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  • Wednesday, November 02, 2022 11:12 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Perry and Carlson in Mount Vernon, Washington has quickly established itself as a must-do in the city’s downtown. Owners Trina Perry and Christian Carlson had long dreamed of a space to foster creativity and explore their own artistic endeavors, and they found the perfect location for their storefront in the historic 1924 Brunet Building. Christian, an artist and architect, and Trina, an artist and retail designer, were the perfect people to renovate the treasured historic location and bring it new life. The resulting storefront is not only a carefully curated shop with goods from around the world but is also beloved for its thoughtful art exhibitions which feature artists from all geographic regions. Exhibitions range from installations to sculpture to printmaking, but the next two exhibitions highlight a beloved genre in the Pacific Northwest: landscape paintings by Dodi Fredericks and Christian Carlson. 


    In November, Perry and Carlson Gallery shows landscape and abstract watercolors by Dodi Fredericks in an exhibit titled, “Mind’s Eye.” Her interest in art started early; she was an art major in school and worked in a pottery studio in Virginia for nearly a decade before moving to the Pacific Northwest. While attending the University of Washington, Fredericks attended a landscape architecture class which launched her 30-year career as a landscape architect. It may come as no surprise that this interest in the landscape carries through in her watercolors today. 


    Interestingly, Fredericks connects her early career as a potter to the paintings she creates today. When asked about the connection, the artist said watercolors and glazing have similar characteristics and that she felt drawn to watercolor because of her previous experience. Both materials are fluid and allow for creative accidents, a process attractive to her. This balance of control and freedom is key to her paintings, just as it was to her pottery. The artist recalls the complexities of pottery; the glaze, fire, temperature, material components, and more. Watercolor is almost like a dance with a push and pull between the control of the artist and the ability to allow the materials to flow freely.


    Both the November and December exhibits at Perry and Carlson Gallery feature landscape painting and both artists reiterate the importance of connecting with the natural environment to truly understand the atmosphere around them. The light in the Pacific Northwest is transformed as it filters through the mist and air, creating a quality of light that continues to draw artists and creatives to the region. For Fredericks, a connection to the landscape is crucial to her work as she seeks to create a serene atmosphere. Trips to Eastern Washington with its expansive qualities and to Norway with the water-filled fjords encouraged the artist to think about space, time, and how it feels to be in these locations. Christian Carlson, an artist, architect, and co-owner of Perry and Carlson, is also showing his paintings at the gallery in December. Entitled “At Sea Level,” his paintings are reflections of his experience observing the land while out at sea in his kayak. Originally painting in the style of abstract expressionists, Carlson turned his attention more to the natural world after moving to the Skagit Valley. Now his work is influenced by the impression of the landscape, rather than his exact observations of the world. While the images made by Carlson are not exact locations, all his works capture the essence of his subjects with incredible perception and feeling. The works have multiple layers of paint all working together to create gradations of color and incredible depth in a 2-dimensional surface. All of the paintings consistently have a strong horizon line, perhaps to give the viewer a sense of their place in the work, but subtle vertical lines emerge at close viewing. These lines, cracks, or scratches give the impression that maybe something is amiss in the painted world before us. In the end, each visitor will determine their own feeling or impression during the viewing experience. 


    During the colder months of November and December the shows at Perry and Carlson Gallery provides a welcome escape from the dark winter views. When the fields turn brown, and the trees lose their leaves, Fredericks and Carlson’s blues and greens appear even brighter. Only the filtered light through the mist connects the frozen landscape to the painted ones. From fluid and expansive vistas by Fredericks to Carlson’s imagined landscape impressions, visitors to downtown Mount Vernon will experience landscape painting in a new and personal way.

    Chloé Dye Sherpe

    Chloé Dye Sherpe is a curator and art professional based in Washington State.


    Perry and Carlson, located at 504 South 1st Street in Mount Vernon, Washington, is open Wednesday through Monday from 11 A.M. to 6 P.M. They are closed on Tuesdays. For more information, visit www.perryandcarlson.com.


