The beauty of diffused illumination

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In 2013, Todd Horton invited his friend, Tyree Callahan, to accompany him to paint outdoors along the Skagit River. Here, they captured, on canvas, the play of light above autumn fields and still water. 

This was the genesis of Callahan’s wondrous “Salish Atlas” paintings. Not long after, they invited Sharon Kingston to join them in an exhibit entitled “Atmospheres” at Smith & Vallee Gallery in Edison.

“Atmospheres” celebrates the characteristic diffused light of the Northwest: “A light that appears to come from all directions, bathing objects in luminosity and minimizing shadow.”  

Here you will find a dozen or more of Callahan’s canvases. These suggest trees, sky, water and grass, frequently in two colors with subtle light/dark contrast. The restrained palette and repeated hints of images hold our interest right to the point where Callahan allows the faint land/sky line to disappear into the mist (#39), now a mere suggestion of diffused illumination.  

Horton’s compositions are characterized by heavy impasto and the dripped paint that has become his signature. His paintings of “land, fauna and flora” have been exhibited in Edison (where he lives), Port Townsend, Seattle, and Berlin. He writes, “Each painting has to evolve out of a painterly or visual logic: it has to emerge as if inevitably. And in allowing an unplanned outcome, I hope to achieve the same coherence and objectivity [as] a random slice of nature…The smearing and dripping of the paintings make them more complete…These distortions can help make the painting invincible and more mysterious.”

“The unique Northwest light” is fulfilled in the work of Sharon Kingston. She also pays tribute to spiritual mentors such as the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, and the poet Rainier Maria Rilke.  Her canvases bloom with subtle gradations of tone endlessly entertaining to the eye and restful to the soul. 

“Numinous” is exactly that. “Being Radiant” is a brilliant cloud portrait. “Trying to Rise Up the Sunken Feelings of an Enormous Past” is drop-dead gorgeous, a suggestion of phantom cedars in a whirl of mist with light building from below. Kingston has written, “I am intrigued…that rubbing pigment on canvas can create spaces that translate emotion, memory and thought..that a deep connection can be forged from simplicity of form.”

Also on display are a few small pieces by Peregrine O’Gormley. I’ve never seen anything by this talented sculptor that I didn’t like, and I’m guessing you won’t, either.

Smith & Vallee do not let you forget that they are also furniture makers. Talking about things rising up from the past? They have sawn a table out of a massive fir log which a neighbor fished out of the Samish River mud. Its elegant, fine grain reveals a 300-year lifeline and the uncanny, greenish hue? A 2,300-year burial.

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