Collaborations can sometimes produce weird and wonderful results – and if you peek through the windows of Gallery 301 on Puyallup Avenue in Tacoma’s Dome District you’ll get a glimpse into just one such. Tacoma painter and mixed-media artist Becky Frehse has thrown her talents together with Arizona ceramicist Jane Kelsey-Mapel, and the result – a show that moved down this month from Seattle’s Gallery 110 – is a down-the-rabbit-hole Wonderland peopled with endearingly odd folks, creatively clothed and installed.
It’s the cowgirl in the center that grabs your attention. Yeehawingly triumphant, she waves her hat with glee while standing astride a piebald and a brown horse. The cowgirl’s small, but the horses are nearly carousel-size – only they’re just torsos. Dropping down from their bellies are painted single legs rising out of an upside-down table.
That’s the kind of surreality that inhabits Gallery 301 in “Reconfigured.”To the right is a kind of 3-D Matisse scene, with a brightly-tropical painting as backdrop (Frehse’s work, at the point where abstract and figurative meet) to a pig-faced creature squatting on a toy chair on top of an ironing board. Birds fly overhead, rather ominously people-like in their chunky bodies and wings. At the front are three Chinese dolls happily riding horses and mounted behind bizarre little dwarfs, hooded with Mao outfits. The girls are just too big for the horses, which holds your eye and makes their white cherry-blossom dresses even more ridiculously naïve.
On the other side of the room is a nod to Magritte: a man with chest-of-drawers torso and fork and spoon arms. His female partner has a house for a midsection and spindly branches for arms; they both look utterly content. In the front window a ceramic geisha dresses (undresses?) behind a partition; she glances archly over her shoulder at you, contemplating her gigantic underwear through the street window.
And along the wall are the six “Conversations,” icon-like frames holding odd fragments of even odder lives: a hand holding a tiny head, a slumbering cupid, a vermillion bird trying to escape, a penis-like creature perched on the wood.
Throughout the room the collaboration is perfectly blended, Frehse’s bold brushstrokes and Kelsey-Mapel’s delicate, Takamori-like sculpture merging with the assorted found objects to create a whole new world that – like Lewis Carroll’s – is both curious and childishly likeable.
“Reconfigured” by Becky Frehse and Jane Kelsey-Mapel is visible 24/7 from the street and open 1-4 p.m. April 28. Free. Gallery 301, 301 Puyallup Ave. Tacoma. 253-380-1293, beckyfrehse.com, janekelseymapel.com