In a second floor gallery at the Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellingham-based artist Jason Walker’s solo show On the River, Down the Road addresses the intersection between a rapidly growing, often ruthless civilization and the natural world. Walker brings this clashing reality to life through meticulously rendered and hand-painted ceramic sculptures. The handful of large ceramics on display, a yearlong undertaking, are undoubtedly worthy of a solo show at the museum renowned for its emphasis on craft.
Upon entering the gallery, visitors are immediately greeted by Redtail, a deer that stands chest high and has a bewildered look on its face as it is caught in the midst of navigating through a miniature cityscape that is spread out at its feet like blades of grass. These buildings aren’t the green color of grass; rather they are a dirty green, the color of money. The deer is confounded, but this does not seem to stop or even hinder the stream of cars that zip along the highway that stretches down the spine of the animal’s back. This work sets the tone for the show; the other sculptures in the gallery have the same message expressed through exquisitely sculpted porcelain and earthenware intricately painted with scenes depicting the capitalistic drive of humanity at nature’s expense.
Walker’s work at BAM treads the line between object and installation with elements floating on walls and porcelain plaques transitioning to sculptural components cascading onto the floor. Water is portrayed as flowing debris: light bulbs, gears, and distributor caps, a deep and solid blue, pool at the feet of a heron in one and flow down the wall as a waterfall in another. An eagle clutches a fish in its talons as it soars high on one wall, while across the room the leaves of a tree, designed to resemble oversized pennies, spread out across the wall with provocative messages like “Infinite Growth” and “United States of Myopia” replacing the usual phrases found on coinage. In addition to Redtail , the floor is inhabited by two enormous ravens in a piece titled Split Down the Middle, But One Always Wants More. These fat, beady-eyed birds guard a nest constructed of rubble that is empty, aside from the delicate painting of cars speeding down an interstate.
On the River, Down the Road is quite an accomplishment as it melds expressive ceramic sculpting and illustrative painting with a strong message, perhaps even a stern warning. The objects are beautiful and odd, combining the natural form of animals that we know well with components from the aisles of hardware stores. Animals and economics coexist in the same works begging the viewer to question how wrong the scene is despite how skillfully executed it may be.
Jason Walker: On the River, Down the Road
Thru Mar 1, Belleveue Arts Museum, $10