Elemental Gestures: Caryn Friedlander and Alan Lau at ArtXchange Gallery

Wednesday, March 01, 2023 11:07 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

If you want to escape the winter blues, this exhibition is the best place to start.

Caryn Friedlander and Alan Lau both offer us abstractions that celebrate the natural world. They share a deep love of Japanese calligraphy and sumi-e painting: Sumi-e painting is affiliated with Tai Chi, in exploring opposites of Yin and Yang: “The Philosophy of Sumi-e is contrast and harmony, expressing simple beauty and elegance…The art of brush painting, aims to depict the spirit, rather than the semblance of the object.”

Both artists have spent time studying calligraphy and sumi painting in Japan. But each takes these principles and develop them in entirely different ways.

The exhibition is accompanied by Lau’s detailed statement on some of the many styles and masters of Japanese painting that have inspired him even as he states: “Though I loved the process of brushing ink on paper, I knew eventually that I would have to find my own way of working with these materials if I were to forge my own path in art.” We can see that in the freedom of his calligraphic forms.

Lau grew up in the small town of Paradise (recently devastated by fire), as part of the only Chinese family. His father wanted to open a Chinese restaurant where there wouldn’t be any competition. Lau’s first contact with calligraphy and Chinese culture came through his grandmother who lived with them. But by serendipity, he ended up going to Japan instead of China in the 1960s and began a life long connection to Japanese painting and calligraphy.

In this exhibition we see an incredible range of imagery demonstrating Lau’s willingness to experiment in every work. “Where the Stars Fall” created with several media as well as sumi ink, has a layer of soft pinkish white textures overlaid with dancing energetic yellow and black lines. We can see the calligraphy in the lines as a point of departure, even as we recognize that Lau’s own gestural lines. The tiny marks and shapes of “November Steps” in black and white suggests microbial life slowly moving in the midst of the dark days of early winter. It is dedicated to the avant-garde musician Tōru Takemitsu, so we can also read this in terms of the large sounds of percussion billowing out amongst tiny light sounds of woodwinds.

Friedlander is a transplant from New York City where she grew up. That experience (which I share), makes us hungry for nature. Friedlander has lived in the Northwest since the late 1960s. She studied calligraphy as an apprentice in Japan for four years in the 1980s and had two exhibitions at museums in Kyoto.

Calligraphy, like sumi-e painting emphasizes a Zen approach in order to achieve balance and harmony.

The large triptych “Sargasso Sea” honors both the deep blue of this sea without land borders off of North Carolina, as well as the golden brown of the Sargasso seaweed that nourishes aquatic life there. She draws us in with saturated colors inmany layers.

“Helios” a bright yellow painting honors the sun, but we also clearly see the artist’s study of calligraphy. Since Friedlander works in oil, her work is less delicate than Lau’s, but dense with brilliant color. The artist has declared that her process is intuitive: “I make marks and respond to them with more marks, building and deconstructing layers. I get into trouble and work my way through it. At some point things start to make sense. The alchemy that happens when line, color, and space coalesce into a meaningful whole is deeply compelling.”

The exhibition includes works of many sizes, including some that are very small such as the delicate whisper of Lau’s “Plum” and Friedlander’s more gestural “Duo,” “Dip,” and “Forest” in sumi ink and encaustics on panel.

In spite of a common interest in Japanese calligraphy and sumi-e painting, as well as nature, Friedlander’s oil painting and Lau’s mixed media drawing create entirely different moods.

Lau’s “The Secret of Stones I & II,” suggest a meditation on stones in water.

Friedlander’s small “Wading Among the Lilies” feels as though the artist is enmeshed in the flowers.

Be sure to visit this exhibition and immerse yourself in the deep reverence for both painting and nature that these artists explore. You may also achieve some balance and harmony in the midst of these chaotic times.

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

“Elemental Gestures” is on view Tuesday through Saturday from 11 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. until March 25 at the ArtXchange Gallery, located at 512 First Avenue South in Seattle, Washington. For information, visit www.artxchange.org

2023 © Art Access 
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software