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Architecture, memory and nature

"Study of Site and Space" at 950 Gallery

“The Catacombs,” construction by Rick Araluce. Photo courtesy 950 Gallery

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"Study of Site and Space" at 950 Gallery is the best theme show around. It is a group exhibition featuring 16 Northwest artists that, according to curator and show participant Allison Hyde, "seeks to address the innate human connection to site and space through 2D, 3D and mixed-media art (representing) varying perspectives on the relationship between architecture, memory, and the natural environment."

Seldom in an exhibition of this type have I seen such variety of media and style with such originality and coherence to a theme, all with a perfect blend of conceptual and aesthetic concerns.

Much of the work has a foreboding and surrealistic feel. Such as in the little mixed-media houses by Rick Araluce that seem to invite the viewer into claustrophobic interior spaces from which they may never escape. His constructed houses are small, approximately one to two feet in height, width and depth. "The Catacombs" is a mausoleum-like black structure with a domed roof and interior rooms that are empty and mysterious. "The Death of Marat" commemorates the death of Jean Paul Marat, who was murdered in his bathtub, a scene famously depicted by the French neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David. In Araluce's version, the body is missing, and the house is empty except for the white tub with rust in the bottom like a pool of blood. It is a haunting image, but perhaps meaningless to those not familiar with Marat's story or David's painting.  

Similar little houses appear in the many works from Robert Hutchinson's "Memory House" series, a three-year-long project in cast epoxy, wood, cast concrete and other materials. They are moody, strange and enigmatic.  

Christopher Paul Jordan's "Twenty First" is the only purely abstract piece in the show and the only one with no comment on the theme -- at least none I could see. It is also one of the most powerful pieces. It is a painting with spray paint on inch-thick insulation sheets. The spray paint melts into the insulation to create patterns in bright tones of red and orange on the flat blue surface. It is a marvel of surface texture and color with the impact of a fist.  

Jeremy Mangan is represented with two paintings: one a study for his Freighthouse Square Trestle mural, and the other a surrealistic view of a partially built house with an antique woodburning stove. The stove is ornate and can be seen to be in use even though the house is nothing but a framework with distant mountains and a full moon in a blue sky seen through the walls. Typical of Mangan, the painting is clear and bright with no hand of the artist in evidence. It is a pleasant, dreamy vision.

Courtney Kemp's "Doubleblind" is delightful and unexpected in its lighthearted depiction of an interior underfoot and overhead. It is a sculpture created from ceiling fans stacked from the floor upward and covered in carpet scraps and poured white plaster. Words are insufficient to describe this delicious oddity.  

There are so many other outstanding artists in this show that I wish I could write a paragraph on each. Those not mentioned are: Mika Aono Boyd, Zachary Burns, Renee Couture, Laura Hughes, Robert Hutchison, Allison Hyde, Alexander Keyes, Lisa Kinoshita, Brandi Kruse, Sandee McGee, Nicole Pietrantoni and Jessica Spring. This is a show not to be missed.

STUDY OF SITE AND SPACE, 1-5 p.m., Thursdays (until 9 p.m. Third Thursday), or by appointment, through Aug. 16, 950 Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave., Suite 205, Tacoma, 253.627.2175,

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