By the Seaside

Blossoms and beauty in La Conner

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Now that he enjoys four other artists as congenial partners for his well-placed Seaside Gallery in La Conner, owner Mark Conley can breathe easy.

Running a gallery all by himself had been too much work. Next, when he operated it as a large co-op, difficulties only multiplied.

The gallery welcomes visitors with a museum-like atmosphere. You won’t trip over vases, paperweights and snow globes here. The paintings and photos are well-lighted and given their own space. 

Conley’s photography is modestly displayed on the interior walls.  His “Pink Kink” celebrates the still-happening Skagit Valley Tulip Festival: it’s a bug’s-eye view of looming blossoms. I liked the depth and feeling in his “Winter in Silvana,” with its snow-blasted tree, white sky and distant patch of blue sky, as well as the nicely composed “Sunset on Fir Island.”

The “anchors” of Seaside are two of the best-known painters of the Skagit Valley: Alfred Currier and his partner, Anne Schreivogle. I‘ve followed Currier since Ted Lindberg’s book, Impasto, put him on the map as a leading Northwest artist.

He, as much as anyone, embraces the dictum that “the subject of a painting isn’t the image, it’s the paint.” Currier plans out his carefully in advance. He typically doesn’t paint in the open, but does take his sketchbook out to record the shapes of hills, trees and human figures.  He prepares his canvas with gesso and transparent washes in colors complimentary to those he intends to paint on top of them. Then he draws the design elements. The final painting is heavily but harmoniously textured with a palette knife in brilliant oils, which have become his trademark.

I’ve heard grumblings that Currier was in a rut with his preoccupation of tulip fields and stooping farmworkers. But these recent paintings are fresh. In “Red,” a blue shadow lies across a field of white tulips, the dawn sky filled with creamy-yellow clouds as a blue-hooded worker gazes thoughtfully into the distance. “Abundance,” a huge 30” by 48”, shows the fields in late-afternoon sun, the mountains darkly shadowed. I’m glad to see he hasn’t lost his magic.

Two other gallery members each have a generous number of works on display, both in the realistic style. Dave Nichols, a retired Whatcom County judge, has carved a niche for himself as a skilled and prolific artist: “Far from the Office” is an idyllic scene of a solitary sculler in a mountain lake. The delicate brushwork is sufficient reason to take it home. 

Mark Bistranin shows several landscapes, boats and barns, which are craftsmanlike. “Hill Ditch Serenade” rises to the best in a symphony of nicely moderated golds, mauves, greens and blues. The skies here and in his “Shaw Island Ferry” are finely wrought.

At the time of my visit, Schreivogle had yielded much of her space to Currier for a special exhibit. I was disappointed not to be treated to her charming, semi-abstract paintings of birds, cats, bugs, musicians and domestic scenes. Her color choices are exquisite and her sense of composition (and humor) are infallible, but I just found out I can see them from 5-8pm this Saturday, April 26, at a kickoff party for the opening of her new exhibit, “Memoirs of a Bird.”

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