In Tacoma, fine art galleries come and go like the tides that wash in and out along the rocky fringes of Commencement Bay. Lately, however, it seems that there is more going and than coming in the art gallery universe. The art scene in Tacoma currently seems limited to the big museums and to a handful of show spaces maintained by our establishments of higher learning.
The former often present shows that are weighed down by the burden of preachiness. The latter feature a schedule that is heavy with group shows, which generally result in a hodge-podge, bewildering array of devise objects and images of highly variable quality.
From time to time, though, one of these museums or galleries – like the current show at Tacoma Community College – presents a one-person show by a brilliant and practiced artist. Then the gallery visitor is given the pleasure of a cohesive show by an artist whose body of work has both substance and a high degree of technical skill.
Such a show is “Adventures Through the Anthropocene,” a collection of multi-media paintings, prints and drawings by the dynamic artist Jason Sobottka. The show is on view at the Gallery at TCC through Dec. 6. Sobottka's pictures vibrate with brilliant color and sparkle with glitter. The deftly drafted animals he depicts (his subject matter is almost entirely animals and birds) are captured in the midst of full motion. One is lured from one image to the next. Each is a multifaceted treasure of layered, visual effects that depict totemic animal beings that seem to embody messages and secrets both eternal and ephemeral to we inhabitants of an increasingly cybernetic and digitized environment.
Sobottka earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in visual art from University of Minnesota. He is also deeply versed in art history. He has been an art instructor at Green River Community College and currently is Lake Washington Institute of Technology’s first tenured visual art instructor. He exhibits his paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures around the nation. He was one of the nominees for this year's Annual Art Award by the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation.
Sobottka takes his show title from meteorologist Paul Crutzen's term “Anthropocene,” a reference to our current geological epoch, which is marked by humankind's dramatic influence upon the natural systems of our planet. Sobottka's paintings are disturbing musings upon a world in which animals, plants and humans must adapt, mutate and evolve in unusual relationship to one another if they are to thrive in a technocentric, hyper-economic environment that is rapidly spreading across the planet. Many of his critters look part machine: wolves dressed in kevlar shields; rhinoceros with drone-operated machine guns mounted on their backs to protect them from horn poachers; elephants what are mounted on tank tracks. Other animals have merged with carnivorous plants, like the deer that have pitcher plants growing on their backs. Elk and kingfishers are shown existing together in some kind of trans-dimensional realm. I especially like Sobottka's use of tattoos to decorate his animal-beings with a secondary layer of well-known cartoon characters.
Sobottka's images reflect his concerns for endangered species, for environmental meddling and for a scientific understanding of the world around us. He filters a dark humor through an artistic sensibility that owes a debt to both pop art and surrealism.
During his Nov.10 opening, Sobottka gave a gallery talk, which will be posted – rumor has it – on the artist's Facebook page. For further information on Sobottka visit jasonsobottka.com. For more on the Gallery at TCC visit www.tacomacc.edu/thegallery.