  • Wednesday, November 02, 2022 10:43 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Gallery Onyx, the phenomenal showcase for artists of African descent in Seattle, has just opened a second venue in the chic Arte Noir space at 23rd and Union in Seattle, Washington! 


    The only gallery in Seattle with two venues, Gallery Onyx started with only seven artists in a small space in Belltown in 2015. Now it includes over 400 artists in its collective. You can currently see 33 artists in their ongoing “Members Exhibit” at Gallery Onyx Pacific Place. Gallery Onyx Midtown Square is showing 46 artists in the exhibition “Truth B Told II” selected from their portfolio of the same name. The new space is larger than the original gallery with movable walls that create a dynamic presence. 


    When you enter Gallery Onyx, it is obvious that it follows a unique path: rather than a homogenous look, with just one or two artists, it juxtaposes dozens of artists of all styles and media, from abstract to realistic, from expressionist, to surreal, from mosaics to digital prints. Earnest Thomas, President and Co Founder of Gallery Onyx focuses on inclusiveness, rather than a marketable style from an artist. He encourages young artists, bashful artists, artists who have never show their work before. Gallery Onyx mission is to “educate, inspire, cultivate, and showcase the artwork of artists of African descent from our Pacific Northwest communities.” 


    This mission is meeting with great success. As you read the biographies of the artists in the Gallery Onyx portfolio “Truth B Told II,” that includes 276 artworks by 74 artists, formal art training does not dominate the narrative. The Onyx artists came to art while pursuing full time jobs, professional careers, and/or military service. Some took up art after a medical condition prevented them from working. Some began to draw as two year olds, but never went to art school, others took it up as elders. The range of experiences that these artists bring to their work inspires us, telling us that creativity can blossom no matter what stage or age in life. 


    Both of the Onyx galleries are welcoming, comfortable places where artists can interact with customers and each other. The movable walls can easily be reconfigured. Thomas, like Vivian Phillips, Arte Noir Executive Director, deeply believes in the power of community. Earnest Thomas seeks to “uplift the soul to soul communication that art brings.” Arte Noir’s vision is to create “space, stability, opportunity, and training to serve the needs of the Black creative community with a permanent location at Midtown Square.”


    Arte Noir’s boutique sales gallery features artist-designed products by some of the same artists, as well as those shown in the spectacular murals in Midtown Center’s courtyard and on the outside walls of Midtown Center. 


    Highlighting a few works in “Truth B Told II” is difficult! “Hello My Friend,” by Vincent Keele, is a portrait of Earnest Thomas that depicts the interior of Thomas’s house with his painting in the background. Next to it in the gallery is that same painting “Planar Views I and II,” two adjacent canvases with the same structure of rectangles and squares, but on the right the open frames in single colors intersect to suggest an unsolvable puzzle, while on the left opaque planes, with many of the same colors, create a different dynamic entirely. 


    The portrait of John Lewis “Our Hero” in acrylic and ceramic by Brenda Ezell pays intimate homage to a great leader suggesting his intense life of commitment to Civil Rights. 


    Michael Madden’s “Street Corner” includes collage, oil paint, and drawing, as well as embedded photographs. Its multiple complex levels suggests the experience in Seattle these days, from proud histories to desperation. 


    “Amboseli” by Jackie Nichols, with beads, leather, and metal sewn into the surface honors a Masai warrior that she met in the Amboseli National Park in East Africa. It is one of several works with an African theme. 


    Bryan Stewart’s “Presence,” a tall narrow half portrait of a black man looks down on us with serene dignity.


    The new Gallery Onyx Midtown Square paired with the Gallery Onyx at Pacific Place allows these artists to reach a wide audience. Throughout the entire Midtown Complex with its extensive art program, we can experience the flowering of contemporary artists of color in the Central District and the versatility of artists of African descent. 


    Susan Noyes Platt

    Susan Noyes Platt writes a blog www.artandpoliticsnow.com and for local, national, and international publications.


    Gallery Onyx, located at Pacific Place, 600 Pine Street, in Seattle, Washington, is open from Friday through Sunday, from 12 to 6 P.M.


