Gallery celebrates 20 years of nurturing "a painterly approach"
Special to The Seattle Times
Visitors to Seattle this summer will want to see Lisa Harris Gallery's 20th anniversary show when they visit the Pike Place Market. Located on the second floor of the historic Soames-Dunn building at the market's north end, Lisa Harris Gallery has settled on a formula for success — the absolute middle of the road. Lots of landscapes, still lifes and fine prints are peppered with a few abstract paintings, realistic bronzes and photographs.
With a stable of 27 artists drawn mostly from the West Coast but also Tennessee and Pennsylvania, Harris' artists are all top-flight professionals, almost all of whom have also exhibited widely beyond the Pacific Northwest.
Harris has carefully selected examples so that newcomers may get a thorough, informative and entertaining idea of what the gallery is about. Her chief success stories are British-born landscape painter John Cole and printmaker and painter Thomas Wood, both of Bellingham. They are brilliant technicians with strong individual styles who have attracted recognition in museums as well as galleries.
Cole's "Cold Evening" is a good example of his light touch: a rushing, winter stream is glimpsed at twilight. Cole is the subject of a recent book by former Seattle Times art critic Deloris Tarzan Ament. Wood's art delves more deeply into fantasy and narrative; in general, a strong theme that is part of the Lisa Harris "look." Though Wood's "Totem" is an amusing pile of figures atop a turtle, be sure to examine the etching of the same title in the print bin nearby. In a way, Wood is a better printmaker than a painter. The finesse of the etching is more satisfying than the blurry execution of the oil.
Emily Wood (coincidentally, Thomas Wood's cousin) is a strong anchor for the gallery's landscape core. "Missouri River Canyon" is a shadowy river bend, like a scene from a John Ford film. Kathryn Altus' "Isola 2 — Willapa Bay" treats landscape as something always surrounded by water. Like Emily Wood, she is bound to gain a greater following with the passage of time.
Abstraction is the gallery's weakest link, tending toward the craft-heavy, decorative end rather than a geometric, conceptual version. David Green's and Michael Greenspan's works combine plastic, wax, plaster and other materials bonded to wooden panels. Victoria Johnson and Joan Gold each make more colorful and larger scale art, but they tend to fall back too heavily on symmetrical compositions and pattern. Richard Hutter and Mandy Beckett each have a more layered look, with the latter represented by some highly painterly monotypes. If Hutter would explore color relationships more instead of letting the contrast of black on white do the heavy lifting, he might evolve into a more substantial talent.
Within Harris' figurative-narrative wing, several artists stand out. Lois Silver's "The Inquisitive Waiter" could be a scene at a better restaurant right in the Pike Place Market. It's typical of her dense, anecdotal oils; deftly executed, but weakened by the generic figures. Oslo-trained Royal Nebeker's "And So in Beauty" is from a recent series exploring the playwright Henrik Ibsen. However, simply excerpting lines in Norwegian at the base of each picture doesn't save them from the accusation of illustration, a touchy charge that can be leveled at much narrative art.
Richard Morhous' "Studio" resists any easy categorization. Part landscape, part still life and part abstraction, it is a good example of this artist's bold style with its familiar, thick black outlines. Despite such repeated mannerisms, Morhous always manages to create a painting that bears repeated looking, one criterion collectors might bear in mind as they introduce themselves to the artists of this now-distinguished Seattle gallery.
For Lisa Harris, her uniting aesthetic is "a painterly approach that is the most important thing. The imagery doesn't matter as much as how they pull it all together."
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