From greenhouse to gallery
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Nestled in a verdant valley between wooded hills, the River Gallery looks like it’s been around since pioneer days. But only a few years back, artist-owner Sylvia Strong remodeled the former greenhouse into a well-lit, sizable gallery.
The annual “Spring Show” consists of work by 38 artists. Visitors will find an abundance of lovely studies of meadows and hills, rivers, marshes, trees, flowers and birds. Cynthia Richardson, Margaret C. Arnett, Christine Troyer, and Suzanne Powers offer fine landscape studies. Birds feature in the art of Sallie Lynn Davis, Dedrian Clark, and Jennifer Bowman. Terry MacDonald’s favorite ravens now appear more fierce and individual, and expressionism is creeping into her portraits of chickadees.
Maggi Mason depicts birds as well, but look closer and you’ll find not painting, but collage, genuinely pictorial and compelling—especially “Exuberance” and “the Dance of the Scarecrows.”
Another representational artist “paints” with pastel. Coizie Bettinger’s nature studies are cloying, dreamlike—“modern impressionism.”
Straddling representation and abstraction is the colorful and fascinating work of Jacqui Beck, containing recognizable elements from the natural world (including cats) arranged in strongly abstract compositions.
Yvette Newman, Charlotte Decker, and Brooke Borcherding adhere primarily to abstraction. After a successful run of brightly colored work in her idiosyncratic “cubistic” style, Borcherding appears to be staking out new territory with heavily impastic canvases.
Decker presents a grand sweep of color in “Callejero II” and “Street Jam.” I’ve enjoyed seeing her work in many locations, including Café Rumba in Bellingham and the classroom at “Ode to Learning.”
Newman’s work is also widely seen—at Scott Milo Gallery in Anacortes, the Community Food Co-op in Bellingham, and a large display in Bellis Fair Mall. Her “Palouse” might be termed a colorfield study or a highly abstracted landscape. “Keeping Time” suggests a clockwork pendulum on a bright field of blue.
She believes, “as Einstein did, that imagination is more important than knowledge.” This wise remark recalls the world’s first abstractionist painter, a woman—Hilma af Klint (Sweden, 1906)— who maintained that creating her art was fundamentally a spiritual exercise.
Maria Wickwire, a newcomer to River Gallery this year, would agree; she creates her fascinating and evocative sculpture by “going into the deep where you’re lost and [then] find yourself.”
Three of the men in the show are also sculptors, including Peter Welty, Robert Gigliotti, and Gerald Johnson, who make powerful showings in metal and stone. Gary Giovane combines fine woodworking with painting onto his cedar panels and screens.
Giovane’s birds and plants echo traditions of Japan and China, the British Arts & Crafts movement, and the “formline” design of Northwest indigenous tribes. These days, our Native American neighbors remind us they don’t always appreciate cultural appropriation. Alas, for better or worse, nations have always done it—South Asians and Romans imitating Hellenic sculpture, Europeans adopting the shapes of African art and the style of Japanese screen prints and the list goes on.
Feel free to discuss that topic, among others, while viewing the “Spring Show,” which closes April 30. Catch it now while the tulips are in bloom.
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