Every month, I try to keep my art walk preview as short and sweet so as to not be potentially overwhelming, but that just isn’t possible this month. There are so many great shows opening (and continuing) this First Thursday.
Ceramics Invitational: NW Clay at Traver Gallery
Traver Gallery hosts a major exhibition of works in clay from artists in the Pacific Northwest, including masters such as Tip Toland, Christa Assad, Jeffry Mitchell and Akio Takamori. The list goes one, and includes a personal favorite, Patti Warashina. Seattle is an epicenter for stellar ceramic art that defies expectations (thanks in no small part to groups like Pottery Northwest) and this show will provide viewers new to the area (or the medium) a diverse look at what is possible in thus medium.
NW Clay is on display through May 2 at Traver Gallery (110 Union Street #200)
See Me at SAM Gallery
Before photography—especially selfies, and Glamour Shots for those who remember that—there was portraiture, a strain of visual art that might preserve or even deify the appearance of an individual. In late modernism, the drift from precise representation toward more abstracted, expressionist styles allowed something even more essential to be conveyed—essential to the individual, or to humanity as a whole.
The group show See Me at SAM Gallery includes four artists with different approaches to portraiture: Lynn Brofsky, Nichole DeMent, Troy Gua and Curt Labitzke. The individual pieces are worth a look, but it’s a skillful selection that allows one to revisit the idea of portraiture as a whole, or perhaps really ponder it for the first time.
See Me is on display through April 23 at SAM Gallery in SAM Downtown (1300 1st Ave)
ART In True Fashion at Abmeyer + Wood – Personal Pick
At the level of couture, the separation between fashion and art is nominal, but most people understand the former as something meant to be functional above all, perhaps a personal statement, but not an artistic one—hence the baffled, sometimes sneering reactions toward haute couture fashion shows. Abmeyer + Wood‘s latest show features fourteen artists whose work is inspired by historical and contemporary fashion and who might even be responding directly to it, examining how deeply and completely identities can be packaged in what we were.
(When I first heard about the show, I thought to myself, “Stephen O’Donnell would be great for that.” Sure enough, he’s in it, so I’m happy to see his work again, along with ceramic sculptures by George Rodriguez and Kirsten Stingle.)
The night comes with a surprise, as fashion designer Alex Aesthetic will unveil a garment inspired by one of the participating artists. It’s a beautiful blend of two of our favorite subjects, featuring artists from numerous galleries in one place.
ART in True Fashion is on display through May 2 at Abmeyer + Wood (1210 2nd Ave).
Maïmouna Guerresi: Light Bodies at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery – Personal Pick
We were thrilled to see how gallerist Mariane Ibrahim transformed her new space when it reopened as Mariane Ibrahim Gallery (no longer Gallery MIA) in late March. She has more than quadrupled her wall space—a very conservative estimate on my part—with increases both vertically and horizontally. For her inaugural show, she has taken full advantage of these new dimensions (and a small darkened room perfect for video installation) in showing the gorgeous, towering photographs of Maïmouna Gueresi.
Guerresi’s work has a deeply wholesome and healing aspect to it, and it humbles one with its scale and the artist’s authoritative eye. Towering figures in gorgeous robes seem to levitate; at a glance, they may seem disembodied and detached, but their forms are also embracing, with placid faces emanating wisdom, ethos, even divinity. This ethos is present in adults and children, men and women alike, gathering at tables—which by their very nature suggest a gathering, a face-to-face that unifies, yet keeps individuals physically discrete—to work, to converse, to feast. The objects that rest on these tables, however, offer ambiguity—bullets, a large tire painted white. The rich colors and value differentiations—bright white garments against a dark earthen wall—make everything visually arresting, adding to the tension, which never feels sinister but acknowledges that there is a world of hurt in which we are unified and divided repeatedly. It acknowledges separation, but emphasizes commonality with warmth and dignity.
Light Bodies is on display through May 1 at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery (608 2nd Ave).
Mary Ann Peters at James Harris – Personal Pick
Artist Mary Ann Peters is perhaps best known for her ink and watercolor works, though she has consistently branched into other forms and media, including a memorable installation at Seattle University in 2013. Getting a peek at her new work at James Harris Gallery, I wasn’t disappointed to see that she is still refining and expanding, always a strong technician attuned to art historical traditions, but not afraid to tweak and change the overall effect.
