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'2016 Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition'

Regional artists shine at SPSCC

“21st Century Oxpecker” painting by Jason Sobottka. Photo courtesy South Puget Sound Community College

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Upon entering the "2016 Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition" at South Puget Sound Community College, my eyes were immediately drawn to Bernie Bleha's sculpture, "Minaret," acrylic on wood, a colorful tower topped by a playful spire that looks like a tinker toy construction. From there, my gaze went to Carla Louise Paine's painting, "I Died for Beauty," an oil portrait of a contemporary woman in a flower-strewn interior painted in a style reminiscent of Rococo portraiture yet in a clearly modern setting. Both the Bleha sculpture and Paine's painting are Merit Award selections from juror Esther Luttikhuizen.

SPSCC has earned a reputation for cutting-edge shows like New York artist Benjamin Enterner's installation of monstrous blow-up vinyl sculptures and Amanda McCavour's "Embroidered Spaces," and for fun, local shows such as their annual postcard exhibition. Compared to those, this exhibition is staid and safe. There is very little that is challenging, but there surely is a lot of good, solid artwork on display - not a badly executed piece in the show. Paintings dominate. There is not much sculpture, ceramics or photography. I'll mention here just a few of my favorite pieces.

Olympia artist Gail Ramsey Wharton has her weird sense of humor on display with a couple of mixed-media collages: "Modern Family" and "Department of Humor Analysis." The former is like Picasso's "Family of Saltimbanques" moved to a modern-day beach with a frolicking family with weird faces that don't match bodies; the latter is purportedly a graph showing the funniest places to hit a baby with a ball. Wharton's collages are bizarre and skillfully executed.

Next to "Modern Family" are two more beach scenes, these from Marianne Partlow's "Boys on the Beach" series, soft and simplified bodies in glowing pastel colors.

David Noah Giles, a recent transplant to Tumwater from Seattle, is showing a large abstract painting called "Times Square." Filled with repetitive, similar but not identical shapes that dance across the surface in energetic movement, this painting is like an abstract expressionist version of Mondrian's abstract city scene with the usual AE drips and splatters and collage elements that create a rugged surface. Had I been the judge, I would have picked this one for an award.

Next to Giles' painting is another large abstract-expressionist painting, "Through the Rain" by Debra Van Tuinen, a local artist of long standing in the community. It is a field of bright orange and gold slashes of paint that almost cover the entire surface of the canvas like sheets of wind and rain. This is a stunning painting that captures the emotional power of a storm without resorting to imitative depiction of the subject matter.

Another favorite is Jason Sobottka's "21st Century Oxpecker." I had to Google Oxpecker to find out it is a kind of bird. I don't remember seeing a bird in this painting, and there's no mention of a bird in the notes I took. What I do remember seeing is a rhinoceros all decked out and ready for interstellar war, with glitter and what the artist calls "googly-eyes." This is a funny, inventive, and nicely painted image.

There are a lot of talented artists in Southwest Washington. This show offers ample proof of that.

"2016 Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition", Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. through Aug. 25, South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia, 360.596.5527,

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