Visual

Museum Meandering

An intimate look at creation

Monday, July 30, 2018

It was purely accidental that one of the hottest days of the summer coincided with a visit to Whatcom Musem’s Lightcatcher Building to view “Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts at 25” and “The Intimate Diebenkorn: Works on Paper 1949-1992.”

That said, the sweet relief I felt upon entering the air-conditioned confines of the museum was palpable, and the next hour or so I spent perusing the traveling exhibits was made even more temperate by the cool art on display.

I started with a walk-through of “Crow’s Shadow,” which features 75 prints drawn from the creative collective’s archives. As the only printmaking studio located on a reservation community in the United States—it’s found on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton, Oregon—the institute draws both Native and non-Native artists from around the world to make prints under the guidance of master printmaker Frank Janzen.

There’s a lot to take in, but the themes of abstraction, landscape, media and process, portraiture, and words and image work together to form a cohesive whole—one replete with vibrant colors, masterful metaphors, simplicity and complexity, and both contemporary and age-old stories begging to be told.

Because many artists in residence at CSIA specialize in other artistic media such as sculpture, painting and even performance art, their collaborations with Janzen before the final publication of a set of prints challenge them to translate elements of their prior art and practice in exhilarting and new ways, and it is a pleasure to view the outcome of their efforts.

Continuing through the gallery, “The Intimate Diebenkorn” is decidedly more low-key than “Crow’s Shadow,” but no less fascinating.

The exhibit encompasses 40 years of painter Richard Diebenkorn’s pathway to modernistic mastery, and the drawings, watercolors, oils and gouaches on paper are organized according to the decades he spent making a name for himself in the art world.

While viewing a simple black-and-white pencil sketch featuring scissors, paper and drawing implements next to an empty plate with cutlery set just so, I felt the humanity of a man who became known as one of America’s most admired 20th century artists.

The portraits of women, abstract landscapes and figurative watercolors on display does feel intimate, as the title of the exhibit suggests—it’s like getting a peek into a genius’ brain.

“His is a legacy of fierce commitment to the journey of discovery, forever searching, looking critically and lovingly, and experimenting,” exhibit curator Chester Arnold says. “Through Deibenkorn’s drawings and watercolors we can see that search in its initial stages. In thousands of works on paper, the development of his vision, from representation to abstraction and back again, is shaped in line and color, marks and washes. The genetics of his greatest works on canvas are immediately and unmistakably visible here.”

“We are very excited to be bringing this exhibition from the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation, especially at a time when a larger, more extensive traveling exhibition of his work is making its way around the country,” Whatcom Museum director Patricia Leach adds. “Although Diebenkorn is mainly recognized as a California artist, he was born in Portland, Oregon, so it is nice that we can claim him as a Pacific Northwest artist too!”

If you’re looking for ways to beat the heat in coming weeks, both exhibits will be on display at the Lightcatcher through Aug. 19, and the museum will also be open from 6-10pm during the Fri., Aug. 3 Art Walk in downtown Bellingham. But even if the temperature takes a dip, you still won’t want to miss these cool shows.

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