When you enter “Moon Moan” at 950 Gallery in Tacoma, the artists hope you’ll leave your typical interpretations of an art exhibition outside the door. Raven Juarez and Asia Tail would prefer visitors look at their art in an intuitive way — to a time when you didn’t think of the sky as being only blue and grass only green. Before being taught “the rules,” when your imagination ran wild.
“We want people to kind of engage in the nonverbal way in a non-art-speak way,” Tail said. “But to really sort of empathize and feel the works in the same way that we were feeling as we created them.”
The influence of the moon in the new body of work from Juarez and Tail is more poetic rather than literal and ends up giving their paintings, collages and mixed-media works a dreamlike quality. Prior to the show both artists were already using moon imagery in their work. The show speaks to their shared experiences as women. In many Native cultures the moon is often associated with womanhood.
Tail’s oil on wood panels are mostly silhouettes formed by varying degrees of gray with white accents. In “Swarm Form” a spider web overlaps the outline of a woman’s face. “Fern Yearn” depicts flora under lunar light. “Strange Change” is representative of the women in her life. All of Tail’s paintings and collages are organized. Every detail is precisely executed.
“Sort of like going into the woods and maybe you see a rabbit but when you’re a kid it feels like this whole other narrative kind of pops into your head. And I think that’s what that organization in the painting for me is trying to do,” Tail said. “It’s creating that sort of strange narrative of this wouldn’t actually happen in quite this controlled way but what does it mean in the painting. What does it mean if we were to see something like this.”
While the two didn’t work side by side, the end result is a symbiosis that points to a deeper bond the two share. It’s the first time the duo are showing their work together but their friendship dates back to countless sleepovers at each other’s homes as kids. Their lives are paralleled in many ways. Both are mixed urban Native people — Juarez is Blackfeet and Tail is enrolled in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Both went to college in New York – Tail graduated with a BFA at Cooper Union School of Art and Juarez graduated from Sarah Lawrence College where she studied child psychology and visual arts. Both returned to the Seattle area and spend time together regularly. Last summer they went to Seattle Art Museum to see “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors,” who’s work is proliferated with circles.
“This process has been a great opportunity to connect deeply with a dear friend and also to learn my work and myself better through Raven’s work,” Tail said. “That was something I wasn’t necessarily expecting.”
Juarez teaches early education at a University District school. She talks about her students with a level of acceptance and appreciation any parent would relish in a teacher. In college she spent time studying art therapy and the psychology of children’s art. Rather than dismiss scribbling, she sees it as the beginning stages of expressing words and feelings.
“One thing that I am just so amazed by is all children have an experimental approach and a playful approach,” Juarez said. “When I sit down to work I really try not to think about what the end goal is going to be. I really just try to enjoy the process and let myself kind of speak that other language to myself.”
In Juarez’s “Hide Away,” a turquoise sky is illuminated with hundreds of dancing stars above a cabin surrounded by plants. Of all the works in the show, it took the longest to complete and Juarez said it’s the one she’s most emotionally connected to. “Limb” is a portrait with two sets of eyes. It’s based on her sister who has a sixth sense for people’s emotions and intentions. “Wasn’t Sleeping” is a partial face with long strands of black yarn flowing into another work on a stand below it.
“Long hair is definitely a reoccurring theme in a lot of my work over the many years that I’ve been in painting and showing my stuff,” Juarez said. “A little hint into where I feel most culturally connected to, which is Native culture. But I think it’s also a way of me kind of putting my personal, my character into my work because I’ve actually always had really long hair my entire life.”
To help visitors become more in tune with their more playful side, Juarez and Tail created a multi-media installation. Dozens of figurines and other objects such as stars, gold leaves and crystals are on a table next to a projector that casts a light in the shape of a full moon onto a wall. It’s not only touchable art, it also serves as a catalyst for finding an unencumbered state.
Overall “Moon Moan” has a feeling of serenity. Both artists excel at visually executing their point of view.
As a child Juarez used to think the moon was following her while riding in the car. She no longer thinks of the moon as exclusively hers; she finds looking at the moon comforting.
“The moon is shining on me, it’s shining on Asia, it’s shining on all my students, and it’s for everybody,” Juarez said. “Everybody has their own memories and connections to things. But the shared thread is that we all have it.”
WHAT: “Moon Moan”
WHEN: Runs until Feb. 17
WHERE: 950 Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave. Suite 205, Tacoma
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge, Facebook
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