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Expression in glass and paint

Glass artist Oliver Dorris and painter John Vlahovich at Minka

Deer head from the “Trophies” series, by Oliver Dorris. Photo courtesy Minka

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Oliver Dorris is kind of a big deal in Tacoma -- gallery owner, glass artist, popular DJ, and two-time Foundation of Art nominee (one-time winner). A selection of his glass works from two distinct series are now on display at Minka. One series is his popular and quirky baby head mugs; the other is his "Trophies" series: tiny, jewel-like deer heads. Gallery co-owner Lisa Kinoshita describes them as "at once modern and as darkly beautiful as memento mori." Glass-art lovers will be reminded of the timeless animal sculptures and memento mori by William Morris, whom I consider the greatest of the Northwest glass artists.

"These works mine subliminal territory where the artificial construct of human culture butts against the raw unstoppable forces of nature," Dorris says. "I seek to make connections with both my aesthetic choices and subject matter, often toeing the line of the dark and humorous."

These blown glass sculptures are small. There are three of them displayed in a standing case. Each is sleek and smooth with ever-so-gentle modulations of color and nuanced patterning. In each, the head is of one color and the antlers and teeth another: one in black with bronze-colored antlers and teeth, one green and gold with blue and gold antlers and teeth. Another group of four "Trophies" hangs on the wall on plaques such as taxidermy trophies are mounted upon, but the plaques are, in turn, a star made from a bicycle chain, an oval mirror, a rectangular box with a fierce black and orange pattern. The fourth is a dark and ominous looking image in black and silver mounted on a piece of sound equipment from Kelsey Stage Return Systems.

The free-standing heads are beautiful for their color and sleek shape; the wall-hanging ones are surrealistic and provocative due to the contrast between the heads and the objects upon which they're mounted. The baby heads are playful and kitschy and clearly made with commercial sales in mind -- priced more like gift items than art.

Vlahovich has three small paintings and two large ones on the wall. They are Abstract Expressionist paintings in black and white with broad strokes of heavy paint on canvas and various collaged materials. They are derivative of Franz Kline, and to a lesser degree of Robert Motherwell. Another large Vlahovich painting hangs in the front window and impressed me mightily when I first approached the door due to its bold paint application.

On a personal note, I'm not familiar with Vlahovich, even though he is a local Tacoma artist with an impressive resumé. His work has been exhibited at the Seattle Art Museum, Frye Art Museum, in the Governor's Invitational, and in two-man shows at Tacoma Art Museum and the University of Puget Sound. I was impressed at first glance but less so after studying the paintings for a while. They simply don't have the punch of the first-generation AE and are too much like too many works from the 1940s to 1960s. Been there, seen that.

OLIVER DORRIS AND JOHN VLAHOVICH, noon to 5 p.m., Thursday-Sunday and by appointment, through June 30, Minka, 821 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.961.5220,

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