• 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

  • Monday, July 04, 2022 11:10 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    “There is another world, but 

    Before visiting Loper and Veltkamp’s exhibitions, the guest first passes through a series of installations that are worth mentioning. Ko Kirk Yamahira’s suspended installation hangs above the viewer while they also experience Tricia Stackle’s Color Spectrum Collection; sculptures that are designed specifically for human interaction. The objects were arranged in a circle and their undulating forms invite people to sit, lie down, climb, and otherwise experience them. Stackle is based in Mount Vernon, Washington, a city about 60 miles north of the museum, and this is part of an ongoing relationship between the artist and BAM. From their first art interaction in the museum, visitors are aware of their role and presence in and around the work. it is in this one.” The words of Surrealist poet Paul Éluard reverberate from the gallery walls of the Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM). Even though the quote is included in Patte Loper’s exhibition, it is possible that the general viewer can utilize questions raised by the phrase for multiple art exhibitions and artistic expressions. Empathy, creativity, perspective, and communication are all attributes that aid the inquisitive viewer, and all these characteristics come into play with the artworks currently in the museum. From Loper’s scientific labyrinth drawings to Joey Veltkamp’s vibrant reminders rooted in nostalgia, the exhibitions provoke the viewer to consider their role in the natural world, relationships with neighbors (human and natural), and humankind’s position in this world.

    Patte Loper and Joey Veltkamp’s exhibits are both in the third-floor galleries of the museum. The interpretive text details that Loper’s exhibit began as a study in how the foundational theories of early museum collections and scientific explorations appeared  to support a destructive relationship with the natural world, as opposed to promoting humankinds’ interconnectedness to that world. Later, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to push the artist to consider perspectives that were not human at all. What does a world look like if humans are not at the center? Further exploration in a cemetery led the artist to review our connectivity with the natural and spiritual world, and how all these elements relate and communicate to each other. 

    Loper examines these relationships in a series of drawings called “Tapestry Maps.” The interpretive museum texts connect these drawings to Hieronymus Bosch’s artwork, “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” which some scholars have interpreted as scenes of Heaven, Earth, and Hell. However, one interesting comparison is between Loper’s “Tapestry Maps” and the “Creation” scene by Bosch, which is visible when the triptych is closed. Visually, both works are devoid of color and reference a globe. Bosch’s “Creation” is perfect; empty of humans and occupied by thriving plant life. In contrast, Loper’s maps outline the movement of reality as our existence progresses from heaven to earth to hell, a result of the living and conscious creatures becoming more disconnected. In addition to these incredibly detailed drawings, Loper includes an installation and sculpture. The work is conceptual, and the subject matter is challenging, so it is helpful that the artist also includes a station for viewer participation and reflection.

    Across the hallway, the viewer is immediately drawn to the playful and colorful work of Joey Veltkamp. Titled “SPIRIT!,” the exhibition includes many of the artist’s quilts, several drawings, banners, an exterior installation, and one rug. While the objects are numerous, the subject matter and mood is remarkably consistent. Veltkamp is interested in what makes his home unique: the food, people, beauty, and history of the Pacific Northwest. 

    The exhibition is not lacking in Veltkamp’s whimsical sense of humor as he highlights some of the stranger elements of the Northwest. Twilight, Twin Peaks, serial killers, and Subarus are all mentioned in the colorful quilts on display. 

    Veltkamp’s exhibition is rooted in his lived experience as a queer folk artist living in the Pacific Northwest, and the show is filled with very personal references from his life and childhood. His dreams, hopes, and fears are all on display. Two quilts are presented on physical beds in a gallery, and above the beds hang beads and crystals on wire that are suspended from the ceiling. The materials catch the eye as they glisten and refract colorful light on the walls and people around them. The artist encourages guests to “walk around and feel the full experience of queerness: the joy, the sorry, the loss, the gifts, the experience.” The exhibition is an invitation to see the world with Veltkamp as your guide.

