In the arts, the teacher-pupil relationship can be powerful. Dancers speak of their “ballet grandparents,” evoking their lineage of teacher; musicians jostle furiously to get into a certain studio and then list it proudly on their biographies. For Peter MacDonald, owner of Tacoma’s Brick House Gallery, the experience of studying under former University of Puget Sound professor Robert Vogel was artistically transforming, and MacDonald’s own work shows clearly the influence of Vogel’s strong lines and love of the human figure.
So when Vogel’s family asked MacDonald to clear out his former professor’s studio as he was moved into care, MacDonald decided to celebrate the artistic life of his mentor with a gallery show. A success, “Robert Vogel: a lifetime of paintings and drawings” has now been extended through September, and is a tender, thoughtfully hung homage.
As always, MacDonald makes good use of all the rooms in this converted old house, filling the walls and floor to make you feel as if you’ve stepped into a studio. Large oils and pastels are at eye-height, sketches and studies are pinned casually right up to the ceiling; more works are stacked in front of the fireplace and in the stairwell; there are even works in the kitchen, talking well to the mid-century fittings and cupboards. It’s a love-song to Vogel’s strong, line-based style and personal approach..In the small front room you’ll find the Westerns, for want of a better word. Two still lifes of cow skulls float in space like a Dali but imbue the work with a portrait-feel; the actual skulls rest lightly on a rough-hewn wood pedestal beneath. If Vogel makes his pastels look like sketches, with etchy lines, he makes his oils look like pastels: Minimalist teal-gold landscapes with a water buffalo and antelope have thick, blurred strokes and solid color fields, the skin of the animals flowing like liquid. Stacked in front of the fire are more surrealist works, where black lines divide a room into deep blue planes and small monkeys play sadly in the corners.
In the main room are most of the nudes, and Vogel doesn’t hold back here: full-frontal, back, sides, leaning forward and every other conceivable pose, all sketched with the same tenderness and care, with no hint of dominance. A woman perches on a stool, legs confidently parted, gaze calm, with the vermillion background bleeding into her skin like a miasma of emotion. Other sketches give foreshortened focus to thighs, buttocks, breasts, feet, giving dramatic focus and abstracting the backgrounds of furniture and artist equipment for an O’Keeffian look, softened into a palette of olive, teal and musky pink.
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See the exhibit from 5-9 p.m. Sept. 18 or by appointment through September at the Brick House Gallery, 1123 S. Fawcett St., Tacoma. Admission is free. 253-627-0426, thebrickhousegallery.com.