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Visual Edge: Art students of Simon Kogan at Pacific Lutheran University

Old European model on display

Untitled figure, study in oil on paper by R. Owen Cummings, is on display at the University Galley at Pacific Lutheran University. Courtesy photo

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Simon Kogan is locally famous in Olympia for his World War II memorial on the Capitol Campus and for the larger-than-life statue of a pregnant woman, "Motherhood," at Percival Landing.  He is also well known as a teacher of private art classes. At the moment the works of his students are on display in the art gallery at Pacific Lutheran University.

I didn't count, but the six students in the show must have close to, if not more than, 100 paintings in oil on paper, plus 15-20 ceramic sculptures and a group of sumi ink paintings. Let it be known that these are adult students and some of them have previous art experience - they're not exactly beginners.

The students are: Roger Cummings, Heather Grob, Jennifer Lauer, Rose Nicholas, Sophie Stimson and Cathy Wiggins. Cummings is listed as Roger on the announcement card but as R. Owen Cummings on gallery wall labels.

Judging solely on the basis of the work shown by his students, I gather that Kogan is a strong and demanding teacher in the old European model, meaning first master the basics. And his students have certainly done that. The works are almost interchangeable. The paintings are all either studio nudes done with expressive brush strokes, little to no details, and marvelous color combinations. It is the color more than anything else that makes many of them stand out. Or landscapes reduced to bands of color representing ground, sometimes water, a line of trees or a horizon line, and sky. Again, it's the color. That and the use of thin washes of color combined with heavy impasto, here and there a single stroke standing out like a drummer's rim shot. The best works overall are those with the least detail. The impact of color and the dynamic interaction of figure and ground is lost when they try to bring out details such as facial features.

The sculptures are all small figures in clay with, as in the paintings, few if any details. They are dynamic in their baroque poses and heavy handling of the clay, with reminders of Degas, Matisse, Giacometti, the rare sculptures created by Willem de Kooning, and the forms if not the surface handling of Henry Moore.

The downside is that too many of the works in this show look too much alike. There is little individuality. It looks like every piece was done on assignment and according to strict instructions from Kogan.

It is hard to point out specific pieces because most of them are untitled. Nevertheless, here are a few examples:

Nicholas is showing an excellent landscape with cerulean blue water and dark green grass.

Wiggins' seated figure, about four-inches tall, is a nice marriage of a Giacometti and a Henry Moore, and she has a bright pink nude on a light blue-gray couch with a dark green background that is outstanding.

Cummings' figures in sumi employ an excellent back-and-forth between positive and negative shapes, and he is showing a little reclining nude in muted tones of gray, green and purple that is great.

I like Lauer's little stacked landscapes on the back wall, and I love the combination of yellow sky and purple mountings with dripping paint in the sky in her "Sunrise Willapa Bay."

Stimson has some nice little landscapes shown in stacked configurations in conjunction with those by Lauer, and she has one of the stronger ceramic sculptures.

Grob's use of hot reds and oranges in some of her figure paintings is fabulous. She effectively makes use of some of the heaviest impasto paint application in her figure, "The Mystic."

"STUDENTS OF SIMON KOGAN," 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, through Nov. 12, University Gallery, Ingram Hall, Pacific Lutheran University, 121st Street and Wheeler, Parkland, 253.535.7573

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