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Wednesday, January 20, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A Focus On Northwest Landscape

Paul Havas, landscape paintings, on view through Feb. 3 at the Gordon Woodside/John Braseth Gallery, 1533 Ninth Ave. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. 622-7243.

Paul Havas is one of a small handful of Northwest artists who have found continuing nourishment in painting landscapes. Certainly he is one of the most successful. In a time when nearly all artists must work at jobs other than painting to support their art, Havas, 50, a solid midcareer artist, is a painter pure and simple.

In years past, he has moved from Skagit Valley landscapes to a series of night cityscapes. His new show at the Woodside/Braseth Galleryfocuses on wilderness scenes; sometimes intimate, more often sweeping, eagle-eye views.

Havas is at his best painting the soft interplay of greens that sweep up mountain foothills, with snowfields melting around upthrusts of rock and shrub. Most of the paintings include streams or lakes, and the success of each canvas varies dramatically depending on which form the water takes.

In his hands, water may brilliantly reflect the play of sunlight, but it does not flow. "Cataracts from Green Lake" and "Falls on Cougar Creek" are so heavily and deliberately painted that their substance seems more metallic than liquid.

But when the water is placid, Havas' touch can be pure magic. Rhythmic, crackling strokes of paint bring life to the aquamarine depths of "Spring Morphology, Lake Berden," reflecting the sky at the foot of snowfields whose edges retract under the sun.

The lichen-crusted side of "Wenatchee River Boulder" is a strong, mute presence. But don't walk the Wenatchee River looking for it; it may not exist. Havas' paintings are not literal likenesses of the landscape that inspired them. He has said he regards painting as a fiction; a hypothetical interpretation of the visible world through the material fact of paint.

Painting from sketches, he adjusts proportions, and follows the painted surface itself, allowing it to lead him into unexpected choices, so that images often change in response to the paint.

Havas is fascinated by the way light sharpens edges, and shadows dissolve them. Despite his concentration on light, Havas declines to be identified as an impressionist. But it is hard to deny that association when one looks at the soft sparkle of "Samish Bay," a painting in which Havas captures a setting sun throwing lemon light across the sky, reflecting on wide expanses of tidal flats. Veiled, glowing light is the true subject of this mesmerizing scene.

The slender format of the painting, 80 inches wide and only 19 inches high, is almost a Havas trademark. Only a small percentage of his paintings are compressed into that shape, but almost invariably they are his strongest work.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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