Monthly Archives: April 2011

Biomorphism Gets a Makeover and It’s Pretty: Moriah’s and Melissa’s Senior Shows

Soft. Ethereal. Subtly captivating.

Each of these words could be used to describe last week’s exhibition at SPAC Gallery in Seattle, WA. Through the use of decidedly delicate and subtly abstract biomorphic forms, artists Melissa Ergo and Moriah Westrick create a world of interpretive intrigue – Westrick through the use of black, white, and yellow resin pieces and layered drawings, and Ergo through photographs and drawings (executed both on paper as well as directly on the wall) of sensuously twisted rope.

There is a definite sense of harmony between Ergo and Westrick’s respective works, but of the two artists, it’s Ergo’s work that really shines in the exhibition. While Westrick’s work weaves a linear story with a definitive starting and ending point, Ergo’s pieces throw the viewer into a realm of deep confusion and leave the viewer struggling to find meaning behind a twisted and manipulated rope. We see it in various forms – in large drawings, photographs on silk fabric, wall drawings, and photo proofs – yet the purpose remains elusive. There are myriad interpretations to be sure, and Ergo doesn’t hint at what her particular interpretation might be, but instead lets her audience draw from them whatever they will. There is beauty and appeal in the unknown, and through her photographs and drawings, Ergo creates an atmosphere of aesthetically pleasing obscurity.

The real beauty of Westrick’s work lies in a world of shadows. While the resin pieces themselves are beautifully executed and praiseworthy in their own right, the projections beyond the works are where the true beauty of Westrick’s art lies. The concept behind Westrick’s work is inspired by a form of bacteria that leads to the contamination of drinking water in third world countries. While this subject matter is evident in the pieces themselves, the message is driven home through the shadows. We are reminded that this is an ongoing problem – that this bacteria grows at a rate that is difficult to control. And through the anterior projections of the resin, we are drawn into a cyclical and ongoing (albeit beautiful) crisis.  The only disappointment to be found in Westrick’s work is in her drawings. While they are interesting subjects in their own right, the forced, literal interpretation of strains of bacteria falls flat against the more organic world of resin and shadows.

All in all, Ergo’s and Westrick’s pieces are pleasing to the eye and help to change the sense of awareness of the viewer – two qualities essential to successful art. The only downfall of the show could be the lack of variety. Both Ergo and Westrick show that they are very good at representing their chosen subject matters, but the lack of variation is slightly (and only slightly) disappointing.  While each of their pieces are certainly cohesive, the variations between each work is almost too subtle. It leaves the viewer wanting more.

Give us more.


-Katie Whorrall


Moriah Westrick and Melissa Ergo

Upon my entrance to the Seattle Pacific Art Gallery to view the work of Moriah Westrick and Melissa Ergo, I encountered a cloud of abstractions that created an overall sense of uncertainty.  Both artists, post-minimalist in technique and highly conceptual in their approach, consider ambiguity their muse.   Appropriately, since Moriah is inspired by “a parasite that infects people,” both shows generate an “infectious wonder.” However, upon closer inspection, some of the works may not be as noble as they aim to be.  Despite my sense of ambivalence, I found Melissa’s and Moriah’s show to be a clean and thoughtful compilation of highly personal glimpses into their worlds as artists.

Moriah’s work is undeniably unique and well-conceptualized.  Utilizing both glass and paint, she provides the viewer with a snapshot of what we learn to read as a “parasitic” infestation that takes the viewer back to biology class.  We find ourselves inspecting a community of microbes unbeknownst to our eyes, displayed as if on a Petri dish under a microscope.  Visually, the work holds value from a distance and unites the viewer in the wispy turbulence embodied on these small-scale glass panels.

As pictured in the image below, Moriah’s work has a Pollock-like freedom.  The lines and splatters dance on top of the clear surfaces, all the colors and shapes flowing together dynamically.  With elegance, and to my eyes, ease, Moriah “peels back the intricacies of life, layer by layer, only to find that there is more for (her) to devour, to seek, to expose.”  Her artist’s statement genuinely claims that it is these microbes, these invisible creatures, that invade the human experience, bringing meaning and wonder to a life that is complex and intricate.  Her work reminds the viewer that we live in a world that is “confrontational, savage, and filled with sorrow…but resilient, wondrous, and filled with beauty.”