    The exhibitions could not be more visually different, but it seems that some of the core messages and questions are related. How do we connect with ourselves? How can we be better neighbors? How can we work together to make this world a better place? Take a trip to Bellevue Arts Museum and maybe consider these questions yourself with the artists as your guide.  

    Chloé Dye Sherpe

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

    “Laboratory for Other Worlds” by Patte Loper and “SPIRIT!” by Joey Veltkamp exhibits are on view through October 23 from Wednesday through Sunday 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. at Bellevue Arts Museum, located at 510 Bellevue Way NE in Bellevue Washington. For more information, visit

  • Monday, July 04, 2022 10:58 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Hats off to BONFIRE Gallery for another cutting-edge exhibit with two of the most outrageous artists in Seattle. Deborah Faye Lawrence and Nancy Kiefer both push the boundaries of what is acceptable, but in strikingly different ways. The title, “Still Hung Up,” refers to a phrase that used to refer to passionate affairs gone wrong. But now it means the artists’ obsession with creativity.  

    Nancy Kiefer has a long career of creating insanely confrontational, close up images of women. They are sassy, angry, beautiful, naughty, and recently tragic in her mothers of the disappeared from her “Fierce Woman” series.  These are not easy to look at, the colors are harsh, highly saturated and discordant. Kiefer’s use of black line is aggressive. But what immediately almost overwhelms us is the power of all of these women, whether they undulate like a flame as in “Eye Rise,” offer protection with a flip of a long nailed hand in “Gorgon (Protector),” or hold a terrifying witch mask in “Puppet.” 

    Kiefer is a storyteller as well as a painter, and we see stories in these faces. She exposes the grotesque in our public world with these private women. Kiefer boldly strips away the outside and gives us only the inside and it is, of course, also her own intense emotional experiences that inform these works. 

    Deborah Faye Lawrence disrupts us with collaged images that create unexpected juxtapositions paired with an intense choice of words and references. She frequently uses tin TV trays as the ground for her complex collages. Like Kiefer, her women are strong and naughty. In “Hen Party,” four rooster headed acrobats perch on others only partially seen. They triumphantly hold at bay an intense onslaught of pointed streamers from every direction, each with a different barbed expletive for women. 

    In “Fluid Self-Portrait,” another collage on a tray, a 1950s woman with pearls and heavy glasses balances spherical wooden tops on two fingers of each hand. Her body is an unstable stack of plates balanced on another top, in a landscape of tops. The whole suggests an impossible situation even as the woman beams a huge cheerful smile. The message is clear.

    Lawrence has been making powerful collage for decades. She addresses specific political events, feminism, and personal history, as she undermines cliches and takes on causes. Her sardonic humor  wakes us up.    

    BONFIRE explodes with feminist energy with “Still Hung Up.” These intense artworks show us how to resist the multiple abuses of women’ rights world-wide. Here in our country, of course, we have the imminent loss of the right to an abortion. 

    These artists tell us we are already angry and outrageous, now we need to act on it!

    Susan Noyes Platt

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

    “Still Hung Up” is on view July 20 through August 20, Thursday through Saturday 12 to 5 P.M., at BONFIRE Gallery, located at 603 South Main Street in Seattle, Washington. Opening Reception: Wednesday, July 20, 6-8P.M. First Thursday Reception: August 4, 6-8 P.M. For more information, visit


  • Tuesday, May 03, 2022 2:52 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    At the entrance of “Our Blue Planet,” Ken Workman, the direct descendant of Chief Seattle, welcomes us from the shores of the Duwamish River, the historic homeland of his people, now a superfund site.

    That pairing of history, water, and the present condition of the planet is one theme of “Our Blue Planet.” We next see above our heads, a long banner by Carolina Caycedo that documents the changes in a river as it goes from clean (blue) to polluted (mud colored). Nearby in Caycedo’s video, we learn from the people living on the Paranà River in Brazil, about their traditional ways, the impact of a huge dam on their lives, and their brave resistance.

