because the paintings are large (in the tradition of history painting,) there are not many of them, which makes it possible to fully experience their aesthetics, their satire, and their rewriting of history. The show encompasses three generations of African American artists. Robert Colescott (1925–2009) turned to monumental figures inspired by both Leger and Egyptian art (he lived in Cairo for several years). He was directly affected by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s; Kerry James Marshall, born in 1955, celebrates middle class black life starting in the 1990s with its undercurrent of impending danger. Mickelene Thomas, born in 1971, brings us to the present moment with her assertive, no holds barred paintings of black women.

    Colescott’s first rewriting of history, “George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware,” 1975, outraged many people with its repertoire of cliché black face figures filling the boat of the iconic representation by Emanuel Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Intriguingly, this painting is more straightforward than much that followed. Colescott layers satire, caricature, and political and historical defiance. You can’t always decipher all of his references, as his mature style of loose, brushy, overlapping figures purposefully obscures the identity of many of his figures. Looking at “Afterthoughts on Discovery,” for example, Columbus is obvious in the foreground, a conquistador behind him, a slave, a native American, two skeletons, perhaps Lincoln, a Spanish priest, but what about the five people on the upper left. Are they identifiable, symbols? Or are they actual people? The same can be said for “Knowledge of the Past is the Key to the Future: Matthew Henson and the Quest for The North Pole,” 1986. African American explorer Matthew Henson who accompanied Peary to the North Pole in 1909, is rescued from oblivion as the central figure here. Around him are Peary, a slave, a white slave trader, a Native American, and a collection of other people including Salome presenting the head of John the Baptist, a half black half white woman, and a prostitute with bright green shoes and bag. So we wander through the painting, wondering how they fit together, do they fit together, does it matter? Colescott provides a virtual catalog of skin colors and types, high and low, famous and anonymous. He mixes up all the boundaries. Perhaps that is more important than a coherent single point in time.

    Two tightly selected series present Kerry James Marshall here along with a few other well known paintings. Manchanda did well to fill a room with his spectacular “souvenir” series. They glitter in tones of gray, while honoring the terrible loses of the Civil Rights Era. Marshall’s work draws on every source from kitsch to classical, he plays with us, drawing us into the spaces he creates. In contrast, “The School of Beauty, School of Culture,” 2012, represents a crucial aspect of Marshall’s work, his exploration of black middle class life. Nothing is more iconic that the black beauty salon and this work offers realism, pop art references, and a hologram representation of a white blond in the foreground (a look back to what black women used to desire?), now eclipsed by absolutely self-confident black women with stunning hairdos. (For another view of this subject, see the Al Smith show “Seattle on the Spot” at the Museum of History and Industry until June 17, featuring a black beauty school in the Central District as well as other themes that reinforce the idea of ”Figuring History.)

    Don’t fail to spend some time with Marshall’s “Vignette” series as well: he layers seemingly simple statements of love with pointed political references.

    Mickelene Thomas’s glittering canvases of confident black women envelop us. Thomas, like Colescott and Marshall, sometimes redefines famous paintings. Here she transforms Manet’s “Dejeuner sur L’Herbe” into the fabulous “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires,” 2010. Thomas’s games of space are outrageous and fascinating, they pull us in and push us out; they interrupt predictable perspectives; they adeptly juxtapose modernist squares of colors with complex patterns. While Marshall depicts a shimmering curtain in reflective glitter that closes off the space behind in “Memento V,” Thomas’s shining rhinestones copiously distributed on her paintings actually push us back. That push back in Dejeuner sur l’herbe reinforces the bold, but unavailable, women at its center .

    Take time with these stunning paintings, explore their complexities, and pay attention to their new histories of life in the US. It refreshes the spirit amidst the current degradations of our public politics.


    Susan Noyes Platt
    Susan Noyes Platt writes a blog www.artandpoliticsnow.com. She writes for local, national and international publications. Most recently she has curated several exhibitions on the subject of Migration.

    “Figuring History” is on view through May 13, 2018 at the Seattle Art Museum, located at 1300 First Avenue in Seattle, Washington. Hours are Wednesday, Friday through Sunday 10 A.M. to 5 P.M.; Thursday 10 A.M. to 9 P.M.; and closed Monday & Tuesday. For more information, call (206) 654-3100  or visit www.seattleartmuseum.org.


  • Thursday, March 01, 2018 12:47 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    The genre of portraiture doesn’t get a lot of love these days. Come to think of it, it never really has.