    Gallery Onyx Midtown Square, located inside Arte Noir, 2301 E. Union, St Suite H, in Seattle, Washington, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M.


  • Wednesday, November 02, 2022 10:24 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


  • Wednesday, August 31, 2022 8:41 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    The intricate and fanciful sculptures of Calvin Ma are on view at Foster/White Gallery in Seattle, in a show that runs the month of September. New pieces from the San Francisco-based sculptor Calvin Ma are extensions of the “Blend In” series that has absorbed him in recent years. This on-going project centers on bird-human figures in varied settings and poses; these figures are provocative, though not all viewers will be provoked in the same way, as Ma himself has observed with some amusement.


    Ma’s craftsmanship is on display, his mastery of color and form, but it’s not just a question of technique: the work attains a psychological richness with its enigmatic imagery. The precision of the craft enhances the aura of intimacy or vulnerability that Ma’s work brings about. Ma keeps things light-hearted with his geekery, and with his vivid celebrations of color, shape, and pattern. 


    The foremost feature in the “Blend In” series is the merger of bird and human form. Where does one stop and the other begin? Is one a mask for the other? Are the two beings companions, or in opposition? 


    Avian/humanoid fusion is of course ancient material, and deeply archetypal. We think of falcon-headed Horus in ancient Egypt, or the winged figures in Greek mythology. But Ma seems less interested in historical echoes than in contemporary fixations: his inspirations are comic book superheroes (with their wing-like capes draped about them) and the action-figures of his boyhood—the

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a particularly strong formative influence on Ma. 


    This is an artist whose geek game is a strong. An early boost to Ma’s career came in 2014 when his work appeared in the “Geek-Art” anthology published by Chronicle Books. Ma still gives a bulbous look to the leg joints of his “Blend In” figures—you’d think the joints are articulated in standard action-figure style. But these limbs are in no way pliable or posable (not that I touched the artwork to find out!). 


    When Ma deploys a bulbous form where the legs don’t bend, we can suppose it simply looks and feels right to him; as a child he escaped with his action figures into flights of imagination, and went on to dream of working for the Mattel or Hasbro toy companies. Ma underscores that these early activities were highly tactile experiences; this may explain another characteristic of his work, that each facet of each pattern in his designs is finely textured and (often) complexly colored. Look closely. The amount of carving and incising and brushing that go into any one piece is astounding to consider. 


    The theme of disguise has always been present in Ma’s work, just as it is in the Ninja Turtles and the superheroes of his boyhood. What Ma wants to disguise or defend against is his social anxieties, the awkward shyness he’s struggled with since childhood, and which he feels hindered by to this day. “Being shy, timid, and a bit socially awkward is something that will always be a part of me,” Ma stated in 2020. “The goal is to come to terms with it and grow from it.” He draws a connection between the stiffness he feels within himself during social encounters and the stiffness of his ceramic figures—they are inarticulate. 


    As for the avian element, birds appear to be more than just a convenient vessel for Ma’s investigations but a personal passion. Diverse breeds have migrated into the “Blend In” series—owls, ravens, even tropical birds. They add visual variety to the menagerie, prompting Ma to explore delightful new shapes and color schemes. Ma remains faithful to natural coloration and yet he’s inventive in his arrangement of those colors; when it comes to orchestrating color harmonies within each piece, he’s a maestro.


    Depictions of habitat are an important dimension in Ma’s world, and a relatively recent one. In earlier projects like “Homebodies,” his figures stood alone, isolated from surroundings. More recently his figures appear within a larger composition, the bounds of which are defined by an array of smaller ceramic pieces—sometimes dozens of them. These nature elements sit below or above, behind or around the figure, as in a diorama. We see the abstracted branches a bird might perch on or nest in (“Between the Lines”) or spacious displays of protective leaves or nourishing flowers (as in “Leave No Trace” and “New Growth”). Each leaf, branch, and blossom is hand-built and individuated. Ma presents more than a character, but a setting and a scene, a drama of sorts. The story taking place is yours to imagine; for Ma they likely are to do with a stressful social engagement. By strewing flowers and leaves and other presences in this way, Ma opens out both spatially and emotionally; as visuals, the habitat arrangements express spontaneity, fluidity, and openness, in contrast to the tightness that defines and confines the figure. These scenes breathe and achieve balance. With these qualities activated it seems that Ma is making progress along an arduous path.


