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Eugene Weekly : Visual Art : 05.25.06

East Meets West

Faculty work from both sides of the Cascades at Opus 6ix through May 31.


Geographically and socially, Eastern and Western Oregon stand apart — but they do meet this month at Opus 6ix Gallery, reminding us, if there was such a need, that the contemporary art world doesn't foster regional differences. Not only do artists, especially teaching artists, share similar educational backgrounds, they also often move around, blending any regional influences.

Pull-Tab Self-Portrait, mixed media work by Kathelene Galloway
Today's Special: Duck Soup, bronze sculpture by Doug Kaigler
Buddha Baba, mixed media sculpture by Kim Hoffman
Charade, oil painting by Jessica Plattner
Ode to Edo, oil painting by Dean Smale

Eastern Meets Western showcases faculty works from both Eastern and Western Oregon Universities. Kerry Loewen's (EOU) video installation I'm the Pretty One, in which each half of several pairs of female twins makes this eponymous claim for herself, constitutes an apt metaphor for the two exhibited groups.

Sculpture is strongly represented. Buddha Baba, by Kim Hoffman, WOU's Art Department head, is a non-representational wooden sculpture that hovers between two- and three-dimensionality: a graceful, slightly anthropomorphic wooden design is affixed to a scroll-like painted background itself enshrined in a simple wooden frame. Mary Harden's almost life-size figure in clay, ingeniously clad in drafting paper, feet-bare and shaven like a nun, speaks with aesthetic and emotional eloquence.

From EOU, Doug Kaigler makes use of cultural and personal icons to obliquely convey socio-political concerns in his recent bronze series Today's Special. "I've stretched the maxim 'You are what you eat' to 'We are what we consume' to reference a broader social perspective," Kaigler said. One of the pieces, Duck Soup, was created when the Iraq War began and includes a direct cast of a relief topographical map of the Middle East with various symbolic elements that represent Kaigler's view of the information being fed to us. David's Dilemma reminds us that the hero's rise to political power coincides with his moral demise, while Thieves Stew expresses Kaigler's perception that "as a society we no longer participate in a manner that evidences common hope." Kaigler does all the foundry work himself. The three pieces belong together; scattering them among various gallery spaces unfortunately dilutes their impact.

Peter Johnson's pieces are meant to form a single installation, but sadly, they were also separated so that we lose the meaning of the whole. For viewers willing to group mentally the three slick earthenware forms that evoke highly stylized human body parts together with the large stoneware torso fragment, Johnson's intention becomes accessible. "I wanted the two types of materials and approaches to clash," he explained. "The more industrial- and functional-looking pieces are referencing the modern aspect of our culture, and they're supposed to stand in contrast with the more representational fragment, which is a throwback to historical sculpture." The work is also part of a continuous exploration of the body as literal and figurative vessel.

Among the two-dimensional works from EOU, Dean Smale's nude, Ode to Edo, stands out not just for its classical formal language and glazing technique but for its uncanny marriage of clinical realism and otherworldliness. The subject is treated with respect and dignity as well as honesty, but our lasting impression is one of vulnerability, anguish, and ultimate aloneness — mitigated somehow by acceptance.

Kathelene Galloway's versatile mastery is showcased in two different kinds of works. Her earlier Rupture series, directly inspired by the John Day Fossil Beds' geology and fossil record, explores the movement of crumbling stone and with great tactile sense recreates the rich texture of eroded sediment. It is a pity that the smaller frames containing her tiny textural gems should be displayed without regard for the negative space surrounding them.

Galloway's Imaging the Passed series and her large multimedia Pull-Tab Self-Portrait both provided her with a means for grieving after she lost her mother. In the former, she combines found Social Security envelopes with lithographs from her mother's family snapshots. The result is poignant and intimate. The larger work powerfully conveys Galloway's inner state after her mother's death.

In her series of self-portraits, Jessica Plattner continues to address, albeit in a more personal way and with a new mix of sardonic humor and poignancy, an issue that has long preoccupied her: the conflicting social expectations faced by contemporary women. This time Plattner focuses on the pressure exerted on a young professional woman living in a rural area to conform to tradition, marry and have children. From within their old-fashioned gilded frames, against backgrounds harking back to historical and genre portraits, three young women with the artist's face hold plastic baby-dolls or cradle an imaginary infant while confronting the viewer with their intense gaze. Colors are sometimes deliberately garish, the irony heavy, and the imagery camp, but the emotion is raw and real. Few among her demographic group won't see their reflection in Plattner's paintings.

Cory Peeke meanwhile explores through witty collages cultural conceptions of identity and gender stereotypes, especially as conveyed through color codes.

Of particular note among WOU two-dimensional works are Rebecca McCannell's intaglio and silk-aquatint prints with their strong chiaroscuro and suggestive figurative imagery. Viewers will also enjoy Elaina Jamieson's expressive brushwork in her luminous oil renderings of Oregon landscapes.

Curator Robert Canaga's idea of bringing together Eastern and Western art faculty was inspired. I am less sure, however, of the obstacle course he created for viewers. Instead of the usual labels accompanying the artwork, each piece has a number and visitors are provided with a key of artists and titles. The numbers are scrambled, and the correspondences not always accurate. This is no reason, however, to miss the exhibit, which runs through May 31.