Standing Still

From nature to abstraction


What: Artist Talk with Jean Behnke

When: 2 pm Sat., May. 18

Where: Perry and Carlson Gallery, 508 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon

Cost: Free


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Perry and Carlson Gallery in downtown Mount Vernon never fails to offer superbly curated exhibits of local and regional artists. The present show is of sculpture and monoprints by Jean Behnke, whose work has appeared at the Whatcom Museum, Smith & Vallee Gallery, the Museum of Northwest Art, and the Tacoma Museum of Art and has been collected in many western states.

In “Standing Still, Looking Back,” Behnke moves easily from one to two dimensions, embodying themes from nature as well as rigorous abstraction.

The center of the gallery is commanded by four large, solemn shapes. Originally crafted from wood, Behnke has had them cast in bronze. These she calls “objects of metaphorical utility.” Two of them, “Blackened Marker” and “Marker at the Old Path,” suggest giant rasps or washboards intended to be signposts on mankind’s path to perdition. A third, “Device to Measure What’s Left,” refers to “our diminishment of the natural world.”

The fourth bronze piece, more organic in conception, portrays giant ferns arising from a nurse log. The ferns might be mistaken for antlers, but their shape carries into a trio of monotypes—“Arrangement at High Tide,” where fern is transmuted into seaweed, “Bough,” more like a willow, and “Beneath the Bough II,” where the faint impression of a partially inked press leaves much to the imagination. Does it suggest a Chinese sage ascending a mountain?

Of such a transformation, Behnke says “What I make in the studio seems to resolve itself somewhere between my intention and lack of it…and is not possible to predict.” In “Cornucopia Holds up the Last Cell” she is content to record the actual imprint of wood blocks, framed by a pair of abstract shapes in red and black.

Behnke’s aesthetic has been shaped by her Washington state upbringing. She recalls her childhood home near Yakima as a “dark forested area with incessant rainfall, surrounded by a deep, cold lake where we traveled along old paths.” Since 1991 she’s lived on Lopez Island, a “place of restoration and tranquility,” which, she says, has shaped what she makes and how she makes it.

Several of the monoprints are gentle landscapes: “Looking Past the Barn” in two iterations. “MacKaye Harbor Shoreline,” “Western Front Arriving,” and “Western Front Passing Over” reveal her profound observation of the personalities of clouds, the response of leaves and branches to the passing breeze, and a brooding sense of weather transforming to blue sky.

“Glacial Drift” and “Watershed” are colorful abstractions with titles probably suggested by the artists imagination.

“Finding Gravity” and “Drift” share a pastel color scheme, assuaged by aqua, parchment yellow, flecked with hints of rose and umber. The former, very feminine, suggests a pendant on a bosom. “Drift,” a scattering of winged seeds on a pond.

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