Arts & Culture

South Puget Sound Community College brings back juried art exhibition

South Puget Sound Community College’s Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition showcases the work of many well-known Olympia artists along with others who might be new discoveries.

“I love finding artists that I didn’t know,” said Michael Sweney of the Washington State Arts Commission, who juried the show. “I was surprised that there were so many artists whose work I didn’t know who seemed to be have been doing really strong work for a really long time.”

The 35 mostly two-dimensional works by 28 artists include paintings, mixed media, metal and fiber pieces, chosen from among 150 submissions by 51 artists.

Among them are wood assemblages by Susan Christian, a bag filled with leaves spilling onto the ground rendered in wool felt by Faith Hagendorfer, a painting of a naked man with the head of a bison by Jason Sabottka of Tacoma and an anthropomorphic hare by ceramic artist Nancy Thorne Chambers, part of her installation “A Story Place.”

There also are two works by Jeff Pasek, who moved to Olympia a year ago. Both are paintings sliced up and reconfigured.

“I had never heard of Jeff,” said gallery coordinator Nathan Barnes. “He’s brand new to Olympia, but the guy has been making art for a while. That’s the kind of exciting thing a juried exhibition uncovers.”

The exhibition aims to do more than connect artists with an appreciative audience. It also could be the first step in creating an artistic identity for Southwest Washington — defined as Clark, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, Pierce, Skamania, Thurston and Wahiakhum counties.

“Artists can get on the Internet and see what their peers are doing in New York or London or Tokyo and apply that same aesthetic in their garage in Tenino, so cultivating local and regional identities is important,” Barnes said. “Otherwise, we’re all going to look the same.

“This region interacts economically and culturally, but there’s never been a venue to interact artistically,” he said. “If you throw a broader net, you just get jammed with artists from Seattle and Portland, and that more local quality isn’t going to show through.”

The exhibition is a revival of the college’s Regional Juried Art Exhibition, last held in 2010. That exhibition, dropped because of budget and staff cuts, didn’t define the region and attracted many Seattle artists.

The college has set aside $1,500 to purchase one or more of the exhibition’s works for its permanent collection. The winning work or works — chosen from among those that are for sale for that price or less — will be announced at a reception July 9.

Barnes, who moved to Olympia from Idaho Falls, Idaho, two years ago when wife Jill Barnes became executive director of The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, said he still is developing a sense of what sets artists in this region apart.

“There are a lot of 2-D artists around these parts who work abstractly,” he said. “I can’t help thinking of them responding to their environment. There’s usually going to be a lot of green. There’s going to be a lot of water. Excluding the summer months, you’re always living in thick air — misty, overcast, ambiguous soft edges. … A lot of people deal with trees.”

Another commonality is art using repurposed materials, whether that’s making assemblages or painting on old canvases or pieces of wood.

And for this show, at least, artists didn’t submit much three-dimensional work. “I wish more sculptors had applied,” Sweney said.

He was surprised by the number of painters who applied to the show.

“I’ve juried a lot of exhibitions,” he said, “and painting isn’t dead, but it seems to be in the minority these days. I was happy to see more painters.”