    This landmark exhibition has ten themes and almost one hundred art works, all drawn from the museum’s own collections and local loans. Three curators collaborated on its organization, mostly remotely, during the pandemic. Pamela McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art; Barbara Brotherton, Curator of Native American Art; and Natalia Di Pietrantonio, newly appointed as Assistant Curator of South Asian Art, created themes that refer to water as necessary to life, as pleasure, as law, as mythic, and as desecrated. They encompass celebration, poetry, ritual, and catastrophe. The exhibition is truly global spanning every continent.

    At the outset, the revival of Indigenous Canoe Journeys is honored with regalia by Danielle Morsette for the ceremonial greetings during stops on the way to the host tribe. These elegant garments are part of the theme “Rivers and Canoes that Sustain Life” which also includes striking videos of actual journeys by Tracey Rector.

    The theme “Rains that Flood and Hypnotize” naturally includes a compelling photograph of a monsoon in India by Raghubir Singh of four women huddled together. In contrast, Amrita Das vividly depicts the overwhelming destruction of the 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka in the linear patterns of the indigenous Mithila Style.

    One of my favorite themes was “Future Waters through the eyes of Women and Children.” The seemingly science fiction landscape of Dallol in Northern Ethiopia, one of the hottest and driest places on Earth, is the setting for the work of Ethiopian artist Aïda Muluneh, who reenacts the almost impossible process of getting water there. Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s video “The Boat People” imagines a future world in which children collect the detritus of what we have left behind and create rituals with them.

    One of the strengths of Seattle Art Museum is Australian indigenous art, and as we hear daily about climate disasters there, the work by those artists takes on all the more significance. They appear throughout the exhibition culminating in the gallery “Where Water is Law in Northern Australia” with newly created works incised on found aluminum next to the more traditional bark paintings.

    Reinstalling works from other galleries in new contexts is another surprise of the exhibition as we greet “The Mask of Ḱumugwe’(Chief of the Sea)” from the Kwakwaka’waka who presides over “Sea Creatures Who are Honored and Endangered.” Not far away is a promised gift, a dramatic bronze turtle. It is an homage to a ritual tradition as well as a reference to efforts today to preserve these turtles and other marine creatures through collaborations between scientists and Indigenous elders.

    We see with new eyes in the reinstallation of Marita Dingus’s stark statement about the slave trade and Claire Partington’s surprising porcelain ensemble that goes way beyond decorative arts in “Tragic Memories of Global Trade.”

    “Mythic Vision from Water’s Creation to Regulation” includes Raqib Shaw’s colorful fantasy of underwater life “Garden of Earthly Delights V” as well as references to the dangers and mysteries of the sea from ancient China to the present.

    Finally “Desecration of our Troubled Waters,” speaks to our deeply troubled planet. “Desecration #2” by John Feodorov brings together the sacred and the profane in his depiction of pipelines spilling pollution into the ground of an Indigenous reservation, painted on a sacred white carpet.

    Be sure to download the QR codes to listen to the artists own dramatic commentaries. I was particularly mesmerized by the video from the Torres Straits (an archipelago of 300 islands north of Australia), and La Toya Ruby Frazier, who spoke eloquently about her project on the pollution of water in Flint, Michigan.

    This not to-be-missed exhibition immerses, enchants, warns, and finally, hopes to inspire us to action. A video at the end “Water Protectors,” asks artists, activists, leaders, and scientists, to answer the question “What can people do to honor and protect water?” We must all ask ourselves that question. 

    Susan Noyes Platt

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

    “Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water” is on view until May 30, Wednesday through Sunday 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. at Seattle Art Museum, located at 1300 First Avenue in Seattle, Washington. Visit for more information.


  • Tuesday, May 03, 2022 2:14 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    You enter most museum exhibits a minute or two after you step through the museum’s front door. For the “Wood” exhibit at the Jefferson Museum of Art & History in Port Townsend, it’s different: this show starts with the front doors—they are part of the exhibit.

