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Visual Edge: "The Black Aesthetic" at B2 Fine Art Gallery

Tacoma art gallery is more like a museum than a commercial gallery

Untitled painting by Humbert Howard on display at B2 Fine Art Gallery. Courtesy photo

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In many ways Gary and Deborah Boone operate B2 Fine Art Gallery more like a museum than a commercial gallery - much to Tacoma's great good fortune. They have held survey shows of the best of children's art from around the world, not once, not twice, but three times with their "Beyond Crayons and Finger Painting" series. They have brought us art by nationally prominent African-American artists celebrating Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad in the show "Sweet Freedom's Jubilee." They treated Tacomans with a look at the Northwest School and the Hood Canal Colony with works by Guy Anderson, Elton Bennett, Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, Mark Tobey and other Northwest Mystics. And now they offer "The Black Aesthetic," with more works by notable African-American artists including Milt Simons, Thelma J. Streat, Paul Dusenbury, Richard Mayhew, Humbert Howard, Norman Lewis and the great Romare Bearden.

>>> "Rising Sun L'Embouchure" watercolor by Romare Bearden

Bearden is the most famous of the artists - famous for his collages and paintings about the black experience in America - but none of these signature pieces are included in this show. Instead, he is represented by two watercolor landscapes and an oil-on-paper landscape, all of which are simple, sketchy, atmospheric, and abstracted to such a degree that the landscape is barely recognizable. These works are simultaneously restful and explosive yet appear almost bland in comparison to works by Simons, Streat and Howard.

Simons' paintings dominate this exhibition. His "Introspection" at six-by-eight feet is a dramatic, dark show-stopper reminiscent of El Greco with its elongated and convoluted male figure floating in a dark and stormy sky. The energy and mystery of this painting is captivating. The figure, by-the-way, is playing a flute, and next to this painting is a smaller painting in oil of raised board and strips and globs of ripped canvas called "Flutist." Both of these are powerful and bombastic.

Breaking from the abstract theme of this show, there are three Simons figure paintings in a back room, each in a different style and each from a different period in his career. There is a realistic figure in a classical pose from 1948 painted with thin washes, a self-portrait with his wife from 1955 in which the figures are submerged in heavy globs of paint, and a very expressive but classical nude from 1962.

Simons is also represented by stormy landscapes (also reminiscent of El Greco) and equally stormy abstract paintings. That's quite a range of styles and interests, and it's all good.

Howard's two little paintings were a surprise to me. I am not familiar with his work, but these two semi-abstract figure paintings with bright colors and heavy impasto paint application are lovely.

Streat's iconic and diagrammatic pictures of animals and masked figures evoke both Africa and Native American culture.

Also showing as part of Metal Urge is a group of outstanding wall-sculptures by Earnest Thomas.

"BLACK AESTHETIC IN ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM EXHIBITION," 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 9 p.m. Third Thursdays, through Nov. 29, B2 Fine Art Gallery, 711 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma, 253.238.5065

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