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Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition at SPSCC

“Maximus II” collage by Gail Ramsey Wharton Photo courtesy of the artist

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I hesitate to say this is the best juried exhibition yet at South Puget Sound Community College because I can't trust my memory of previous ones. But I can say this: all juried exhibitions have some great work, some mediocre work and a few pieces that make you wonder how they were chosen, that make you think they didn't have enough entries and had to lower their judgement to fill the space. This year's juried exhibition has much more of the first of these and far fewer of others.

Two pieces stand out in my estimation. One is Faith Hagenhofer's "Abundance," and the other is Bernie Bleha's colorful, pop-surreal sculpture "Exotic Totem." Hagenhofer's piece is a quilt made of wool and thread and, according to the wall label, "plumbing parts." There are a multitude of cone-shaped tubes in tones of orange and chartreuse arranged in alternating patterns that, taken altogether, are an American flag. There's more to see in this one than eyes can take in a single glance. Bleha's is a colorful totem pole in carved, glued and painted wood with strange faces and exciting color.

There are also two paintings by Jason Sobatkka that, like Bleha's piece, can loosely be termed pop surrealist. They are inventive, strange and compelling, and both feature bunny rabbits. "Logomorph Holy Spirit" was a purchase award winner, but I prefer Sobatkka's "Don't Mess with the Pink Rabbit," acrylic, oil and glitter. A giant threatening rabbit and a masked man are seen against backgrounds of bright ultramarine blue and gold glitter. It's a painting filled with surprising contrasts that is simultaneously happy and ominous.   

There's a tiny clay sculpture by Irene Osborn that is easily overlooked but should not be, a sweet and classically beautiful nude sitting on a stump in a pose like Rodin's "The Thinker."

People say extremely realistic paintings look "just like a picture" (meaning a photograph.) Lou MacMillan's digital photograph "Hall of Mosses, Hoh Rain Forest," turns that inside-out. It's photo that looks just like a painting - autumn in the rain forest with thousands of golden leaves, each leaf standing out in stark detail as if lifted off the surface. This photo is overwhelming in its gorgeousness.  

Two charcoal drawings by Rebecca Smurr picture crowds of people as seen from above sprinkled across the surface like leaves on snow. These are quite lovely. They demonstrate how rich black and white can be.

Finally, despite what I said about "Abundance" and "Exotic Totem," my absolute favorite piece in the show is Gail Ramsey Wharton's "Maximus II," a densely crowded collage with a head of George Washington, a tattooed man wearing a tutu, two old men kissing, and countless other surprises. Viewers can spend a lot of time joyfully searching out all the surprising images and then step back to appreciate the solidity of the overall composition. In past shows I've enjoyed her simple collages, which often consist of clever and witty visual puns. This one is quite different and exciting, not only because of the evident humor, but due to its complex play of shapes and colors locking all the various pictures together into a whole.

The 2017 Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition is probably the best art exhibit on view in the Olympia-Tacoma area right now.   

Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition, noon-4 p.m., Monday-Friday, through July 3, South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia,

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