Stars and Sea

Seeking the elements in Edison

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In Edison this month art patrons can enjoy two excellent exhibits: Smith & Vallee Gallery features the work of Steve Jensen, and graphic works and paintings by Thomas Wood can be viewed at i.e. gallery.

The contrast is profound. Wood is a man who knows many things, while Jensen knows one thing well.

Jensen knows crescent-shaped boats, which are colorful in several media: paintings on wood and plaster, translucent resin boxes and recycled marine aluminum.

The boat images recall the funeral urns in his Museum of Northwest Art show last summer. Jensen’s crescent-moon-shaped boats, hovering above the waves, are peaceful, solemn meditations on finality and remembrance. 

Several monumental, carved wall plaques relieve the boat theme. In “Dancing Starfish,” stacked piles of recycled plywood accentuate a curving line of starfish. Who cares whether starfish have four or five arms?

The back room of the gallery is commanded by the 60-inch “Compass”—“made to navigate the waters of the other side”—and embellished with carved sailboats, eyes, a fish and a hand where visitors are to spin it. Jensen didn’t put north, south, east or west on it because, he says, “once you get there, it does not matter.”

The Smith & Vallee exhibit also includes the appealing sculptural stoneware of Jeffrey Hanks of Lopez Island, whose ceramics have been frequently chosen for exhibit in the Anacortes Arts Festival.

The Thomas Wood show down the street at i.e. is a perfect foil for the Jensen pieces. Wood’s sensibility tends to the Renaissance. Both a painter and engraver, he’s often compared to the two great Northern artists, Albrecht Durer and Edvard Munch.

His “Night Swimmer” is a lovely, symbolic work in which a nude swims among salmon, shrimp and jellyfish, sliding through eelgrass. The abstract shapes in line above strongly evoke the style of the region’s own Northwest “mystic,” Guy Anderson. 

Wood’s theme, “The Pleiades,” refers to our age-old fascination with the heavens. Several colorful abstractions suggest starry nights, while the engravings bustle with fish, birds, stars, trees, houses, flowers, humans and monsters. 

In one etching, a man observes a companion hoisted into the air by a goose. “Celebrating the Nearness of Mars” features a pair of savant grasshoppers who gesture skyward. Even the “Three Night Flowers” pay tribute to the heavens.

And what of the dark, brooding church rendered in two versions of “The Pleaides?” In one, a king, leaving his boat on a bush, arrives with a half-human, half-animal bride. On the roof, Leda mourns her swan. A lamb, cat and woodpecker commune with an elderly couple on a balcony. The stone foundation heaves with sculptured forms. A window gallery reveals enigmatic stunts and mishaps within, while a skeleton under a tree prompts his student—a pig in shorts and polka-dots. 

All of these puzzles are worth contemplating while you sip a cold beer in one of Edison’s popular taverns or perhaps enjoy a coffee and delicious dessert at the nearby Tweets.

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