Oliver Doriss had an unexpected task during the current show at Tacoma’s Fulcrum Gallery. As well as greeting visitors, the gallery owner had to convince them that the artwork in “Blue Collar” is real paint, not just photographic transfers.
While artist Adrian Bouchard definitely has an intensely photorealistic painting ability, his images of Depression-era working-class people set onto vintage silver plates are more than just re-creations of reality. They’re memories merging with the antique metal in a way that blurs boundaries of medium and portraiture.
It’s the kind of art that doesn’t look much good in a photo, or even through the windows. Black-and-white historic photos of blue-collar workers on tarnished platters can even seem a bit hokey, the kind of thing you might see at the Washington State Fair. But come closer, and Bouchard — a young local artist — starts to show a depth of thought that lifts this art into something special.
For starters, the subjects interact with the plate on which they’re mounted in unique ways. The fedora-wearing, slightly grumpy-looking farmer in “The Farmer’s Pipe” glances sideways at us through a lacy curtain of the elaborately embossed plate border, as if veiled by the past, or trapped inside the metal. The half-smiling, half-worried African American girl in “Migrant Worker” merges with the etched tendrils on her plate, giving her smooth forehead and round sunhat a permanent, nonhuman texture as she fades into the metal like the memory she is.
Bouchard also echoes shapes: the round, chubby cheeks of two blond, dirt-smeared boys on a small round platter; the lean torso of a young woman on a slim oblong platter; a miner staring out from a square plate as if from a scratched mirror.
And then there’s the emotion, captured with a brush as no photo transfer ever can: the sorrowing mother burying her face in her young child, a weary young woman, the patient miner. Bouchard smooths out wrinkles and reality, putting these historic people into a space outside time where they embody human characteristics rather than historic events.
Incredibly real, yet clearly impressions, they meld with their silver mounts with a clarity (and juxtaposition of wealth and poverty) that paint on canvas can never achieve.
In the back room of Fulcrum, Bouchard explores the other end of the social spectrum: high-society flappers. Again, he matches his plates carefully to his ladies — a flower shape with Art Deco inserts for a bathing beauty with leaf-adorned swim cap, a simple ruched border echoing a wave of finger curls, a heavily elegant hexagon for a heavy-lidded Hollywood star. Like the workers in the front room, these 1920s women have fascinating historical information on the labels, as well as Bouchard’s own story of finding them and their plates; a dip into history via imagination.
Adrian Bouchard, “Blue Collar”
Where: Fulcrum Gallery, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma.
When: Noon-6 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays through Feb. 19.
Information: 253-250-0520, fulcrumtacoma.com.