    The museum is rebuilding the structure’s original cedar doors after 130 years of service. A video in the lobby documents the crafting of the new construction. The experience puts you immediately in the right frame of mind to appreciate the world of “Wood.” The rebuild also hints at the broader changes underway at the museum, as its leadership reimagines the way it frames and presents local history.

    “Wood” offers a cross-section of the region’s woodworking talents. It showcases furniture, sculpture, and tools, along with pieces that are more difficult to classify. With its focus on five artisans, the exhibition is balanced and admirably diversified. One of the featured artists is just starting out on her path, while some are in their mature master phase. Some of the artisans are well known and well shown in the region, while others keep a lower profile. 

    The range of the work on display is similarly diverse. Several pieces are all about function and utility—a rocking chair, a sheet music stand, a milking stool—while some works are fine art objects. All of them achieve beauty, and visitors may struggle with the standard museum admonition, “Do not touch.” But on that point, the curators have set out blocks of various woods for visitors to pick up, smell, and otherwise inspect, with descriptions of each wood’s characteristics from a woodworker’s perspective. These are especially worthwhile if the only wood you can reliably identify is particle board. 

    We begin with the pairing of Annalise Rubida, an emerging talent, and her mentor Steve Habersetzer, a traditional master craftsman. Both are affiliated with the Port Townsend School of Woodworking (PTSW). Both have a mind for the practical—their contributions are pieces of furniture, and tools or objects meant to do work. Rubida’s Windsor rocking chair is an impressive and ambitious piece. But her more modest creations are charming as well, such as her pair of hand-carved brooms (a long-handled push broom, and a whisk-broom). Tool users tend to be toolmakers—you get the sense that Rubida would never clean up wood shavings and sawdust with a Shop-Vac. 

    Habersetzer brings decades of experience with wood—he worked as a logger at one point, a ship-builder at another. He is something of a purist these days: he uses only hand-tools, and he works with locally sourced and sustainably harvested wood. Most of Habersetzer’s work in the show—such as the buckets made of cedar staves—embody simplicity and practicality. These values he now passes on to the next generation of craftspeople coming through PTSW.  

    Like Rubida and Habersetzer, Seth Rolland is a furniture-maker, but in his creations we see more emphasis on imagination and decoration. Scandinavian design aesthetics influence some of his work, and he likes to bring in materials such as stone and glass into his explorations of organic form. Several pieces by Rolland are entirely sculptural, such as “Ghost Tree,” with its display of wood bending. Note that he crafted “Ghost Tree” from a single piece of wood. 

    Next comes Brian Perry of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, a prominent wood carver. Some of his creations are in Seattle’s Burke Museum and in various public spaces on tribal land. He often works at large scale: story poles, totem poles, wall facades, canoes. “Wood” features Perry at a more intimate scale, including his powerful “Salish Weavers Spirit,” a carving that honors the art and craft of weaving. In Coastal Salish tradition, women do the weaving, men do the wood-carving. The women use non-representational design elements in their textiles; the men depict animal and human figures in their carvings. Perry’s “Salish Weavers Spirit” includes a geometric motif drawn from the weaving vocabulary, and its shape suggests the whorls that weavers use for the spinning process. One take on Perry’s carving (perhaps a naive take) is that it sees beyond divisions between art practices, between genders, between the human and the spiritual.

    The exhibition continues into and concludes below the main level in a room that was once the women’s jail. In this captivating context we find turned-wood objects by Helga Winter. The irony is that Winter is the freest of the five artisans in “Wood”—her elegantly imperfect and asymmetric vessels are free from functional considerations, and are unconstrained by age-old tradition. Even the wood she favors—Pacific madrone—reflects her free-spirit: the hardwood is notoriously unpredictable in response to cutting. It is prone to warping and even cracking, but Winter embraces that waywardness. She often decorates her surfaces with color and abstract design—sometimes using busy marks and dotted patterns, other times using thin washes of solid color that keep the wood grain visible while glowing with a presence of their own.

