Dark Visions

Casting shadows in Skagit



WHAT: Works by Peregrine O’Gormley and Jasmine Valandani
WHEN: Through Oct. 28
WHERE: Smith & Vallee Gallery, Edison

WHAT: Natalie Niblack’s “Histories”
WHEN: Through October
WHERE: Perry and Carlson Gallery, Mount Vernon

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

It’s not only the time of year, but the state of the world, that is casting shadows over artwork in two Skagit galleries this month. Smith & Vallee in Edison hosts work by Jasmine Valandani and Peregrine O’Gormley, as Natalie Niblack is featured at Perry and Carlson in Mount Vernon. 

Valandani, whose previous work explored subtleties in white upon white, surprises with black compositions in ink, watercolor and gouache on Indian handmade paper.

At a recent exhibit opening I asked her, “Why black? Why now?” Black suggests putrefaction, it’s true—but the color leads in turn to rebirth and transformation. The contrast of warm and cool tones, shiny and dull surfaces are intended to inspire the viewer to look more closely, even to meditate on them.

Valandani’s new work, she says, arises from personal discovery and happiness. Politics derailed an intended pilgrimage to Rumi shrines in Turkey, so she jumped at an invitation to watch the sun rise in the Sahara. The result was marriage, a burst of creativity and a new career opening a resort in Morocco, south of the Atlas Mountains.

Peregrine O’Gormley also spoke at the opening to pose the questions, “How do we address the impact of what’s going on right now? Can we assume responsibility for the welfare of our “extended family” of living beings in the face of the environmental disaster we have caused?”

At this point, there was hardly a dry eye in the room.

Later, puzzling over O’Gormley’s powerful, life-size bronze sculpture of a crouching hawk, I asked gallery partner Andrew Vallee, “Is it abstract?”  

“No,” he explained. “It’s missing a wing!” And defiantly fighting to the death.

Equally tragic are the sculptures “Passenger,” a recumbent pigeon; “Closing Time,” a rolled-up armadillo on a chunk of actual highway; and “Holding On,” an inchworm suspended by a thread. All confront their fate with determination.

The theme of darkness continues at Perry and Carlson Gallery in a display of work by graphic artist and teacher Natalie Niblack. Titled “Histories,” it shows, in her words, a “dark worldview, a sense of things being not quite right…at the edge of calamity, but nonetheless beautiful.” 

Here are saints and clowns—one of whom holds a pistol in “Back to School.” A row of ceramic babies are suckled on bullets in “At the Breast of Our Fathers.” Press a button and an automaton entitled “Angry Monk” threatens you with his fists.

A vast graphic work, the apocalyptic “Arrest,” combines clowns, grim images of men from the 1940s, Rococo ribbons and draperies, and a ghostly messenger commanding us to mend our ways. Niblack’s fascination with the iconography of Baroque painting gives us her “Magdalene Ascending,” but draperies alone convey the ascension and a ghostly pair of hands are left behind.

Niblack owns up to a longstanding fascination with the dark vision of Francisco Goya. But what does she mean by depicting him as a bald head on the body of a plucked chicken?

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