After examining the glass panels, I wandered over to Moriah’s body of drawings, which I assumed function as a closer, more technical look into this parasite’s lifecycle.  These drawings, as shown below, depict the more concrete nature of cells in their microscopic worlds.   Though I do appreciate Moriah’s desire to give the body of work a supplemental element, I did not feel as though these examinations spoke as strongly as her panels; unfortunately, they did not contribute as powerfully to the overall holistic vision of the show.

Melissa’s work is striking and also puzzling.  Incorporating many different media, including photography on canvas and pencil on paper, Melissa’s installation shows the artist’s interest in an overall sense of ambiguity in the world. Twisted and knotted hair is Melissa’s subject. These knots are unified and repeated and yet remain individually unique. While the structure of these hair knots proves to be an abstract entity by nature, I could not help but ask myself if these forms really do tell a story for the viewer.

The largest drawing of the twisted lock of hair (pictured below) is wildly successful, as it reads strong far away and close up.  Upon approaching this drawing, one will notice that Melissa follows through in displaying her work as a “meditative” process. Each line is drawn meticulously.  Following the lines and curves, the viewer desires to make up something recognizable of the form.  We are left to relate this abstraction of hair to our personal experiences and understandings.  Whatever the final end or meaning of the work might be, the drawing takes us into a visual space that is evocative and meaningful.  The smaller drawings, (also pictured below) maintain this perfection of line, curve and sense of depth.  I highly enjoyed the drawings, as they truly displayed Melissa’s technical skill as an artist, and they invited me into a place of wonder.

Aside from the drawings, the photography on textured materials (pictured below) was unique and creative, but unfortunately it did not hold up against the beautiful drawings.  These smaller photographs were interesting from a close view, but from a distance, they were indistinguishable from one another.  Melissa acknowledges that she is “interested in grey areas, those moments of ambiguity…” and she identifies with the fact that there may be a “multitude of interpretations and insights” regarding her work.  Unfortunately, for me, the drawings evoked incredible insight and meaning but the photographs did not.

The work of Moriah Westrick and Melissa Ergo creates a sense of mystery and wonder.  Both artists made it quite clear that they want the viewer to leave with more questions than answers.  The body of work as a whole was interesting and provided genuine insight into the lives of these artists as they grapple with  mysterious questions themselves.

Kimmy Tabb

Senior Show: Rani, Ben and Hannah

Three young artists anxiously await an audience to behold and hopefully admire their artwork on display through Friday at the Seattle Pacific University Art Center.  I ascend the ramp to take a closer look at the first group of paintings created by the artist Rani Ban; these are arranged on a prominent wall in the small gallery.  I find myself distracted from my original destination by a flutter of paper, and it is then I notice out of the corner of my eye what I feel to be the highlight of the whole exhibition.  There, on the adjacent wall, are a series of vellum drawings fashioned by Rani, strung simply on a piece of household twine.  The black ink drawings are layered with detail.  From the delicacy of the fine paper to the accents of stitched thread emphasizing different features, these collage-like compositions captivate my attention.  I infer old, frail, long lost memories captured.  This display alone is well worth the trip and the price is right.  Admission is free, making for the perfect night out in this struggling economy.

I quickly realize that I am the cause of a human traffic jam in this tight space, and I am forced to move on to encounter the next of the three artists’ installations.  Wait, is this bank of ancient manual typewriters the next exhibit?  Nooooo, it seems this interruption in the show is a means for the visitor to express their impression of the various artists’ works.  Hmmm, perhaps this clever input method might be better placed after I have seen all the works!

My eyes scan to the next cluster of paintings nearby, which are composed of acrylic paints on wood.  The bold colors and the dramatic, black shadowbox frames command my attention. Void-like backgrounds and black trees create an ominous feeling, providing a stark contrast to the vibrant colors of the paintings’ subjects, bringing the characters of Rowe’s stories into sharp focus. The crisp forms are appealing to the eye.  As entertaining as the dream-like caricatures presented in each individual piece are, I struggle to discover some sort of meaning in this work by Ben Rowe.  It was upon reading the artist’s intent that I found deeper understanding; I actually found his mastery of words more impressive than his mastery of the paintbrush.  Ben reminds us of the circle of life:   although we consume the things we encounter for sustenance, upon our death, we return to the earth and are in turn consumed.  The artist’s statement provides a basic but rational summation of our existence, but it does little to explain the specific contents of the paintings.