    Rounding things out, “Wood” includes photographer Jeremy Johnson’s large format black-and-white portraits of the show’s five artists, and a display of the hand tools used by 19th century home-builder A. Horace Tucker. Tucker constructed some of Port Townsend’s most iconic homes, including the Pink House, Captain Fowler’s House, and the 1868 Rothschild House. His work literally looms large over the town, and may even have something to do with the vitality of the woodworking scene that “Wood” celebrates.  

    Tom McDonald

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

    Jefferson Museum of Art & History (540 Water Street in Port Townsend, Washington) is open Thursday to Sunday from 11 A.M. to 4 P.M. “Wood”is on view through May. Visit for information.

  • Tuesday, May 03, 2022 1:18 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Chaos can be defined as a feeling or state of constant confusion, which has essentially been the general mood over the past few years. But do you ever feel numb to the chaos? Maybe it is a way for human beings to survive challenging times, but sometimes our initial reaction to sadness or challenges is to shut down emotionally. Maybe these times will hurt less if we feel nothing at all. These are the questions and considerations exposed in the exhibition, “In Comfort of Chaos,” at the Kirkland Arts Center. Hanako O’Leary, the juror for the show who is also an incredible artist, states in the exhibition statement that she selected artworks that evoked emotion for her. She writes, “Chaos can be numbing. Art helps us return to our feelings.” This exhibition is both a personal exercise in reflection, but also a way for the viewer to connect with the artist through a visual dialogue. Hopefully, the viewer leaves the exhibition feeling comforted in our ever-changing and tumultuous world.

    The importance of personal connections and emotion are shared amongst the organizers of the exhibition. Kirkland Arts Center gallery curator J. Gordon reiterated O’Leary’s comments about how chaos is experienced in a personal way, so the work in the exhibition needed to connect on an emotional level. Gordon is also the exhibition designer for Kirkland Arts Center, and each artwork placement is carefully considered to ensure that there is both synergy and thoughtfully considered juxtapositions. A dialogue between artworks is important, especially in exhibitions like this one where conversation and reflection is considered. 

    The exhibition includes many wall-mounted artworks, but there are several key sculptures included to ground the show. Nancy Bocek’s ceramic artwork, “Captive,” stood out. The artwork is black with reddish-brown outlines that are reminiscent of cracks. The viewer can make out a figure, or possibly two, wrapped up in arms and legs. Unlike Michelangelo’s “The Four Captives” who battle with the stone to free themselves, Bocek’s figure seems to be an internal captive. The sculpture evoked similar emotions with this writer as when they saw those by Käthe Kollwitz for the first time. The figure is fiercely embracing another or themselves in this raw example of physical connection. 

    It is worth mentioning that O’Leary selected an impressive variety of artistic styles and mediums. In addition to the sculpture, there are prints, paintings, watercolors, embroidery, performance videos, and many mixed media artworks. Naoko Morisawa’s oil stained wood and paper mosaic entitled, “Target Forever VIII: Happy Dreamer, Bonzai,” is a meticulous arrangement of textures and geometric elements. Two similarly impressive mezzotints by E. Valentine DeWald II, an artist with a decades long relationship with Kirkland Arts Center, are also included in the exhibition. Both prints by DeWald II include the face of a central figure, their wrinkled expression exudes a mix of astonishment, anguish, and pain. The exhibition also includes an incredible selection of photographs, including several by Puerto Rican artist Jo Cosme. In her artist statement for the exhibition, Cosme writes that she seeks to encourage conversation through her work about the challenges Puerto Ricans face as a result of colonialism, lack of resources and economic support, and the destruction caused by natural disasters. The photographs are compositionally complex with layers of meaning tied to the political history of Puerto Rico and the United States, and the effect of that history on the present-day situation.  

