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Friday, July 13, 2012 - Page updated at 08:00 a.m.
2 artists to watch: the Neddy at Cornish winners
By Robert Ayers
Special to The Seattle Times
Over the past 16 years the annual Neddy Awards (presented in memory of painter Robert E. "Ned" Behnke) have played a crucial role in supporting the careers of artists who have been judged to combine artistic excellence with active community involvement. This is the first year that the Neddy program has been administered by Cornish College of the Arts, and the current exhibition, presenting the work of the two Neddy winners alongside the six other shortlisted nominees, offers a fascinating glimpse into the range and quality of art being made around the Puget Sound.
Stacey Rozich is the deserving winner in the painting category of the Neddy. She makes her career primarily as an illustrator and designer, and her pictures are marked by the engaging fine detail and carefully judged color that is characteristic of the best book illustration. On the other hand, her imagery is sufficiently open-ended to engage the spectator's imagination in the way that we might demand of fine art.
Her "Beastly Territory" features subject matter that breathes an atmosphere of folk magic. Three brightly dressed, probably female, figures are dwarfed by a fantastical creature that they have nevertheless managed to lay low. Arrows pierce his flesh, and they are busy tying him up. Curiously, he appears to wear a ceremonial mask, and that is where simple explanations run out of steam and something more speculative has to take over. I admit that I had never seen Rozich's beguiling work before, and I regard her as a real find.
The other Neddy winner (in what is now called the open medium category) is better-known. Eirik Johnson is fast gaining a reputation as one of the country's best young photographers, and he had a splendid exhibition at G. Gibson Gallery this past spring.
The work that represents him here is drawn from the same two series that show comprised, "The Mushroom Camps" and "Barrow Cabins." Both series (like his celebrated "Sawdust Mountain" series that was at the Henry in 2009) reflect Johnson's fascination with the impact of human activity on the natural world and with the lives of the communities responsible for that impact. "Abandoned shack, Crescent Lake mushroom camp, 2011" is a wonderful picture. At its simplest level it shows the bare wooden framework of the sort of shack that mushroom foragers live in during the spring and fall seasons when edible fungi are most plentiful in the Pacific Northwest.
But there is something curiously fitting about the structure's placement there among the conifers, and its reflection of their verticals. Irrational though it might seem, there is almost a hint that the men who erected it had learned something from the mysterious appearance of the mushrooms that provide their livelihood.
As well as each receiving a check for $25,000, Rozich and Johnson will be involved in Cornish's wide-ranging exhibition and education programming during the next year. We are fortunate indeed.
Robert Ayers: firstname.lastname@example.org
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