Thursday, March 1, 2012

PIONEER SQUARE: Tashiro Kaplan & SAM

I decided to try something shiney and new for this 1st Thursday art walk. There's an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum that I'm on a mission to see, but first I need to round up a few friends.

First stop: The Tashiro Kaplan Building. Jimmi Indigo's work is still on display in the downstairs gallery from last month, and I'm happy to hang out while he fields questions. I take a look around and notice that there are some sensual new charcoal drawings by artist Roger Wheeler. The textured grounds offer a dynamic base for the flowing lines and feminine forms, and I discover after a few minutes of conversation that the artist is also a mask maker. A founding member of the Fremont Arts Council, Roger has created pieces for numerous events around town including the Fremont Festival and the Solstice Parade. He's been a resident of the TK artist community since the building opened in 2004.
Roger Wheeler @ Tashiro Kaplan

Since Jimmi is still engaged in conversation, I wander upstairs for a tour of Roger's studio space. We both lament the fact that, aside from private invitations from residents, the TK Building only opens its upper floors to the public once a year. Due to its prime location in the heart of Pioneer Square and its size (more than 50 studios), the TK Artist Lofts have become covetted real estate by artists and craftsman alike (the waiting list is more than 2 years long). Unlike most Seattle art spaces, the TK Building offers both live *and* work spaces to not just individual artists, but entire families (well-behaved pets are welcome too). In some ways, the TK Building is little more than a highly creative apartment complex, but for artists such as Roger, his loft is a space where he can live, create, display his work, and share his process.

Upon entering Roger's studio, I find myself surrounded by a multitude of masks staring at me from the walls. Some are large and intricate, like the 5 foot tall interpretation of Capricorn with pointed curling horns. Some are a little creepy, like the clown face modelled after a friend's tattoo. References to mythology, the seven deadly sins and the works of Francis Bacon are interspersed with found art, shells, bones, and a few in-process pieces. As a primarily 2-dimensional artist, I am fascinated by Roger's sculptural style of paper mache. His method of layering reminds me of the way I layer paint, but the finished product is all together a different beast (sometimes literally).

Roger Wheeler @ Tashiro Kaplan

I am familiar with Jimmi Indigo and a few of the other artists in the TK Building, and after seeing Roger's work, I am more impatient than ever for the once-yearly opening.

The illustrious Rachel has arrived downstairs, so she and I gather Jimmi and head toward the SAM. The show this evening is 'Gauguin and Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise', and since it's 1st Thursday, museum tickets are half price. While I'm not the biggest Gauguin fan, I've never seen Polynesian art before, and I'm interested to view the authentic native art forms in juxtaposition with Gauguin's appropriated interpretations.

Rachel & Jimmi @ SAM
The show is packed, but we do our best to weave in and out of small pockets of breathing room. I remember from art history that Gauguin travelled a good deal in his youth and settled in Paris for a decade as a stockbroker, but then became fascinated by art, and left his family to indulge his compulsive need for recognition. He left Western society and spent the remainder of his life in French Polynesia attempting to experience and express the pure, the pristine, and the primitive.

Gauguin experimented with Impressionism early in his artistic career, but soon left it behind in favour of an all together new technique. He understood the importance of light and shadow to create the illusions of depth and form, but instead of employing it as the central focus, he used blocks of colour and bold outlines to define his subjects. His simplistic style became known as Primitivism.

Paul Gauguin, "Reclining Tahitian Women," 1894
Gauguin journeyed to Tahiti in order to study local culture and customs, but upon arriving, he discovered that it wasn't exactly the tropical "promised land" he'd expected. European influence and restrictions imposed by the Catholic Church had severely limited Tahitian customs, and the natives were prohibited from practicing traditional ceremonies and dancing as well as the arts of carving and tattooing. Nevertheless determined to recapture the "Tahiti of former times", Gauguin created a huge body of work which received a less than enthusiastic reception back in Paris. Rejecting Western society entirely, a disheartened Gauguin returned to Polynesia to focus his artistic energies in a more mystical direction. Suffering from poor health and depression, Gauguin's final works explored themes of death, resignation, and "the Beyond". 

Paul Gauguin, "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?," 1897 (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
The art of Polynesia from the early 1800's is indeed evocative of the primal nature of humanity that fascinated Gauguin. The natives used natural materials such as bone, wood, stone, shells, flesh, feathers, and flowers as a celebration of life and to express ideas of divinity. The tribal aesthetic, especially tattoo design, has been appropriated and is in evidence in numerous aspects of contemporary Western culture.

Marquesas Islands, "Tiki," 19th century
Marquesas Islands, "Head Ornament," 19th century

The decline of the primal aspects of Tahitian culture parallels the gradual deterioration of Gauguin's belief in the exotic. But change is the nature of both art and culture, and all things must, in time, come to an end. Gauguin's end came in 1903, and despite his unfortunate personality, he is recognised as the first artist to adopt a simplistic art form in order to recapture the archetypal essence of humanity.

The "Gauguin and Polynesia" exhibit will be on display until 29 April, so if you're interested in Post Impressionism and Primitive art, it's a show worth seeing. I'd recommend going on a non art walk evening if you'd rather not elbow your way through the throng.

Next 1st Thursday I look forward to returning to Delicatus for my favourite sandwich and some swingin' tunes, and revisiting the labyrinth of studios surrounding the TK Building. Hope to see you there!

Support your local art scene!

~ BCDuncan

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