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

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