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Friday, July 29, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Exhibit Review

A welcome gathering of often far-flung, hidden public art

Seattle Times art critic

Exhibit review


"Paintings from the King County Public Art Collection," 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays at 4culture, 506 Second Ave., Seattle (206-296-7580 or www.4culture.org).

A small but choice survey of paintings from both the old Northwest school and the new is hanging this month at Gallery4Culture, formerly the gallery of the King County Arts Commission. The gallery will move down the street in September to the Tashiro building, a recently renovated space in Pioneer square that houses galleries and artist studios. Curator Greg Bell took advantage of the break in schedule to pull out some photographs (last month) and some paintings this month, from the County's 1,600-piece portable collection. Through the public-art program, the portable-works collection has been growing for more than 30 years. Most of the pieces are hanging at various County-owned buildings that many of us seldom have reason to visit.

In the "old-school" section of the exhibition hangs an unusual and almost unknown Leo Kenney painting from the early 1980s that's been tucked away in some courtroom for many years. Painted in oil on linen, "Imagine the South" is not in the gouache-on-paper of Kenney's signature style. Its abstract imagery stands in the middle of Kenney's development as a painter, looking back to his earlier work, done in California, and showing hints of the wonders that followed. The symmetrical composition is static and rather heavy — two glowing orbs within squares set against a vaporous, striated, sunset-colored field. Yet, because Kenney produced such a small body of work, each painting becomes a significant piece of the puzzle in deciphering his stylistic evolution.

Completed around the same time, but looking much more up-to-date, is Alden Mason's crisp, pleasing "Yellow Bird," one-half a mural-size diptych commissioned for a now-closed Renton courthouse. The luscious squiggles of squeezed-on acrylic against a black ground reference Huichol Indian yarn paintings and beadwork in a lilting, songlike abstraction by the former University of Washington professor. After this show, the painting's two parts will be re-sited in neighboring Kent courtrooms.

Contemporary abstractions by Susan Dory and Ken Kelly hang on the opposite wall, with a diminutive mixed-media piece by San Francisco painter Kara Maria. Vintage paintings by Spencer Moseley and Patricia Hagen complete the lineup.

In August, for the final show at the Smith Tower space, Bell has assembled works by renowned Bay Area Funk painter William T. Wiley, just for fun and to celebrate the painter's connection to Washington state. (Wiley graduated from high school in Richland.)

Sheila Farr: sfarr@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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