Those who follow my work know I have a special fondness for art in the Asian traditions of ink drawings, some of which is so dilute and attenuated that it seems to be on the verge of complete dissipation. (That is precisely the point.) These works often focus on landscapes that are so generalized and vague that they stand in for reality as a whole, a world of fading appearances. I feel similarly when I see work by Peters, whose reduced palette sometimes approximates patinated old ink drawings. Even when her work is filled with lines, or even richly colored with gouache and watercolor, the effect is one of near dissipation, a simultaneous trust and fondness of perception. These are not strictly landscapes, but perhaps traces of sky and mountain, reticulated and rippling surfaces, sheets of water and decomposing structures. It is work akin to that tradition, but not of it, and deeply appealing and nuanced for this reason.
New works from Mary Ann Peters are on display through May 9 at James Harris Gallery (604 2nd Ave)
Tashiro Kaplan Building
Gala Bent and Blake Haygood at G. Gibson Gallery
There is an aesthetic synergy between Mary Ann Peters and Gala Bent. (Both artists just keep getting better and better, too.) Bent’s new drawings employ all of her usual characteristics—a fusion of organic and mineral forms, dashes of color, exquisite line work—which makes them instantly recognizable, but these are even richer, more beautifully colored and textured and compositionally compelling than anything that I have seen from her before. It’s exciting to see an artist mature so beautifully and this makes me think that even better is still to come, so if you haven’t seen her work before, now is a good time to start.
Whereas the previous two artists are crazed with lines, Blake Haygood is minimalistic in detail, but playful with color and composition. Candy-colored fragments float (or fall) against backgrounds of white or cerulean). The execution is clean, the concept simple, the color choices sunny and cheerful, but there remains a question of whether we are witnessing destruction, creation or a neutral flow. It’s not the most immediately arresting work, but it rewards patient viewers.
New works from Gala Bent and Blake Haygood are on display through April 18 at G. Gibson Gallery (300 S Washington St)
Kimberly Trowbridge: Framing Perception at 4Culture Gallery
Seattle-based painter Kimberly Trowbridge works a great deal in examining how work is presented, how it is integrated into environments and not merely a discrete object unto itself. For others, this might result in gimmickry to distract from a lack of technique, but Trowbridge is a skillful painter first and starts from an object that can be evaluated on its own merits before building outward, sometimes with other media (or in collaboration with another genre entirely, such as poetry). Her latest body of work follows a recent artist residency in Portugal, in which she did many plein-air paintings. At 4Culture they will be presented alongside video from that residency, which in total serves as a record of the inspiring environment and the very experience of creating in its lushness. Trowbridge states on the 4Culture site:
I am at an exciting moment in my career where I am using installation as a way to present my paintings within a specific context. By situating paintings within a larger theater of interactions I am able to grapple with and expand the capabilities of my vocabulary, and thus the scope of my content…. By pushing the boundaries of painting into installation, I am asking my viewers to step-into a space where they can engage with my process of building a visual language.
New works by Kimberly Trowbridge are on display through Spril 30 at 4Culture (101 Prefontaine Pl S)
Keunae Song and Kate Harkins at Core Gallery – Personal Pick
Keunae Song‘s 2013 installation at Core Gallery was an intense, encyclopedic examination of glass as a medium and made me an instant fan. The artist created small versions of 150 objects from the American Museum of Glass, broke them, put them back together with UV reactive glue, then placed them together in an installation that switched between incandescent light and black light, allowing visitors to see the objects appearing whole then as a green network of cracks.
The artist’s newest work plays with the viewer in a new way, with blown-glass mirrors. From the artist’s statement: Optical devices can probe the gap between reality and imagination. I would like to explore glass as an optical device, which examines the mechanics of generating new perceptual phenomena offering the viewer new ways of seeing. I haven’t seen it yet, but because of her past work my imagination is already taking flight. Come see yourself for yourself. Update [April 3, 2:28 PM EST]: This body of work (now having seen it) is another interesting manipulation of the medium and trace material. Convex, blown-glass forms in white and black were topped with soap bubbles laced with contrasting pigment, which left delicate circular traces. It’s a playful, almost punning reflection on ephemerality and fragility that is also visually charming.
The vivid, brooding, abstracted play of shape and color by painter Kate Harkins will also be on display, and from the previews I have seen, it will be a strong visual complement to Song’s work. I’m thinking this is one show where the artists’ works play particularly well together.