    Tom McDonald

    Tom McDonald is a writer and musician living on Bainbridge Island, Washington.


    Calvin Ma’s exhibit “Blend In: Between the Lines” is on view at Foster/White Gallery, located at 220 Third Avenue South in Seattle, Washington, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M.  For information, visit www.fosterwhite.com.


  • Wednesday, August 31, 2022 8:37 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


  • Wednesday, August 31, 2022 8:01 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    “Art isn’t a way to be famous and rich, but it is a way to connect on a spiritual level with your paintings, people, and good friends.” This quote by Alfredo Arreguín from the DreamPath Podcast, Episode 8 perhaps best describes the acclaimed artist’s goal for his work. Arreguín’s unique combination of complex, geometric patterns with portraiture and landscape elements blend to create for the viewer either a spiritual moment or opportunity for introspection. The exhibit, “Arreguín: Painter from the New World,” brings together two key elements of the artist’s style: abstraction and formative cultural elements. Both characteristics of the artist’s aesthetic exemplify a style that is instantly recognizable in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

     

    Alfredo Arreguín’s artworks are included in many key art collections around the world, including significant paintings at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the U.S. Department of State’s Art in Embassies program, and the Seattle Art Museum. This writer is often delighted by recognizing one of his familiar scenes from across the gallery in numerous art museums around the country. Western Washington has enjoyed several major solo exhibitions of the artist’s work, including most recently an exhibition at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. The exhibit at the Museum of Northwest Art adds an additional art historical element for the viewer to consider when experiencing Arreguín’s work: European Modernism. This formal analysis references several of the artist’s instructors from his time at the University of Washington, many of whom have work on display in the second-floor galleries. 


    One such instructor was Francis Celentano, a professor of painting at the University of Washington and key figure in the Op Art movement in the United States in the 1960s. A quote by Arreguín explains the relationship between the two artists: “I was getting good at figurative art so in his class he had a set-up with white geometric shapes. He asked me to join his class. All that light and subtlety and shapes—it was very inspiring. These were things I could do in my own compositions.” The exhibition includes several new and older paintings that highlight the artist’s stated interest in both geometric shapes and the influence of light on those forms. “Emerald Island” from 1970 is at the entrance of the exhibition, a location of prominence since it was the first of the artist’s pattern paintings. A grid defines the composition and squares are filled with gradient colors that evoke shadows amongst the confident lines. Inside the boxes are seemingly unrecognizable characters that retain the artist’s hand in their calligraphic style. As the root of Arreguín’s signature style, “Emerald Island” illustrates the juxtapositions in his work: geometry combined with organic and naturalistic elements. 


    The exhibition is loosely organized based on several themes. The first paintings lay the groundwork for a consideration of the artist’s interest in geometric abstraction and other modernist artistic movements in the 20th century. The artworks that follow are excellent examples of the other main characters in the artist’s oeuvre: the figure and nature. Arreguín includes many beloved Northwest animals, such as salmon and orca whales, in his recent work. The artist has long featured the jungle in his work, often drawing from his experience as a child growing up in Morelia. The jungle provides the artist with a lush, natural backdrop, which he then often organizes with intricate pattern designs. Some of his work appears to comment on the delicate balance of these scenes. This is best illustrated in “Kodiak II,” which features a solitary moose standing over the shrinking glaciers in Alaska. 


    Arreguín’s paintings of almost otherworldly landscapes are as recognizable as his portraits. Some include prominent historical figures like Frida Kahlo, while others feature other artists and writers that the artist knows personally. Many of his subjects endured great adversity. Whether the challenges they faced were physical, such as Kahlo, or in the fight for rights, Arreguín pays homage to their courage and determination. The gallery guide created for the exhibition is an excellent resource for visitors to learn more about the artist’s interest in portraiture, in addition to the range of cultural influences that inform and inspire the artist’s work. The guide provides a lens for understanding his imagination, memories, and vision. 


