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Weightless: Allison Manch & Sharon Butler at SEASON

Robert Yoder's exhibits at SEASON are always a visual feast. Yoder's eye for pattern, color (like Elisabeth Kley's watery, color-saturated earthenware or Peter Scherrer's dense brushwork) and a taste for wittily debauched humor (think Ian Toms or Mike Simi) make for just the right mix of entertaining, thoughtful exhibits.

As regular visitors to his Ravenna home-cum-gallery know, Yoder usually couples two artists for each of his shows, one local artist with one out of towner. For the current exhibit, SQUEEZE HARD (HOLD THAT THOUGHT), he’s paired Seattle-based textile artist Allison Manch with New York painter Sharon L. Butler.

Manch embroiders text and images onto found textiles like quilts, denim, and handkerchiefs, and her work is a perfect addition to SEASON's roster of artists. It's a little irreverent, a little cryptic, a little jolie laide, but always tender. Her work at SEASON is grounded in the mythological Americana of the old west (Manch grew up in Arizona). The textiles are stitched with serpents, stallions, mustachioed men and weathered scraps of leather.

One of her standout pieces on display uses a large, tattered purple quilt (a pleasantly surprising departure from the small-scale found objects she usually works with). On it she’s used bleach to scrawl the phrase "GIMME SHELTER", then meticulously embroidered the large letters with vibrating rainbow haloes. It’s a perfect example of Manch’s tongue-in-cheek style of appropriation: taking apocalyptic, pop references and tempering them with nearly laugh-out-loud grandmotherly sweetness. As in all her work there’s a playfulness of multi-layered inscriptions, of the use of fabric-as-palimpsest. Images and discursive fragments of text (and by inference, physical touch, caress) are superimposed over and over, investing the textile with a tangible sense of personal narrative literally crisscrossing its surface. 

Butler is known for her writing as well as her painting. Since 2007 she's managed a prominent blog about all things painting called Two Coats of Paint (www.twocoatsofpaint.com).

Her work in SQUEEZE HARD (HOLD THAT THOUGHT) is inspired by monumental sculptures at the National Gallery's Sculpture Garden. Butler's response to the emphatic mass of the sculptures is a series of diagrammatic paintings and sketches made with graphite, binders and acrylic pigments on raw, unstretched canvas. The canvases are spotted with pale splotches of color, planar surfaces and metallic geometric shapes that dismember the three-dimensional, architected space of sculpture and render it flayed, ethereal. These slight paintings, draped against the hearth or peppered amongst Manch's embroidery, show off Butler's fascination with experimental painting. In an article she wrote last year, Butler coined the term “new casualists” to describe a generation of painters, herself included, making works that challenge the limits of incompleteness and experiment with deliberate emptiness, lack of finish and polish. The paintings feel both studied and intuitive, almost weightless.

Together the work of both artists resonates with that shared sense of playful insubstantiality. Some of the works seem thin enough to float away, but they are ultimately grounded by an inviting, comforting materiality and find counterweight in the gravity and machismo of the information inscribed on their surface. 

SQUEEZE HARD (HOLD THAT THOUGHT) runs through June 30, 2012. SEASON is located at 1222 NE Ravenna Blvd. in Seattle and is open by appointment. 

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