Gallery News

Seattle Times, 03.09.2012

UW faculty artists get an 'A' at Traver Gallery exhibition

By Michael Upchurch


It helps, if you're founding a new artistic school or movement, to have two things: a clever moniker and a strong body of work.

3D4M, a recently formed University of Washington-based consortium, has both.

First of all, there's the name with its 4-character pun on "3-Dimensional Forum." But more to the point, there's the art itself.

Doug Jeck, Amie Laird McNeel, Akio Takamori, Jamie Walker and Mark Zirpel all have strong entries in Traver Gallery's University of Washington 3D4M Faculty Exhibition. And it's fascinating to see how varied their work is, given that they've gathered it under a single, self-chosen umbrella.

Jeck is represented by only one piece, "Equipoise," but it's the indisputable knockout in the show. It portrays a predominantly equine creature with some oddly nonequine traits. Its ears are human, and it has two long-fingered human hands where its front hoofs ought to be. The foam-clay-steel-wood sculpture, over 6 feet long and caught in mid-gallop, is simultaneously photorealistic and surreal. It's a technical tour-de-force in the way Jeck so seamlessly blends the traits of two different species and in the way he balances the whole piece on only a single rear hoof that grazes the ground.

Zirpel, who works chiefly in glass, is the mad scientist of the show, creating pieces that are as much gadget as artwork. (He's a definite kindred spirit to popular Seattle kinetic sculptor Trimpin.) His main contribution here, "Rain Organ," is a massive contraption of glass funnels, glass pipes and glass receptacles that, with the right amount of precipitation, contrive to pull air through an array of reed-equipped glass horns to make an organ-like sound.

This thing needs to find a public home outdoors somewhere ASAP, so we can see it in action. In the meantime, it's fun to look at — as are other Zirpel items, especially "Tract," which replicates the human-digestive system in glass, with a set of black ceramic teeth at the top and a bedpan below it.

Takamori's work is more delicate and subtle. "Reclining Woman" and "Seated Woman" are trompe l'oeil vessels that fold several female nudes into one. In "Parisian Woman," "Woman from Madrid" and "Dutch Grandmother," Takamori pairs small porcelain figures with large color photographs he's taken of them. It's eerie how much more mobile and expressive the faces of the porcelain pieces seem to be in the photographs than when you look directly at the ceramic models themselves.

McNeel's contributions to the show explore nautical themes and incorporate a variety of materials: glass, clay, wood, aluminum, steel, rubber. "Keel Pair" is solely ceramic, juxtaposing two keellike shapes in puzzle-piece proximity to each other, with some of their surface glass smooth and some of it etched with a fish-scale pattern. Other McNeel works weave fanciful variations on outboard-motor propellers and boat hulls. There's a streamlined serenity to her work, even as it follows odd involutions.

The multiple "cup forms" of Walker, along with his larger pieces "Yellow Boy," "Palermo" and "Untitled," are the closest to abstract work in this lineup. Each "Cup Form" is shaped in a spirit of cozy kitchen utility but is way too big to be practical. There's almost something of color-field painting going on in the way Walker tries different hues and textures of glaze together in these oversized vessels.

The 4-foot high "Yellow Boy," by contrast, is a glossy monochrome amalgamation of molecular-bulbous shapes whose main purpose seems to be to shout "Yellow!" — just as its companions "Untitled" and "Palermo," respectively, shout "White!" and "Bubblegum pink!"

3D4M's stated mission is "to explore interdisciplinary exchanges that revolve around material study, concept and critical dialogue in a dynamic studio-based environment that reflects and supports the nature of contemporary art in the context of a leading research university."

That's a mouthful.

A more convincing manifesto might be: We get a kick out of one another's work — so why not show it together?

Michael Upchurch:


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