    As a compliment to Arreguín’s exhibition, the museum features “In Pursuit of Abstraction: Instructors at the University of Washington School of Art in the 1960s”. Several artists mentioned in Arreguín’s exhibition have artworks on display in the second-floor galleries and there is another informative gallery guide available that describes the various art historical “isms” in the show. 

     

    Chloé Dye Sherpe

    Chloé Dye Sherpe is a curator and art professional based in Washington State. 


    Arreguín: Painter from the Other World” is on view through October 9, Monday through Sunday, 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. at Museum of Northwest Art, located at 121 South First Street in La Conner, Washington. For more information, visit www.monamuseum.org.


  • Wednesday, August 31, 2022 8:00 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    For Phoebe & Scott, June 11, 2022


    A marriage is a waiting and an arrival, an endless joining and parting, a balance of needs and desires, of work and play. It is both the urge and the reason, the plan and its delay, the measure of everything we chance, win or lose, in the night-to-night and day-by-day.


    I once had a terrible class of eighth graders. The trouble was mostly the girls, who had started to blossom out beyond the boys, who were the usual dolts and delinquents, but still quiet and polite. The girls felt their dawning rivalry, and were merciless with each other. They drew blood any way they could. All I could do was break up the fistfights and threaten them with the cops.


    And then one chilly day, hopeless, at an utter loss, I saw it was Valentine’s Day. And I asked the kids to take out paper and pencil and describe something someone did for them, that convinced them they were loved. Anything. Some kids wrote about their parents, sisters and brothers. Some told long stories. Some kids made stuff up. When they were done, they wanted me to read them all outloud, without saying whose was whose. So I shuffled them up and did. This one girl had written “He gives me flowers without picking them.” That was it. “He gives me flowers without picking them.” How do you even do that? But there it was, and it cut deep, and got to the heart of the matter. Honoring the transitory beauty in the moment, appreciating that a cut flower will have no offspring. That all it has is this moment. Stunning, irresistible, maybe a heartbeat too early or too late.


    That is why we are here. That is the kind of creatures we are. Because someone can touch someone else in a way no one else can even see. And that everyone should be treated that well, in that secret invisible way. “That flower over there, by the fence? That one, the brightest one, is yours.”


    When it works, we stand together against the unfeeling world. Somebody’s got our back. Yet even when it works, it sometimes comes and goes. We have to 

    reconnect, we have to not forget to reconnect. Even in our momentary joys. Even when we let go a minute, we need to recall our promises, and double back, and hold on like we still mean it. And reconnect with all our heart.


    Paul Hunter

    Paul Hunter is the author and poet living in Seattle. His most recent book is a second cowboy novel set in Texas, Mr. Brick & the Boys, out from Davila Books in January. A third cowboy book is nearing completion, Untaming the Valley, set in a fictional spot in Southwestern Montana. He has several poetry collections, including Stubble Field (Silverfish Review Press), Ripening (Silverfish Review Press), and Breaking Ground (Silverfish Review Press), which received the 2005 Washington State Book Award. 


  • Wednesday, August 31, 2022 7:57 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    Word by Word

    That I dream in sentences may seem a bit odd.

    Except it isn’t, really.

    How the sentences began is a story in itself, intertwined with my love of reading, prompted by whatever book I’m immersed in or, more likely, by my opinion of whatever book I’m immersed in. I hear the words. Then, slowly, they emerge. Words that want nothing more than to make my mind a truer place in which to live.

    They are not always successful.

    Nor are they new to my dream cycles. When I was a kid, Highlights was my favorite read, and mine alone, though I was supposed to share the magazines with my sisters. I didn’t share them with my sisters. In winter, I hid them under my bed. In summer, in my tree fort.

    No one ever found me in my fort and that’s what I wanted. Without interruption, I was eager to know myself in the world outside of my family, my school, my street.

    My fort was neat, airy, and when the afternoon sun hit the paper birch, the white bark illuminated every insect hovering in the air between the lowest branches and the ground. It was about this time that I started dreaming in sentences.