    Upon entering the exhibition, the viewer is immediately faced with a wide range of materials, perspectives, and artistic visions. The artists come from across the United States and all bring a unique reaction to the events over the past few years. This aspect of the show is an important part of the exhibition program at Kirkland Arts Center, and the exhibition is arranged to reflect the diverse voices and to make connections across the country. The artist’s own words are captured in their artist statements, available in a binder placed in the gallery. Jeanette Jones, the artist who received the Juror’s Choice award, summarized the exhibition well in her statement when she writes that the work, “tackles topics of anxiety and futility, tempered with the driest of humor.” Jones’ paintings are installed side-by-side in a corner of the gallery. The large oil on canvas artwork titled, “Stigma and the Tale of How I Lost Two Years,” is likely a painting that many visitors can relate to on some level. The two roses in the painting are losing the petals, but the vibrant green leaves of the rose bush still exude life and energy. Yes, the exhibition is about both shared and personal experiences of pain, confusion, and anxiety. But maybe it is also an exercise in growing the new, too. 

    Chloé Dye Sherpe

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

    “In Comfort of Chaos” is on view through May 21, Wednesday through Friday from noon to 6 P.M. and Saturday from noon to 4 P.M. at Kirkland Arts Center, located at 620 Market Street in Kirkland, Washington. For more information, visit

  • Tuesday, April 26, 2022 12:03 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    If you’re looking for an excuse for a lovely weekend ferry ride to the San Juans, here’s a great one. The San Juan Islands Museum of Art in Friday Harbor is offering a terrific exhibition of the mature work of three master Seattle artists: Gail Grinnell, Helen O’Toole, and Tom Gormally.

    Gail Grinnell’s installation, “Fiat Lux,” takes up the tall-ceilinged atrium of the museum. It’s enormous, a tree-like structure of translucent drawn and cut interfacing that branches out to fill the entire space. The monumentality of the installation belies the fragility of material and construction: a dressmaker’s fabric, the delicate interfacing pinned into place; a traditional woman’s material; a traditional woman’s technique. Grinnell’s work with this material has evolved over the past three decades from flat, wall-hung forms to monumental, site-specific, free-hanging installations. Her images, inked and cut on tea-stained fabric—lace-like, curtain-like—began as dress patterns and ruffles, then evolved to vines and flowers—and to bones, bones. Her work references memory and family: her mother fitting dress patterns to her body, then fitting children—and parents—to that same body. (Life, itself, is interfaced and interwoven, patterns overlapped and repeated, seen through one another, linked and broken.)

    Here, ruffles and chain-links predominate, images that reference domesticity and homelessness. In the museum’s atrium, the tree-like form also echoes a heart—the heart of the space, of the community. Shrouded translucent layers of chain-link fence form an outer chamber from which ruffles branch like arteries into the periphery of the space. As a tree, it offers shelter, but if a tree, this one has been lightning struck. The pale trunk opens to reveal a burnt core: a blackened column like a burnt wick at the center of a lantern…and this is the metaphor Grinnell settles on in her artist’s statement. Fiat Lux: Let there be light. A tree, a shelter, a heart, a lantern. Let there be light in this heart of ours, in this tree of life.

    Grinnell’s work opens onto Helen O’Toole’s masterful exhibit, “What Was: unmarked,” in the adjoining room. O’Toole’s paintings are also monumental, vast canvases of color and shade that dominate the walls on which they are hung with color and atmosphere like Monet’s “Waterlilies,” but with Rembrandt’s emotional lighting (think “The Night Watch”) and the power of Anselm Kiefer’s overwhelming, broken landscapes. O’Toole talks about her work as an excavation of Irish history: the trauma, the buried secrets, the suppurating wounds and scars of historical oppression seeped into the land. Her work is non-figurative, but tells a story using every element of scale, brushstroke, composition, color, and shade of traditional painting with all overt references removed.

    You can find them in her written commentary: the buried bodies; the vanished children; the hunger; the resistance; the oppression. Can you find them without the narrative? Perhaps not, but you can feel them.

    Born in County Mayo, Ireland, O’Toole talks about its “soggy scraps of bog land, dark soil, and dank smells wrapped in mystery, intrigue, and changing light.” 

