River's Edge

Seasonal sights in Mount Vernon

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The River Gallery on Landing Road near the lower Skagit River, once a commercial greenhouse, is a natural home for art. The light is perfect and it’s roomy enough to show off works by 38 artists—more than most museums.  I always look forward to the harmony and balance of the exhibition as a whole, curated by Sylvia Strong and Coizie Bettinger.

Currently on view at the “Fall Show” are works by more than a dozen first-rate landscape and nature painters, of whom Christine Troyer, Jennifer Bowman, Cynthia Richardson, Lynn Zimmerman, and Dedrian Clark are perhaps the most familiar names.

And here are other artists, who glide from nature into something beyond, like Joan Enslin, Ria Harboe, and woodworker and painter Gary Giovane. 

Some, like Charlotte Decker and Lavone Newell-Reim, are equally at home in realism or abstraction. Jacqui Beck and Yvette Newman, on the other hand, are both trenchantly abstract, although Beck may allow a whimsical cow or clothesline into her compositions.

Each new season, Brooke Borcherding seems to find a new focus: cityscapes, then landscapes, and now her distinctive brushwork has very appropriately settled on still-life flower studies.

Flowers in the most formal sense have been a speciality of the late Czech master, Jarmila Radova. She and her son, Vojtech Rada, have enjoyed a personal connection with the River Gallery and Rada’s work has been featured here for several seasons.

Trained as an art restorer, Rada’s beguiling blend of architectural precision and fantasy appears profoundly European. His paintings run the gamut—from channeling Cezanne to rivaling Salvador Dali. Perhaps his most public project was a commission to paint the stations of the cross for St. Prokop Church in Prague.

Don’t overlook the small statues by Robert Gigliotti and Maria Wickwire among the bright aisles of paintings. Their contrasting styles whisper an emotional dialogue between head and heart, as old as humankind. Gigliotti carves in several media, abstract as well as realist. His small bronze sculptures celebrate athletic perfection and the beauty of the human figure. 

Wickwire’s ceramic figures—here, all female—hide within boxes, suffer dismemberment, sprout porcupine quills where arms should be or recline sacrificially on an altar of antlers. They are dramatic beyond their minute proportions—but how much greater impact would they have if even half-life-size, like her “Clevis, Goddess of the Deep!”

One can be brainwashed by so much beauty. Driving home, the Skagit farmland looked as if Monet had painted it—meadows grazed by black-and-white cows, plowed fields paralleling toward darkly forested hills.

If you have time, I’d also advise stopping in downtown Mount Vernon to visit the Perry and Carlson Gallery at 504 S. 1st St. Their October show features Deer Harbor painter Marilyn Jonassen. She works in the difficult medium of encaustic, in which she has developed a number of innovations. Her present work appears almost minimal, perhaps more confident than her earlier work shown at the (now closed) Fetherston Gallery in Seattle.

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