    In the Royal Academy—the post-Renaissance prototype for today’s art schools and museums where the best of the best European artists trained—portraiture was second on the hierarchy of genres. Any artist who wanted to paint “important” works in the academy was producing History Paintings, depicting mythological or religious subjects to
    convey some kind of higher ideal or moral value. Portraiture was important —it sat above landscape painting and still lifes on that academy list—but it wasn’t number one. In general, Western portrait painters were respected for their technical skill and ability to produce a
    recognizable likeness of a person, but not so much for their ideas or creativity.

    And so it has been for the last several centuries. Portrait painters have rarely made a splash or even a ripple in the trajectory of art history—can you name any portraitists off the top of your head? Recently, however, portraiture has made a comeback. Barack and Michelle Obama’s presidential portraits were unveiled recently, throwing a wrench in the historically conservative and— I’ll say it—downright boring collection of the last 200 years of presidential portraits. Kehinde Wiley’s depiction of Barack in a lush garden of green leaves and pops of colorful flowers and Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle in a bold patterned dress against a bright blue background have been a breath of fresh air. How refreshing to see portraits that buck conventions, toss off the unspoken requirement of literalism, and attempt to say something about the personalities of these important people. Portraiture is back.

    Just take the current show at Foster/White Gallery, aptly titled “Portraiture.” The show brings together three painters whose work expands and questions the nature of portraiture as a genre. Erin Armstrong, Carlos Donjuan, and Julia Lambright prod and push at the boundaries of portraiture—somewhere in the middle of my time with the paintings, I found myself asking, what makes a portrait a portrait? Just as Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald offered a courageous new answer to this question with their Obama portraits, the artists in “Portraiture” proffer up three similarly bold responses.

    California-based painter Erin Armstrong tests the parameters of portraiture with
    a body of work where the visual identity of her sitters is all but obscured. Bright splashes of color and bold floral patterns surround and define her subjects, sometimes encroaching on, but never overshadowing, the human forms she depicts. It’s the form, the container that stays in tact—the context and the contents transmute. Boundaries are strongly defined, but what lies within or just without that edge is amorphous.

    For Armstrong, the frontier of identity is anything but settled. It’s wild and blooming, neon lights and floral wallpaper, bright and budding and just a little bit cheeky.

    Armstrong’s figures embody an identity or a character, but the defining physical features are concealed or abstracted. One subject covers her face with a bouquet of bright blue tulips. Another has an orange stripe for an eyebrow and a head composed of turquoise, yellow and purple stripes. The face—the place we often look first to locate identity—is the focus, but there are no distinguishing features to be found in Armstrong’s portraits. Instead, we are left with a container, a form filled with a sensation or a color or a bouquet of bright blue tulips.

    Smaller in scale but richer in symbolism are the delightfully ambiguous paintings of Carlos Donjuan. Based in Dallas, Texas, Donjuan works from his personal history as a first generation American to address notions of belonging. Fascinated from a young age with the concept of alien identity, Donjuan’s portraits toe the line between standard and strange. Here, portraiture addresses the place of the person in the land of the collective. While Armstrong locates identity within a vessel of ever-evolving sensations, Donjuan finds it in the act of assemblage. In Donjuan’s paintings, delicately rendered strands of hair are tucked behind a mask of geometric patterns and leopard print. Human faces are abstracted to triangles and circles, which then become the composite parts of the chorus of friendly creatures populating his works. Identity for Donjuan is a kit of parts that can be endlessly reconfigured and mixed and matched. We all wear masks, he seems to say. Some are friendly, some are funny and some are foreign. They all speak to the impossibility—the absurdity—of ever truly blending in.

    The third artist in the exhibit, Julia Lambright, dives even deeper into the layered facets of identity in the genre of portraiture. Born and raised in Russia, Lambright works in a traditional egg-tempera painting technique which she learned from masters in Russia and the United States. A notoriously unforgiving medium, egg-tempera is a technique ripe with historical associations. Lambright describes her work as “excavating the strata of the past,” building up layers of symbols and textures to compose the iconic figures who populate her paintings. For her, identity is about history—it can be built up and unearthed through the layers of time.

    Their methods and influences are quite different, but all three artists in “Portraiture” bring similar questions to the table: where do we locate individual identity? And how does the body in concert with its context work to convey this sense of self? At a moment in history when identity—whether gender, racial or national—holds more political relevance than ever, it seems fitting that artists are using the genre of portraiture to play with these definitions. Because, the truth is, portraitists have always used their medium to communicate carefully orchestrated messages about
    their sitters. They just haven’t always been quite so honest about it.

    Lauren Gallow
    Lauren Gallow is an arts writer, critic, and editor. You can read more of her work at www.desert-jewels.com/writing.

    “Portraits” is on view through March 24 at Foster/White Gallery, located at 220 Third Avenue South. The gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. For further information call (206) 622-2833 or visit www.fosterwhite.com.


   
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