I am not disappointed.
At first, it's the delight of witnessing not one but two expert ceramicists. Gina Freuen is legendary in the Spokane art community for her work with Artfest. Terry Gieber's work refutes those who dismiss ceramics as mere craft. Together, they're two of the four faculty represented in the gallery's annual spring show.
They're accompanied by the paintings of Robert Gilmore and Mary Farrell, who provide works that -- whether intended or not -- complement the others like the members of a seasoned musical quartet.
Senior member Robert Gilmore's oils recall both Marcel Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase" and a more somber version of Georgia O'Keefe's flower paintings. On one level, the images are emotive, tangoing across the canvas with elongated swoops and scrapes of color like Pollack might have created had he not been so staccato, so gestural. The larger paintings, especially, are evocative, presenting an illuminated flower or a flash of bird feathers against a dim forest. Although Gilmore's work speaks to the influence of Abstract Expressionism, his tone is gentler and more elegant. There is a coolness in his muted colors, like the music for which some are named, including the Coltrane-inspired "Giant Steps." "Unfinished Symphony," suggesting the satin swirl of a ballroom dancer when seen from above, will have you wondering how a small patch of blank canvas could so eloquently suggest remorse and hopefulness at the same time.
Freuen's signature teapots flank the entrance to the gallery, but it is the combination of her story-telling vessels and mixed-media drawings that pull you in and around the rooms. A processional trio of storage jars reads like Paul Coelho's "The Alchemist" as if illustrated by Dr. Seuss. Like a scene from a hookah den, teapots do an arabesque on curved metal rods around a seated figure in "Feathered Travel Storage Jar," a combination of thrown form, whimsical texture, and earthy pastel colors. The mixed-media drawings create similarly layered narratives, echoing the pottery motif of animals, feathers, and the swirl of the potter's wheel.
In contrast to the minuet of Freuen's work, Mary Farrell's drawings and prints are like a flamenco or Canyengue tango, charged like a fortissimo that does not speak but shouts. Her line quality is highly expressive, at once electrified and tight like the rapid-fire seesawing of a fiddle bow. Other times, such as in her series of organic renderings, the sound one imagines is a mournful oboe or cello -- an otherworldly melody, like the surrealist paintings of Dorothea Tanning. Reminding one of Hemingway, the bearded and bushy-eyebrowed figure in "Overview" both glares and suspects, demonstrating Farrell's mastery and subtlety.
Ricochet off Farrell's work and brace yourself for another whirl-about with the final act in this pas de deux: Terry Gieber. His work, like Gilmore's, operates on two levels. Visually, the pottery is aesthetically handsome. His finishes look deceptively simple, including the graphite-like lustre of woodfiring and subtle earth tones of "Southwest Series" and the crackle effect on his largest work, "Tornado Jar." And his scale is impossible. "Tornado Jar" for example, towers above viewers, but even the smaller amphorae-like pieces are impressive. (Clay shrinks as it dries or is fired, so these pieces were once even bigger.) On another level -- and this is the potter in me -- his work is as evocative as any of the accompanying artists' work. A sense of motion, of earth in transition, of history preserved and revered -- these things are clearly articulated in Gieber's refined style.
Passing back through the gallery, I pause again to consider these four artists' works. There's a faint whistle from the wind buffeting the outer doors. Outside, nature may be in an uproar -- but here inside the cool stillness of the Jundt, I've had a tumultuous yet satisfying experience of my own. Artwork like that of Gilmore, Gieber, Freuen and Farrell tends to have emotional impact like that.
"Farrell, Freuen, Gieber, Gilmore" continues through April 8 at Gonzaga University's Jundt Art Museum, 202 E. Cataldo Ave. Artist walk-through on Thursday, Feb. 23, from 6-7 pm, followed by a free public reception from 7-8:30 pm. Call 323-6611.