Monthly Archives: May 2011

Seattle Pacific University Senior Art Show: Lexie Hoffman, Emily Lowenberg and Naomi Trego

This week, the SPAC Gallery showcased the work of graduating seniors Lexie Hoffman, Emily Lowenberg and Naomi Trego.  These senior shows serve as an opportunity for graduating artists from Seattle Pacific University to demonstrate the technical and conceptual development they’ve experienced during their four years of undergraduate education. The present senior show is the seventh in a series of nine.

As a whole, the current show is honest and vulnerable.  But as a showcase that aims to show the best work of the students, I felt that this show seemed incomplete and unrefined.

Upon entering the gallery, the first works one encounters are by Lexie Hoffman.  Hoffman’s installation is a visual consideration of the role of the auditory experience in the context of humanity.  In her exploration of unusual media like wood, old books and other three-dimensional materials, Hoffman generates a familiar, relatable sense of physicality. By combining elements that relate to the sense of hearing – i.e. pictures of ears, a wall piece reflecting different musical tones, actual music –  she creates a complete sensory experience for gallery visitors.  The most impressive components of Hoffman’s show are certainly her wood pieces.  Hoffman has created rich, earth-toned images by carving, burning and staining the wood with coffee, tea and wine.  These pieces have an air of familiarity while begging viewers to take a closer look at the detail in each.  It is disappointing, though, to see Hoffman’s  beautiful wood etchings juxtaposed with more poorly executed pieces, including pencil lines draw directly on the wall and an artist’s statement that, although insightful and well-written, lacks poignancy because of the way it is presented: handwritten and in pencil. Overall, Hoffman’s work shows brilliant craftsmanship and great promise.

Next in the gallery, one comes face-to-face with the work of Emily Lowenberg.  Lowenberg’s show incorporates video and a wide variety of other elements including old furniture, used communion cups, wine pumping through clear tubing and used shoes.  Although Lowenberg’s pieces show innovation and creativity, the show as a whole feels somewhat contrived, as if it has been forced into an explicitly Christian framework.  Lowenberg’s artist statement sheds little light on her intentions, and instead  explains why, as a Christian, she feels led to create art. And in fact, each of Lowenberg’s pieces are explicitly Christological.  The piece “Wailing Wall” has a beautiful aesthetic quality that is heightened in meaning through Lowenberg’s use of communion cups.  However, the title “Wailing Wall” is heavy-handed; it feels as if Lowenberg is not allowing the raw beauty of the piece speak for itself and is instead forcing the piece to shout “reconciliation and salvation.”  This forced quality, which emerges throughout the installation, gives the viewer the feeling that Lowenberg merely selected several pieces that reflected Christianity and put them together.  Though the concept of Christian redemption flows beautifully throughout the show, the pieces themselves lack aesthetic cohesion.

The final installation in the exhibition showcases the work of Naomi Trego.  For her show, Trego filled ten sketchbooks over the course of ten weeks, one per week.  She then installed the books on the wall and allowed visitors to have their way with the volumes.  Like that of the other artists in the exhibition, Trego’s work seems somewhat unpolished, but unlike the others, this lack of polish is to the point.  Trego shows the process that an artist works through and gives viewers a unique insight into the way she, as an artist, processes life day to day.  Trego was not aiming for a finished, refined product, but is instead trying to show the messiness and rawness of life as an artist.  She is successful in showing this.  What is particularly special about Trego’s show is the fact that visitors can interact with the work.  One can flip through all of the books, read Trego’s thoughts and touch everything.  As a result, Trego’s work connects with the audience and shows an honest vulnerability.

Though the work of these three artists is technically and conceptually quite unique, the show as a whole has a harmonious balance and cohesion.  Each of the artists used the gallery space well and experimented with the physicality of their installation pieces.  The show overall is particularly concept-heavy, and although this privileging of concept at times results in a lack of polished product and technical skill, the works are honest, and they successfully capture the personality of each artist.


Jessica Vanderpol’s Journey of Process

Last week, Jessica Vanderpol braved showing her illustration work to the Seattle Pacific University community. The SPAC Gallery took on a new look following the previous week’s exhibition by Lexie Hoffman, Naomi Trego and Emily Lowenberg, which had given the space a complex, organic, almost  wonderland-like quality. This week, Vanderpol opened up the Gallery, making it more airy and expansive through her artworks’ consistency in medium and size. Only the walls were utilized for display, as her illustrations rested side by side in an orderly and uniform presentation.