New works by Keunae Song and Kate Harkins are on display through April 25 at CORE Gallery (117 Prefontaine Pl S)
Tony Angell at Foster / White
I find birds to be rather weird creatures anyways (hairy, flying reptiles? Yuk.), but owls are especially strange—so otherworldly that I and many others can’t help but love them. Owl cafes are now a reality in Japan—something probably unlikely to be seen in Europe, where longstanding superstitions associate the bird with witchcraft and bad omens. Here in the Pacific Northwest, they have totemic significance, and among the large predatory birds native to the region they remain the most elusive and mysterious. After all, “The owls are not what they seem…”
All that is to say that we have a penchant for owls in these parts, and so does Tony Angell. That is more than evident in his exquisite renderings of these bizarre birds in stone and bronze. Angell has faithfully sculpted many kinds of birds, and his technique has not faltered. Owls at their most iconic are less animated, but Angell places them in a variety of states, sometimes forming a dynamic pose, sometimes relying on the solid presence of the sculpture to give each a life all its own. Anyone who loves wildlife or sculpture or both is sure to delight in this body of work.
New work by Tony Angell is on display through May 2 at Foster/White Gallery (220 3rd Ave S).
Buster Simpson: Double Bound at Greg Kucera
Buster Simpson is a local treasure who has worked extensively in Seattle and beyond, frequently in the ecology itself to call attention to industrial abuses of water resources and to use his artistic practice to reclaim water, improve its usage and quality—and the surrounding land—and minister to the ill effects of unbridled development. A retrospective at the Frye Museum last year introduced him to audiences that have probably walked by works of his (and places shaped by him), but did not know who he was. That show included several pieces on display at Greg Kucera Gallery.
Because at his best Simpson is working out in the open, whether these objects are placed in a museum, gallery or private collection, they remain a reference to the wider world outside. All the same, some of it is visually appealing on its own terms and often very humorous. Simpson takes his work seriously, but not himself, and that is what has made him so good at what he does. Any display of his work is a lesson in artistic vision paired with humility and a profound work ethic. Take notes.
Double Bound, works by Buster Simpson will be on display through May 16 at Greg Kucera Gallery (212 3rd Ave S)
Contemporary Japanese Printmakers at Davidson Galleries – Personal Pick
This encyclopedic show boggles the mind with its scale and the detail of the individual pieces. Sampled from many decades of creative output from multiple artists, it seems that it would take one a lifetime just to produce the output of this sampling, but it is admittedly still just the tip of the iceberg for these prolific and immensely talented artists: the almost tactile drypoints of Naoji Ishiyama; the whimsical and soft goldfish etchings of Hikari Hirose; the surreal aquatints and mezzotints of Yukio Fukazama; the mythic etchings of Mio Asahi; the dreamy engraved copperplate prints of Keigo Akamoto. I could go on…but you should probably just go yourself.
PS: The stunning interior lithographs of Keisuke Yamamoto; the surreal object portraiture of Tomiyuki Sakata; the warm, eerie, fairy-tale tableaux of Mariko Ando; the phantasmagoric etchings of Masafusa Hirano; the…
Contemporary prints from Japan are on display through May 2 at Davidson Galleries (313 Occidental Ave S).
Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas at Stonington Gallery
Vancouver-based (Haida tribe) artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas presents a solo show of his beautifully narrative works on paper. In a style he has dubbed “Haida Manga,” Yahgulanaas relates legend, myth and history through colorful, graphic works that fuse Japanese Manga style and Haida symbolism. His monumental piece “Red” debuted at Seattle Art Museum recently in the ongoing Indigenous Beauty show. That and this show at Stonington Gallery mark the first times that the artist has shown in Seattle (though his style has already been embraced by galleries in Canada, Asia and Europe), and he will be in attendance for the reception this Thursday. The gallery will be showing ink drawings from the artist, as well as giclee prints of sections of “Red,” allowing a closer look at the piece that you can’t get at SAM. If you enjoyed that show or are curious about it, this one is not to be missed.