The final collection by Hannah Pietila appears at first glance to be quite simplistic in composition and a bit too eclectic in arrangement.  Artworks in several media are present, including: a video production, an audio feature that requires an investment of time on the viewer’s part to manipulate, a row of embroidered portraits and symbols mounted in embroidery hoops and some large, hanging, rudimentary rag dolls.  One wonders where to begin, and one might be easily distracted by the variety of the collection.  What captures our attention is the row of stitched portraits of aged relatives that draws us in not only because of the portraits’ size, but also because of the clever, haphazard patterns sewn with colorful, large stitches.  The stitching forms characters with distinct personality and a certain old-world charm.  We are able to imagine the artist lovingly crafting these images to convey a treasured relationship from her past.

This art exhibition could benefit from a more logical order, beginning our visit with Hannah’s images of the elderly approaching passage from this life to the next; we could then encounter Rani’s “scrapbook” of memories reflecting on lives forgotten in time; and we could end with Ben’s view of life regenerating itself through death, purpose and ultimately renewal.  Finally, at the end of our tour we could approach the typewriters, waiting to record comments on our experience with each artist’s work.   In sum, although the overall theme seems to get lost in the random arrangement of the artworks, for the most part, the sentiment and profundity of the pieces themselves succeed in making one reflect on the lives of those who have gone before us and their ongoing contributions to our existence.  The works prevail over our restlessness and linger, prodding us to reflect on our own history and the imprint we might leave behind – a worthy outcome.

Jane Leverkuhn

Evan Adams: Senior Studio Show

In our postmodern art landscape, we are so accustomed to irony that sometimes a dose of concentrated sincerity can be shocking to our sensibilities. That sincerity is a blood (occasionally near-literal) pulsing through the work of oil painter Evan Adams, whose senior show is currently up at the Seattle Pacific Art Gallery. Adams’ colorful pieces attempt to capture “the utmost of human experience… beyond visual perception.” Between his artist’s statement, the poetry mounted on the walls, and the unrelenting vibrancy of color and motion, the emotionalism of Adams’ show is unapologetic, and as such occasionally falls flat or becomes saccharine. But when Adams is doing what he does best, his pieces have an ethereal beauty and a truly moving quality.

The first thing to strike the viewer about the show is color—each piece is soaked with bright hues, one on top of the other, swirling and moving in sync (and sometimes not in sync). The colors are, for the most part, bright, fresh and saturated, though Adams also likes to work with some blacks and pastels for contrast. The scope varies with the canvas size—his larger pieces reach for a broad spectrum, while his smaller ones are often case studies with just one or two hues. An abstract expressionist at heart, Adams seeks to organize colors in order to take the viewer into a spiritual space. The pieces that best accomplish this are his larger, more fluid pieces, with long, meditative brushstrokes. In the left corner of the gallery is his most successful work, “In the Beginning.” Turquoise, lavender, soft orange and bright pink cascade down the canvas, recalling water and air—the “breath of life.” Its diagonal motion, both ascendant and swirling at once, is transporting, and an example of the moving power of pure color. A violet-themed piece on the opposite wall, “Purple Haze,” is similar in its uniform vision and marriage of color to motion. Both of these pieces reveal Adams’ sense of color harmony and visual beauty.

There is a conscious sense of the physicality of the paint, slathered on thick with dramatic brushstrokes. Though in most cases the color is the content, the brushstrokes go a long way toward determining the success of the pieces. The most gorgeous paintings display a smooth, wet-into-wet technique that creates a silky, dreamy quality, visible in several of the works, perhaps half. Others have an intriguing, feathery feel. But Adams’ colorful sense of wonder gets obscured when the brushstrokes become blunt and thick, especially in the smaller pieces; when this happens, the paintings take on a finger-paint quality that reads more as a study than as a completed work.

Moving outside of these color-studies, Adams’ work becomes more ambitious, with large canvases expressing themes of redemption—two with tree-like subjects and swirling rainbow colors, and one expressing the passion of the Christ. All have a beautiful sense of color, but there is a nagging sense that the forms in the pieces are not as well rendered as they could be which distracts from the overall impression. Adams excels in creating emotion out of pure color and movement, and any move into more representative work finds him faltering slightly. His Christ has the potential to be riveting, but I couldn’t help wondering if it might have been more effective with even more abstraction—perhaps we didn’t need to see his face.

In the front of the gallery, Adams has a “cave” of mirrors of sorts set up for the viewer to step into, each mirror splashed with a bright color. This piece seems to exemplify what he wants viewers to take away from the experience. Adams wants each person who steps into the gallery to have a highly personal experience—to see the colors and see themselves, to go to a spiritual place with the help of the images. If Adams continues to play with the beautiful harmonies of color that he has begun to explore, he is sure to move many.

Lauren Wilford