Accustomed to the earlier installations, I felt an immediate emptiness upon entering the gallery to view Vanderpol’s show.  In addition, Vanderpol’s unassuming use of color and frequently unfinished renderings gave me a sense of vacancy. But Vanderpol’s exhibition is not intended to be viewed as a true installation with strong spatial and sensory impact. Instead, she intends for her works to be analyzed in an individual, step-by-step way.

The viewer’s journey begins on the left of the entrance ramp with an introduction and artist’s statement emphasizing the importance of the imagination. The adjacent wall, which greets each new visitor to the gallery, begins Vanderpol’s journey of creativity as an illustrator. Each work demonstrates an important phase in completing an illustration. Beginning with the medium of graphite and continuing with ink, watercolor and acrylics, Vanderpol’s comic-book-like pages gradually come to life with color and solidity.

Vanderpol maintains a consistent emphasis on process. The palpable loneliness of each work on its blank white wall functions to brings the viewer in for a closer look. It emerges, then, that the simplicity of the installation is completely necessary in order to honor Vanderpol’s underlying intention to draw attention to method and process. Once the viewer is close enough to each work, the work “pops,” thanks to Vanderpol’s experimental use of varied approaches to visual storytelling. The exhibition is a story about making stories, and some of Vanderpol’s curatorial choices echo the storytelling strategies within her comic-book-like panels. For example, cut-out circles and larger-scale paintings are juxtaposed, drawing the viewer closer, and then closer in.

The last phase of Vanderpol’s journey, and the last wall in the exhibition,  is backed by a gray rectangle framing floating artworks. This gray rectangle fills the space with a solidifying essence. This last touch brings Vanderpol’s last works, which present a journey in space, into harmony with each other, creating a family of images. The rectangle also adds weight to the gallery, and drew me to it as if it had a strong gravitational pull.

Why weren’t similar expanses of gray employed in the rest of the gallery? The vacant feeling of the installation could have been avoided with this extra feature. Each set of works (which presents a new family of PG subject matter) could have been recognized as a family, so to speak, rather than as another step-by-step sequence of scientific observation.

Overall, Jessica Vanderpol has a real niche in the illustrative design spectrum. Her chances for a future in a gallery could be improved with attention to a more impactful means of presenting her work.

Lexie Hoffman, Emily Lowenberg & Naomi Trego

The rich scent of wine fills the gallery with an atmosphere of playful invitation. A sensory playground of investigative and contemplative artwork surrounds me.  Lexie Hoffman, Emily Lowenberg and Naomi Trego have created three bodies of work that enter into a dialogue of the senses in a manner that brings new light to the individual pieces.

Lexie Hoffman presents work of a multi-faceted nature that explores intersections and translations of sensory experiences. She investigates the science of sound and our systematized solutions to the incapacitation of the senses, using Braille and sign language as her muse.  Her work glows in contemplative quietude and reveals a kind of secret vitality from within its abundant metaphors.

Several square panels of raw wood variously featured Braille code and both representational and abstract illustrations relating to the ear and the sensation of hearing. The imagery is burned into the wood and washed over with stains of coffee, tea and wine. These panels take on a corporeal presence, like scarred flesh relaying a memory, a marker of paralyzed perception.

Beeswax and q-tips appear in a number of Hoffman’s pieces. They make metaphorical reference to deafness—the wax being a kind of barrier in the ear. In two different instances, the q-tips are used to create Braille. With this, Hoffman unites the notions of blindness and deafness. The wax speaks with intriguing duality, for wax is at once representative of a barrier and a passageway. In some ancient cultures, Bees were believed to be a bridge between the physical world and the underworld. Thus, the idea of beeswax as earwax relays an interesting idea, suggesting that the incapacitated physical senses in fact provide a kind of opportunity for heightened accessibility to the spiritual. In ancient Greece, the occurrence of a bee landing on the lips of a newborn was believed to be a heavenly blessing of eloquence. So our ideas of eloquence, conversation and insight are subject to challenge. This kind of complexity present in Hoffman’s work lends itself to deep reflection on the inevitable limitations of our empirical experiences.

