Several years ago the Behnke family of Seattle began the Neddy awards, two $10,000 grants given annually to local artists in recognition of the excellence and visionary quality of their work. No one applies for a Neddy. Names are selected in a confidential process, and each June an exhibition at the Bank of America Gallery downtown highlights the nominees, two of whom receive the actual awards.
This year’s show features seven Seattle painters and sculptors, and KUOW art critic, Gary Faigin, was impressed with the high quality and diversity of the work. Here’s his review.
Mark Takamachi Miller
reach the handsome and welcoming Bank Of America Gallery, one must first negotiate the most oppressive and confusing lobby space in Seattle, several dark levels of purgatory at the base of the Bank of America Tower.
This month it is particularly worth braving the journey. The work of the seven Seattle artists who have been nominated for Neddy awards should be at least as uplifting to local pride as the latest baseball scores. Even better, their art will still be around to delight us during that inevitable era when major league losses again begin to outnumber wins.
Though all the work is striking and well-crafted, it is the three sculptors on view who really seem to dominate the proceedings. One does not envy the judges their job of selecting one finalist from this group.
The Neddy winner, Chris Bruch, combines the finesse of a cabinetmaker with a highly imaginative use of materials. His piece entitled "Beacon" confronts the visitor at the gallery entrance with an assertive presence, its tusk-like prow emerging from a grey disk whose blurred surface seems to be whirling at high speed. Amazingly, this
Sculptor Pam Gazale also transforms her materials in an unexpected way. Her chosen medium is, of all things, salt. She carves blocks of salt intended for animal feed into realistic, modest-sized still lives. Drapery is a favorite subject, but pillows, bottles, books, and wooden shoes also make an appearance. Gazale has a wonderful time playing off the many ironies her choice of medium implies. We think of salt mostly as that nearly cost-free powder at our tables; here it is instead solid, precious, and surprisingly suggestive of the finest Carrara marble. In "Walking on Water," two salt-caved wooden shoes hover dangerously right on the surface of a large reflecting pool, their steel supports craftily hidden underwater. Threatening carved salt with water is a suitably dramatic way to make an artistic point about permanence, risk, and the power of the imagination.
The third sculptor, University of Washington professor Doug Jeck, works in the funk art tradition of the late California ceramicist Robert Arneson. His nearly life-sized clay figures make a nod to both the awkward naturalism of Lucas Cranach and the baling wire and lag bolt aesthetic of Dr. Frankenstein. These people are indeed pieced together, and some of the pieces, like calves and arms, are missing. Holes have been patched in heads; hands have been sliced off and reattached. What saves these figures from monsterhood is both the sensitivity of the artist to the niceties of the human form and their own sense of themselves. They are battered, but unbowed, carrying on the struggle almost proud of their own battle scars.
The Neddy jurors made an interesting statement with their awarding of the painting prize to Mark Takamachi Miller. The other painters in the group, Ken Kelly, Dennis Evans, and Robert Yoder, are mid-career artists whose style seems fairly set. Miller, on the other hand, is still quite visibly making things up as he goes along. Rather than being penalized for his current, rather ununsual transition from abstraction to painterly realism, the jurors chose to reward him for his adventurousness. If Seattle is really to carve a place for itself in the big leagues of the visual arts, it is with precisely this sort of enlightened patronage.