When Tacoma artist Richard Turner built a winter home just south of Acapulco, Mexico a few years ago, it was a place of sunshine, tourists and good times. His art was bright, simple oils that used primitive thick black outlines and vibrant limes, aquas and oranges to convey the joy of life there. In the last few years, though, life has turned dark: the tourists dwindling, business bad and violence escalating from the battle between drug lords and the U.S. government. Expressing this in art, Turner started darkening his paintings with black shadows, copying Internet photos and taking local portraits of those who suffer. The result is up now at Brick House Gallery as “Darkness and Light,” and it’s a show well worth seeing and thinking about.
The “light” half of the show mostly fills the front room of the old brick venue. Brightly hued and simplistic, the Picasso-esque curves and humanistic animals tell fantasy stories set in a sunlit Mexican landscape – “Fiesta with Masks” is an annual holiday in the town where Turner spends half his year. Pinks, greens and vermilions bounce around the canvas, and blue circles radiate joyfully from the masked revelers (even the dog). Dual portraits of a youthful king and queen are tinged with hesitation in the form of black shading, but the calm expressions still speak of peace.
Not so in the main room, where drug barons grin handsomely through oiled black mustaches and criminals cringe at their own execution. Some of the works are still untinged oils, the portraits (like “Rural Punk”) both sympathetic and disconcerting, the backgrounds pale and unfinished-looking.
But where Turner shines is his oil-and-wax resists, where the reds and browns of the oil is caught by the black wax and the violence and grief of the whole situation caught perfectly on the rough-wood-framed canvas. In “Grieving Mother” the woman’s clenched hands and features twist and gape to the edge of humanity in a pain that’s almost audible.
Without being preachy, Turner paints the human cost of the war on drugs.
As the artist puts it, “We’re the ones that consume the drugs, we’re the ones that sell the guns. We don’t step up to that.”
“Darkness and Light” is up noon-5 p.m. this Saturday and on third Thursdays 5-9 p.m. and by appointment at Brick House gallery, 1123 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma. Free. 253-627-0426, thebrickhousegallery.com