Updated Monday, November 19, 2012 at 07:01 AM
As you enter Davidson Galleries, three jauntily grotesque “jesters” greet you so vividly at the door that you half expect them to speak.
They’re the work of Seattle ceramic sculptor Tip Toland. And they’re glorious – weird in affect yet warm in feeling; unsparing in their detail (wrinkles galore!) yet rich with compassion.
Toland’s pieces are part of a group show, “Ladies…,” featuring three female artists. The others are painter Kathryn Jacobi and collagist Judith Foosaner, both of California.
Toland’s three “jesters,” all created this year, find her working on a larger scale than usual (twice life-size), and each stoneware figure is embellished with paint, charcoal and pastel. The curiously drained color of the pieces — they feel like oversized, strangely solid holograms rendered in black-and-white — heightens their outlandish effect.
“Jester (Surely)” glances wryly at viewers as they enter the gallery. Wearing a striped pointed cap, this circus figure of ambiguous gender seems simultaneously skeptical and kind, rueful and understanding.
“Jester (Yep)” and “Jester (Mum)” have just as strong an impact. If “Yep” is remarkably cheery despite her missing teeth and wizened appearance, then “Mum” couldn’t be more strained or crazily popeyed in her exuberant expression.
Toland’s three jesters signal a new direction in her work. But one older sculpture included in the show, “Boxer,” is a masterful achievement too. Smaller in scale and done in more lifelike flesh tones, it’s a subtly distorted head of a fighter fresh from the ring. This guy has clearly been through the wars – and Toland brings you into his world with soulfulness and empathy.
Jacobi’s oil-on-paper images — all titled “Mortal Furniture” — address, according to the artist, the “hypnagogic states that occur in that midway moment between sleep and waking.” Each follows the same template, with a world of light occupying the top third of the paper and figures in darkness looming in the lower two-thirds. Jacobi’s fluidly painted shadow figures can be spooky, but they can also feel visionary.
Foosaner’s concerns are more abstract. The lines in her acrylic-and-paper collages slice, intersect and overlap in curious ways. “Moving Violation #6” presents so many busy entangled shapes that it’s tough to say which parts are violating which. Look at it long enough, and it becomes an Escher-like eye-teaser.
Beguiling stuff — but Toland is the undeniable star here.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Ladies ....’: Work by Tip Toland, Kathryn Jacobi and Judith Foosaner
10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday through Dec. 1, Davidson Galleries, 313 Occidental Ave. S., Seattle; free (206-624-7684 or www.davidsongalleries.com).
Tip Toland’s “Jester (Surely).”