The Seattle Times
Three Artists Explore Dark Side of The Light
September 21, 2001
By Matthew Kangas / Special to The Seattle Times
Three young painters exhibiting this month suggest new directions for Seattle's long tradition of figurative-narrative art, pictures that use people to tell symbolic or allegorical stories of a psychological, cultural or personal nature. Rich Lehl at Eyre/Moore Gallery, Joseph Park at Howard House and Marion Peck at Davidson Galleries all propose widely differing views of humanity with equal amounts of imagination, wit and talent.
Realism gets rejuvenated by Lehl and Peck, two artists who use crisp drawing and painting to coax the viewer into believing what seems real but could never be.
Lehl is a Cornish College of the Arts graduate. He studied there with David C. Kane who, until recently, was too present as an influence in the younger artist's oil on panel paintings. Kane's urban angst is still there: people in or near buildings about to encounter strange experiences. However, Lehl's approach is more detailed, less blunt and uses brighter colors. Ambiguous landscapes and interior scenes contain single figures on the verge of flying, floating or dying. Humor is mixed with gravity, as in Kane's work, but Lehl's pessimism is darkly cheerful, more manic than his former teacher's.
Since Lehl's people are involved in walking their dogs in midair, jumping into a river or leaping off a fence, they may allude to the improbable actions and fantasies of dreams. The Portland-born artist catches moments of unconscious anxiety common to dreams, including a swimmer about to surface from beneath the water in "Mouth Full of Air." In "The River," a man in a black suit is about to leap into a rocky river bed. "Space" is a picture of a nude figure hurtling through a star-filled sky. Beautifully painted, these pictures average one to three feet in width, small enough to be intimate, big enough to display Lehl's growing mastery over oil paint.
Marion Peck, 38, studied in Philadelphia and Rome and has exhibited in the U.S. and Italy since 1990. Winner of the 2000 Northwest Annual first prize at Center on Contemporary Art, Peck makes eerily detailed portraits and group vignettes that are attracting growing attention. She invokes the dream as a justification for her strange imagery and goes so far as to annotate each painting with a short description of the dream that inspired it. Just ignore the labels and let the pictures' considerable visual power do the ta1king.
Despite an uncomfortable link to surrealism that pulls back just shy of distortion Peck's 18 new paintings manage to puzzle the viewer while disturbing and entertaining as wen. These are fascinating and, as with Lehl, beautifully executed works. A few, like "Dream #68 Study," "#71," "#222" and "#252," are single heads in a variety of alarming positions. In "#222," a giant human head with fish-like
Rich Lehl's "Unknown Planet" shows his penchont for ambiguous landscapes and bright colors. Marion Peck's "#252" is one of several paintings insPired by a dream.
teeth is washed up on a Puget Sound beach surrounded by dead whales. In "#252," a woman's head is in a box, quite alive and conscious of her predicament.
Not all representational art is realistic, as Joseph Park's new oil-on-linen canvases demonstrate. In a clever turnabout, he draws on 18th- and 19th-century French academic painting as models, but filters them through the cartoon animation style he learned at the Disney-endowed California Institute for the Arts in Valencia, Calif., the entertainment-industry training ground for animators he attended in 1990.
As a result, the zany bunny rabbits and elephants dressed as harem girls and courtesans lovingly ridicule the French masters and offer up a low culture vs. high culture commentary that is thoughtful and amusing. It's as though Park is determined to be taken seriously while still using his Disney-indoctrinated education as a departure point. In "La Grande Odalisque" and "Bather," fat cuddly animals strive for serious status as actors a la Miss Piggy; but even she, no matter how fancy the costume, is still a pig trying to act. A strong element of absurdity is always present in Park's art.
More original are "Chess," "Roof' and "Clubbing," possible comments on North and South Korea's uneasy relationship. Having also attended National University in Seoul, South Korea, Park alludes to parties involved in complicated games, secret rooftop love trysts and the irreversible tug of disco dancing. Besides the hlack, white and gray "grisaille" technique used, several paintings are in sepia tones that recall vintage photography, another clever allusion to past art history. Seemingly childish and as shallow as Saturday morning cartoons, Park's new paintings raise significant and timely issues in a style that is much more sophisticated than it first appears. Like Lehl and Peck, he charges recognizable subjects with subtly subversive meanings.