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Saturday, May 12, 2012 - Page updated at 05:00 a.m.
Sculptor Everett DuPen: 2 regional exhibits with a lifelong view
By Michael Upchurch
Seattle Times arts writer
He taught or influenced such key figures in Pacific Northwest sculpture as Ray Jensen, Phillip Levine and Philip McCracken. But Everett DuPen (1912-2005) has faded slightly from local memory, even if his work remains part of the fabric of Seattle.
His "Fountain of Creation" at Seattle Center, with its three bronzes evoking airborne, aquatic and terrestrial life rising in unison, was commissioned for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. His 1947 limestone-relief triptych, "The Atom," "Inquisitiveness" and "Superstition" — which once graced the University of Washington's since-demolished electrical-engineering building — now occupies a corner of the UW's Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering.
But those don't give the full flavor of his work the way that two new exhibits, at Sisko Gallery in Seattle and the Museum of Northwest Art (MoNA) in La Conner, do. Both survey DuPen's long career in revealing and useful ways. The quality is occasionally uneven — but the best pieces are fine indeed.
When DuPen takes a turn toward the stylized and his form is in high-wire tension with his content, his work couldn't be more bracing. Sometimes he'll squeeze dynamic figures into confined rectangular spaces, as he does with the UW relief sculptures. In "Inquisitiveness" (you can see working versions of it at both Sisko and MoNA), a powerful male figure with a book in hand is distracted from his reading and scans the sky, his head straining upward as though to escape the frame containing him.
"Singers" and "Dancers," on display at Sisko and MoNA (from an edition of 10 sculptures), both cast closely entwined male-female couples into standing, columnar shapes. The figures' alignment of limbs and stance couldn't be more elegant or stylish. Paired together, the bronzes are magnificent.
A quieter but equally seductive bronze at both shows is "The Reader," which makes a contemplative circle of a seated male form as he gazes down at a book propped between his feet. The way his limbs frame his focus suggests how completely immersed in his reading matter he is.
Something similar occurs in "St. Simeon Stylites" (at Sisko only), where the saint's lean body, in bronze, forms a 3D triangle as he perches on his pillar of wood.
Other DuPen pieces go for a polar opposite effect: capturing wild, abandoned motion in metal. Several — "Falling Man #2," "Inspiration I," "Inspiration II," the semiabstract "Suspended Animation" — come off exactly as intended, making cast-bronzes plummet, soar or do just about anything but keep still. Other works going for a similar effect — "Jump Rope," "Falling Man #3," "Dance Fantasy" — come off a little stiffer. A few of DuPen's nudes feel merely accomplished rather than transcendent. Only one, "Neptune's Daughter," shades over into kitsch.
While the Sisko show is dominated by bronzes, MoNA features a fair amount of work in wood, stone and terra cotta. "Earth," a terra-cotta variation on a fertility goddess, is a marvelous piece, while the curving walnut grain in "Northwest Fishermen" magically becomes fishermen, net and salmon all in one. The show also includes works by artists DuPen taught or influenced.
Note: If you didn't get quite enough of April's Skagit Tulip Festival, there's another show at MoNA that's a must-see: "Tulipieres: The Tulip Vase Revisited" includes antic, exquisite and sometimes even macabre variations on Dutch tulip-holders, traditionally done in delftware to accommodate multiple tulip stems. Highlights include work by Patti Warashina, Margaret Ford, Charles Krafft and Kathleen Skeels (who, full disclosure, is a close friend).
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org
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