I found myself slightly lost among the collection of objects displayed on an old, wooden ironing board. Arranged on the board were some leaves, a few dozen q-tips dipped in yellow beeswax and a stack of old books. These objects appeared as incomplete thoughts that fell short of delivering the same power as the work on the wall, yet they seemed to contain the seeds of an important idea. On the whole, the display read as slightly arbitrary and disparate.

Hoffman’s work inspires rich contemplation of the intricate physics and physiological processes involved in our sensory experiences. Her work is abundant with metaphors and subtleties that lead to meditation not just on the physical nature of sensory perception and communication, but also on broader notions of conversation and communion.

Emily Lowenberg translates the divine and spiritual into physical objects that prompt curiosity and exploration. Her altered desk is certainly the most captivating piece within her body of work. The near-magical desk has been altered to feature secret drawers and panels. It yields wonder and surprise, as the viewer is encouraged to open up the compartments and discover small treasures of glass jars of water, a pool of black ink, white yarn, soil, plants, and cedar. It is a treasure chest of abundant textures, colors, and scents each with metaphorical significance.

This plethora of sensory delights seems to act as a language to illuminate the nature of something spiritual. The element of smell cannot not go unnoticed in Lowenberg’s work. The strong aromas of wine, cedar and soil speak to the  invisible yet undeniable nature of Divine presence. The multisensory approach suggests that the nature of God is perhaps ultimately found in the negative spaces of our empirical perception. The desk evades overt and clichéd references to religion yet subtly speaks to the rewards of faith and the unpredictable nature of the Holy Spirit.

Lowenberg’s other pieces are also deeply spiritual, addressing prayer and communion with Christ. One wall featured a series of plexiglass panels, adhered on the backs of which are dozens of transparent communion cups. The residue of wine adds a subtle tone to the piece and creates lively, ethereal shadows on the wall behind it. This piece, entitled Wailing Wall, recalls a stained glass window. If there is an attempt to evoke a transcendent experience, however, it is hindered by the piece’s underwhelming scale.

At times, Lowenberg’s religious themes feel too overt and ineffective. This is partially due to the literal nature of the titles that are displayed by each piece. At other times, however, she successfully creates an opportunity for a transcendent experience. Her work points to a rich inner life intent on manifesting a curious and thought-provoking experience for the viewer rather than relaying dogmatic opinions or sentimental expressions.

Along the back wall of the gallery are ten sketchbooks, nailed open to the wall so that they fan wide to reveal their contents. Naomi Trego filled these books over a period of ten weeks in an attempt to integrate art more fully into her life and cultivate creativity and inspiration. The result was an exhaustive record of daily observations and immersions.

            Trego filled her books with sketches of anything and everything in front of her: notes on circumstances, ideas, loose artifacts of daily activities and spontaneous creativity and experiments with different media. The pages feature both abstract and observational watercolor sketches, ink drawings and prints. Trego’s work is not only about process—it is process. The end product is beside the point. However, the content of these sketchbooks does not seem to reach any sort of apex. There is no detectable underlying growth or change throughout her visual timeline.

In the center of the gallery is a sculptural piece made up of Trego’s life’s collection of sketchbooks. The books are arranged organically into a series of cylindrical forms of varying sizes. Some are fanned open with pages elaborately folded inward at different angles, which changes the shapes of the books dramatically. The sculpture seems to exude a singularly musical quality. Upon walking around the installation, the circular patterns evoke a floating melody that rises and falls rhythmically with the height of the stacked books, resting occasionally on a book folded open to reveal a single page.

This amassing of pages and pages of illustrations and notes speaks of a ritualistic method of cultivating inspiration. Slightly obsessive, devoted and disciplined, Trego has demonstrated a kind of integrity and passion reminiscent of a dedicated monk who tends daily to his sacraments and meditations in faith that they will yield something beautifully transcendent. In this case, making art is a means of arriving at inspiration for further art. This concept is visually reflected in the use of old sketchbooks to build sculptures. Trego’s mantra, as she writes in her statement, is to simply produce- whether or not the inspiration is there. Her sketchbooks certainly inspire the viewer with a call to heightened awareness, disciplined productivity, and greater creative output.

Melissa Ergo