    My father said, “don’t let the neighbor kids climb up,” which didn’t bother me, I didn’t want the neighbor kids to climb up. But I couldn’t imagine what he meant by “dangerous.” To me, the weather-beaten boards weren’t a hazard, but safety. I thought the lopsidedness of my three walls (it was more of a lean-to) was its most endearing quality. To this day, a well-kept cottage can fill me with house-envy. But it’s not like that when I see lavish reflections of wealth. It’s as if I can feel certain tensions seeping out and then, there they are, gathering in a sleepy sentence inside of my head.

    I’m not saying every gigantic house is chaos waiting to happen. I’m just saying that’s how I internalize them. Listening to my parents’ marriage implode within the sturdy split-level my father built, my fort became, not all at once but as their fights intensified, a requirement for the rest of my life. I felt more at home in my fort than anywhere else. I think I’ve been searching for that same feeling ever since.

    A few of my homes have come close. Sometimes I feel as if my true place is still out there.

    I write terribly in the dark and most mornings I have no memory of the sentences. But when I re-read the scribble, I see how the words want to matter just as much as I do, they want to try. They bomb just as often. But they try.

    This morning, the exclamation points ran off the pad. It looks as though I was upset. 

    And I remember with absolute clarity why I was so upset: Earlier, I ate red meat for the first time since I was seventeen. I didn’t know I was eating it. It was in the sauce. I was fine. My stomach didn’t even seem to notice. My mind, however—clearly more sensitive to the thought of beef than my stomach—rebelled, leaving exclamation points in its wake.

    “In my tree fort I began to see how my life would always be about small losses, small wins.” Half an hour ago, this sentence surfaced during the nap I tried to take. The words made their way in, they made mistakes (for instance: I don’t like the word “wins”), they made me listen. To everything.

    Even the memory of that fort makes me smile. I manage to forget the world’s harms and come back to my nest in the woods, and that’s the closest thing to happiness I know.

    Mary Lou Sanelli

    Mary Lou Sanelli, author, speaker, and master dance teacher, is the author of Every Little Thing, a collection of essays nominated for a 2022 Washington State Book Award. Her novel, The Star Struck Dance Studio of Yucca Springs, was released in 2020 and her first children’s book, Bella Likes To Try, is to be published in the fall of 2022. For more information, visit www.marylousanelli.com.

  • Monday, July 04, 2022 11:57 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    exile


    oh daughter of mine

    there will come

    a day when you

    must make

    that fateful journey

    away from home


    after the night of broken glass

    your parents will vanish

    the world will shatter

    and you must flee


    go then

    to find the iris

    of a dragon’s eye


    you’ll find

    a garden

    under the churn

    of blue water

    where the stars

    of a lost constellation

    lie in slumber


    mountains of clouds

    black columns

    of shimmering stone

    hover around

    the scales 

    of this sleeping giant


    you will feel

    the movement

    of waves in air

    and water


    quietly bob along

    until you find

    the oldest star


    let it carry you

    to the farthest shore

    where the light

    is never extinguished

    and birds sing

    in the tallest trees


    Alan Chong Lau

    Alan Chong Lau is a poet and visual artist based in Seattle, Washington. He serves as Arts Editor for the International Examiner, a community newspaper. As a visual artist, he is represented by ArtXchange Gallery in Seattle, Washington.

    John Levy is a poet and photographer. His most recent book of poetry, “Silence Like Another Name,” was published by Otata’s Bookshelf. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.

    Alan Chong Lau and John Levy have published three volumes of a poetry and photography collaboration that can be found by searching online for “eye2word.”


  • Monday, July 04, 2022 11:39 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    This summer and into the fall, Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is putting on a retrospective of works by the celebrated Northwest visionary, George Tsutakawa (1910-1997). Maybe “Northwest visionary” doesn’t quite do the artist justice: Tsutakawa attained international stature in his time, rivaling that of his friends Mark Tobey and Morris Graves. With over seventy artworks on hand—paintings, drawings, sculptures, hand-crafted furniture—as well as a gorgeous exhibition catalogue, the retrospective is a real occasion.