Works by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas are on display through May 2 at Stonington Gallery (125 S Jackson St)
Kang-O’Higgins Atelier Group Show at AXIS
Members of the Kang-O’Higgins Atelier at Gage Academy of Art continues an annual tradition and presents new works in a group show at AXIS Pioneer Square. This is not your usual student work; this Atelier consistently produces strong work that is representational, but not all cut from the same cloth, as many of its participants are established artists who are expanding their skills within mediums of their choosing. Some of the participants this time include Erin Pollock, Sullivan Giles, Beth Kehoe and Sean Clemens.
The opening reception will no doubt have a large, party atmosphere (with music provided by DJ Neon Trotsky). I can recommend it especially for people who might be intimidated by the usual gallery experience, prospective and current art students, and those who are especially fond of representational work.
The KOH Atelier group show runs through April 28 at AXIS Pioneer Square (308 1st Ave)
Ferguson, Uchronia, NTG and Manitach at Roq La Rue
On the main floor: Prime Meridian, a solo show of exquisitely detailed paintings by Peter Ferguson, and a small group show, Uchronia, are distinct presentations within Roq La Rue‘s main gallery space, but both deal with the surreal possibilities of an alternate history. Ferguson’s oil paintings show inspiration by Renaissance painters and Dutch masters, but compositionally can resemble illustrations from children’s books and Victorian scientific journals, emblemata and alchemical texts. They seem to come from Europe in an alternate universe—speaking in terms of both history and biology. The interiors and uniforms one sees—though imagined—bear a closer resemblance to reality than the monstrous creatures that inhabit these worlds—winged scourges, anthropomorphic beasts, domesticated mega-crustaceans.
Uchronia features work by Femke Hiemstra, Lindsey Carr, Scott Musgrove, Jessica McCourt, Derek Nobbs, Syd Bee and Olivia Knapp. I’m forever a fan of Knapp’s ink drawings, which are fun to look at for their technical virtuosity, their whimsy and their social savvy.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t yet seen the massive wheatpaste by NTG dominating the gallery walls, now seems a particularly good time. (Go read all about that in a separate article.)
In the loft gallery: Amanda Manitach has for a year or so been building a body of work she has called “T-shirt girls,” which presents young ingenues wearing little but a black t-shirt labeled with a cheeky phrase. The style is still recognizably that of the artist—watery, soft, illustrative, seemingly informed by fashion drawing and photography, which lends itself well to waifs whose primary statement is worn. In the past, her subject matter has mixed violence, androgyny and more complex, rococo costuming, so this is a stripped down approach for Manitach on many levels. The T-shirt Girls are admittedly easier to live with than flayed androgynes (and I say that as one who loves her light, limpid handling of grotesquerie), and they have appeal for potential first-time collectors as well as those who already collect her work, but as they reflect a certain vacuousness in the culture—especially in representations of women, which dates back a long way—the works themselves seem a little more passive than present.
Maybe the point is just that: to reflect the flip passivity of meme-dropping activism. It doesn’t really interrogate that subject or pose something stronger, but it does cash in. The enterprising Manitach has also just begun selling shirts labeled with the phrases seen in her work. Like the series itself, the inspiration for this move came from popular demand. I’m all for artists finding new ways to monetize their ideas in a tough market, and I myself love a good cheeky t-shirt, so even if the clothing comes across as a little Urban Outfitters and the drawings are less conceptually chewy, none of it feels outrageous to me. One might even spend more time analyzing Manitach’s decision to merchandise and how it reflects these political, commercial and social dynamics, rather than just the drawings.
There is, at least, no denying that these works are products of our age—a moment in which the ingenue has as much sexual currency as ever and is told she is empowered by that, but is still most often presented as lusk and inert, incipient and ill-defined, “neither living nor dead” and smoothing “hair with automatic hand.” We should all hope for the moment to pass, but here is its representation for those who have not yet caught on.
All shows run through May 2 at Roq La Rue Gallery (532 1st Ave S).
In other news, Kirsten Anderson, founder and gallerist at Roq La Rue, has created her own sartorial side project with artist Derek Knobbs: Squalor Harbor, a nautical-inspired line of clothing and accessories manufactured in limited quantities within the US of A. We got a preview last autumn, but the online shop just went live. Check it out.
Capitol Hill Art Walk is next week, which means now is the time to purchase tickets for the next edition of the art-party bus extravaganza of Collect Seattle. Get your tickets online. Whether or not you join that party, the night ends for many art walkers with the Spring 2015 Art Walk Awards at Sole Repair hosted by City Arts. Check out the finalists here and RSVP here. (It’s free.)