Skagit Abstraction

The shape of things

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Skagit Valley, with its wildlife and stunning vistas, is a refuge of traditional landscape and nature painting—sometimes to the neglect of modern trends in art.  For March, Smith & Vallee Gallery in Edison has put up a show of work entirely by local abstract artists. It’s beautiful, inclusive of all six styles of abstraction: curvilinear, colorist, geometric, intuitional, gestural and minimalist.

Several works are strongly geometrical. In Michael Clough’s “Three in One,” we find a square, triangle, hexagon and four circles in a multicolor haze—creating a nice contrast of hard edge against softness. When Clough moved to the Skagit Valley in 1975, he says he made friends with artists who showed him “not so much how to paint, as what a painting actually is.”

More geometry, ragged rectangles, circles and the outline of a ship set the stage for John Robbins’ leaping fish in “Atlantic Salmon Escape.” Robbins, a longtime Edison resident, is a cabinetmaker whose body of artistic work goes back more than 40 years.

The art of Bellingham printmaker Louis Byron arises from an “exploration of synchronicity, reminiscence, sentimentality and introspection.” In “Over my Shoulder,” geometric shapes float in a sea of azure with such lightness and freedom they might have come from the hand of Miro or Klee.

For sheer colorism, it’s hard to beat Charlotte Slade Decker’s “Wanderlust”—a wash of red, blue-green and black on unprimed canvas. For the past 10 years she has left representational work to focus upon a “more subjective, intuitive world.” Her current painting of “exploding rich colors and bold fluid movement” is inspired by Cuban dance.

However much success Dee Doyle has with representational work, her true passion may be abstraction. Her very successful watercolor, “Inside Out,” is a free sweep of black set against warm orange.

Barbara Silverman Summers personifies the continuity of “mystic” painting in the Skagit Valley. “The Beacon” reprises her previous work with sweeping curves of light; a cascade of broken rectangles drops down. In “Nothing is Lost,” curves and rectangles are enriched by a frenzy of delicate threads of dripped paint which recall Mark Tobey’s “white writing.” 

Peter VanZanders gives us a freewheeling sculpture of nails welded into a light and lovely figure eight—very different from his “Vacancy,” a white canvas backed by wood blocks which create subtle shadows. Such monochrome works have a distinguished pedigree since Kasimir Malevich led the way in 1915.

Minimalism continues in the nearby work of Jasmine Valendani: three silk tissues blackened with ink and gouache, entitled “la flame d’ombre,” glisten as they catch errant sunbeams from the windows. These are within her oeuvre of evanescent paper creations, but a departure into midnight shades.

Abstract art has been around since 80,000 B.C., so if you love it, don’t miss the best our region has to offer.

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