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A beautiful space abuzz with life

"Alec Clayton's Retrospective" at Tacoma Community College

“X-Plosion,” oil and oil stick on canvas. Photo courtesy Alec Clayton

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I went to Tacoma Community College to look at my old friend Alec Clayton's paintings, along with my friend Becky Knold, another painter living and working in Olympia. Clayton has reviewed Becky's work and my own in this publication.

In our years as friends, I'd come to believe I already knew Clayton's work. But seeing one painting at a time gives you only one frame of a movie. A one-person show is a privileged encounter with someone's mind over time.

Clayton's mind is complicated and wise. He loves paint. He loves color. He loves the world and it also makes him mad. TCC's beautiful space is abuzz with life; ideas bounce back and forth from one work to another, from one group to another, from one wall to another, and around corners. You find yourself walking back to work you've already looked at, to see what you missed now that you've seen more.

“The Crossing”  oil and oil stick on canvas. Photo courtesy Alec Clayton

The paintings are exuberant, bright, complicated, energetic, wild, and strongly related to one another.

The show presents a sampling of about 30 years' worth of work, largely from the artist's own collection. A striking consistency holds this long sequence of work together. Clayton put together a vocabulary of marks long ago and has given up none of its elements while developing more.  My sample list of his "alphabet" of marks and devices includes (my words, not his): claws, crosshatches, bands, clouds, zigzags, dots, butts, checkerboards, wiggles, hooks, loops, stripes and swimming pools.

There's consistency over time in his subject matter as well, including sex, violence, bodies, threat, portraits, landscape peeking out behind lots of abstract action, and shapes he likes and doesn't need to identify, like what I call "steam irons" except I'm probably wrong.

There's a lot of deep blue, a lot of black, a lot of scumbled-over pink, red, flesh tones and oranges, and greens mostly in the viridian family. These are not nature paintings; you won't see many earth tones, and even the neutrals buzz with energy. The world you see, beautifully ordered within the painted rectangles and within the clean and elegant gallery space, is a world of dreaming, not of hanging out in the quotidian. Calligraphy reigns over many observed shapes. You can't read it. It's wiggly and private.

You'll see ideas played with and later abandoned - for example, in the entry there are three or four rectangular paintings from which dangle additional heavily painted wads and streamers. These are 17 years old. No other dangles are in evidence.

In the middle of the largest room of the gallery there are four bi-fold blanks, the narrow wooden rectangles designed to be hinged together as closet doors. Here they are heavily painted, hanging singly and vertically from cords, turning slowly in the air, comprising one piece, "Rhythms in Evolution." This way of seeing seems central to this artist. Things change, they move, they live, they go on and on, they are filled with feeling - some of it anguished - and energy, all of it purposeful. Go feel them out.

The artist will be on hand to greet you and chat with you about the art at a reception Thursday, July 20.

Editor's note: Alec Clayton has been reviewing artists for this fine rag for many, many, many years. And we are very proud of him.

"Alec Clayton Retrospective," noon to 5 p.m., Monday-Thursday, through Aug. 10, artist's reception 4-6 p.m., July 20, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th St. between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G,

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