Works by Ward

An evolution in style

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What do we know about why some artists work for years in the same style while others develop new ones? Does an artist “freeze” his or her output into a popular style to satisfy the expectations of the market? Do curators discourage novelty because they believe it suggests immaturity?

The history of art celebrates artists such as Manet and Picasso, who found new styles and changed the way we see the world. But even these innovators may stick to a novel style long after they have exhausted its possibilities.

The present show at the Scott Milo Gallery on Commercial Avenue in Anacortes gives us examples of artists whose approach has remained fluid over time and some who have held onto a style perhaps too long.

A fine selection of works by Dederick Ward, “A Collection of Paintings from 1990-Present,” illustrates the evolution of his art from 1992 to 2015. Ward retired to Anacortes in 1990 and taught himself how to paint. His first efforts (not on view here) related to his former profession in geology. The earliest we see, “Catalyst” (1992), is a bold, abstract expressionist work, built upon the popular rectangular grid, with wide, sweeping brushwork and commanding color contrast.

In comparison, “Fir Island Reflection” (1998) is a lovely, semi-realist landscape. It reminds me of the work of Raoul Dufy—who himself went from impressionism to cubism and back again. Ward might profitably have painted for years in this style.

A trio of Ward’s paintings from 2003-2009—“Jackson Ridge,” “Black Buttes,” and “Sky over Edison”—fit squarely in the pictorial category. But the splendid “Autumn Wetland” (2007) is a pure gestural abstraction of stripes in gold, blue and black, bursting with energy.

In his more recent “atmospheric” paintings, Ward appears to be moving squarely into minimalism, especially the delicate “Shades of Lavender” (2016), which is basically a color field study.

Ward’s evolution in style is paralleled by cast-glass artist Lin McJunkin. Several of her sculptures are taking successful new directions, including “Farmland at Risk,” “Resilience,” and “Bactra Moth,” each uniquely beautiful.

The work of other artists on view (not retrospectives) reflect the opposite approach. Brooke Borcherding burst onto the scene a couple of years ago with a vibrant, cubistic style. She must have found her market, as she has doubled-down on this style.

And here also are graceful, still-life pieces by Melissa Jander. They might not have been out of place in the 19th century.

Or would they? On second glance, we discover subtle, cubist angles married to impressionist brushwork. Jander has found a vision which leaves her abundantly capable of freely varying her color and brushwork to make each painting appear distinct and fresh and lively —just the thing for the Skagit Valley on a gloomy day.

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