    People often asked George Tsutakawa if he was Japanese or American, and he liked to answer “both.” His commitment to both, his ability to unify them, is part of what makes the artist loom large in the post-WWII arts scene. Born in Seattle in 1910, Tsutakawa was sent to Japan in early childhood, receiving a rich education in traditional Japanese arts and culture. His well-off family charted out his educational future, but Tsutakawa rejected it, particularly its militarist aspect. Disowned, Tsutakawa came back to Seattle. At University of Washington, he studied art and philosophy while working in fish canneries and produce stands to support himself. 

    The horrors of WWII and a climate of racial hatred caused many Japanese Americans living in the U.S. to distance themselves from their Japanese heritage, and this was true of Tsutakawa. He poured himself into European and American culture and embraced modernism in all its forms. But a cultural shift was going around him. Local painters like Morris Graves and Mark Tobey, writers like Gary Snyder, musicians like John Cage (then teaching at Cornish), had all been moving in an opposite direction: they disdained many aspects of “Western” culture and found artistic and spiritual inspiration in Zen and other “Eastern’’ practices. Tsutakawa was well-suited to flourish in those cultural cross-currents. 

    The retrospective concentrates on his work from the 1950s forward. One of the earliest pieces on view is “Beach Pattern No. 11” (1950). Tsutakawa’s reverence for water is already present in the work. While the watercolor reveals traces of his later style, what leaps out more strongly is the influence of Cubism and Expressionism. 

    Encouraged by Mark Tobey, Tsutakawa began to revive his connection to the Japanese aesthetics he’d once renounced. You can see this evolution in works from the 1960s and beyond. One highlight of the show is “Cracked Lake” from 1974. The large painting in sumi and gansai (Japanese watercolor) plays a game of making ink and paper look like clay. It’s the clay of a dried-up lake-bed that Tsutakawa represents, but this image echoes the ceramic style most prized in Japan during Tsutakawa’s childhood: Hagi ware. Rawness and simplicity characterizes the style, as does the unpredictable web of cracks in the glaze. 

    What is also striking about “Cracked Lake” is what’s absent from it: water and life. Other paintings from the same period teem with living creatures. It’s as if “Cracked Lake” invites a meditation on impermanence.

    As fine as the paintings may be, Tsutakawa made his greatest marks with wood and bronze sculptures. One major inspiration for Tsutakawa’s new directions in sculpture came from reading the 1952 travelog, “Beyond the High Himalayas.” Its author, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas described obos, stacked rock formations erected by pilgrims traversing mountain passes, each traveler adding their own stone or flat boulder to the monument. Whatever import the artist found here, obos entranced him enough that they began turning up in his paintings (“Flying Obos”). In ‘57 he set out to explore these humble forms in a series of wooden sculptures. For these works Tsutakawa chose teak, a wood that is native to India and Southern Asia. This show includes several pieces from the series, some in wood, some in bronze. 

    Tsutakawa made his breakthrough bronze fountain sculpture in 1960; “Fountain of Wisdom” was based on the obos concept. The piece was commissioned for the entrance to the Seattle Public Library—the artist’s first major public art commission (two more commissions came before the first was even unveiled). This exhibition includes select proposal drawings and models (maquettes) depicting several of his towering fountains; the exhibition catalog includes several photographs of the actual works installed at sites all over the world. 

    The obsession with the obos didn’t end there for Tsutakawa, however. At the age of 67 he climbed to the 15,000-foot level in the Himalayas to see obos with his own eyes. This story comes up in the exhibition catalog, and it speaks volumes about Tsutakawa’s life. 

    Maybe it is that larger-than-life quality that inspired Bainbridge Island Museum to install a tribute to the artist in the museum’s two-story window gallery. For this effort, the curatorial and installation teams collaborated with artist June Sekiguchi and artist/engineer Charles Faddis. It’s a fitting gesture for a towering figure like Tsutakawa. 

    Tom McDonald

    Tom McDonald is a writer and musician living on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

    “George Tsutakawa: Language the Nature” is on view at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, located at 550 Winslow Way on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and open daily from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. For more information, visit www.biartmuseum.org.


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