    She could be talking about “Lay of the Land,” an 88 x 192 inches triptych that storms and swirls across the long wall of the gallery, golden northern light scumbled across what could be a darkening sky; shaft of light cascading down on an edifice not given; unspecified epiphany gathering force around an unseen actor; unnamed event of shattering significance. Rembrandt’s golden child, his gathering militia, is missing, but the feel of mustering forces, growing momentum, homegrown resistance, remains.

    Breeding power from the earth, this is no dead land. “Trace,” a towering painting perhaps 192 inches high, speaks of entombment: broken light swirls high above a deep shaft like light glimpsed from the bottom of a well. Red forms curl at the bottom like buried bodies, shadowy blue ascending like spirits. The tropes are biblical: an apotheosis, a rising from the dead. A buried past that will not rest in peace. The gathering skies. A reckoning.

    O’Toole’s “Pirate Queen” breaks into vivid color, pink swaths flashing flamboyantly across a landscape. She writes that this references a mythic 16th century woman, bringing a sense of flesh to the ravished landscape, the land as “brutalized,” as raped. 

    Her colors are as lush as Monet, but the feel is of Kiefer’s war-broken landscapes minus the straw—think “Margarethe” and “Nuremberg”—executed with paint alone. O’Toole’s painting is powerful and poignant; forcible colonization made tragically relevant with news from Ukraine.

    In his exhibition, “Into the Breach,” Tom Gormally also references cultural events, but if Grinnell and O’Toole do so with overlaid images and analogous forms or with the abstract tools of painting itself, Gormally uses concrete metaphoric imagery in his trenchant, whimsical sculpture. Totemic sculptures of fox and owl mix with political maps in red and blue, fox melding the Native American trickster figure of the coyote with a certain notable media giant.

    Religion inveigles its way in, a sleeping  fox complacently balancing an explanation of the apocalypse in each hand in “Sun Setting on the Apocalypse with Sleeping Fox”; arrangements of owl and ax set in stasis on a wooden altar form, the forest remaining only as the drilled silhouette of a tree through which green light glow. “Ghost Owl” the wall reads; it’s titled “Clear Cut with Ax, Owl, and Tree”—a holy trinity. In Gormally’s immaculate sculptures of wood, cast resin, porcelain, and gold leaf, our patchwork quilt of red and blues states is under strain, wrenched together or apart, stabbed through the heart, hung on logging tongs like the remains of a toppled forest. But it’s not just the forest that’s endangered—it’s truth itself. It’s a grim message delivered with a side of fries, and goes down easy.

    The work is up through May 30. You owe it to yourself to go.

    Elizabeth Bryant

    Elizabeth Bryant is an ESL/English tutor.

    San Juan Islands Museum of Art, located at 540 Spring Street in Friday Harbor, Washington is open Friday through Monday from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. For more information visit

  • Wednesday, March 02, 2022 1:01 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    We are compelled to enter “Regeneration,” Michelle Kumata’s exhibition at the BONFIRE Gallery by the banners in the gallery windows. Kumata is addressing the difficult subject of the long term legacies of the illegal incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. On the left of the entrance hangs “American Tragedy,” banners depicting barely referenced facial features against a vague gray background behind real barbed wire. One has the face split between two banners, much as the experience of incarceration split the lives of those who were sent to those remote camps for up to four years.

    In the facing window, the banner “Regeneration” in brilliant color, suggests flying through the air. Nearby paper butterflies, made by a young Gosei (fifth generation) artist flutter toward the ceiling. Inside the gallery “Shine,” features a face that rises up between butterfly wings. Other banners also suggest soaring and healing. “What We Carry” requires a close look: inside the wings of these flying faces are bare outlines of luggage, the weight of the past trying to pull them down.

    Michelle Kumata, a three and a half generation Japanese American artist, explores the long term effects for her parents, the Sansei generation, who were born in incarceration during World War II as a result of Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. This generation is the last to have a direct connection to that brutal violation of their human and civil rights. It is a cautionary tale that points directly to contemporary racism and its ongoing violent manifestations.

    Michelle Kumata offers a multimedia approach to recovering memory and experiencing loss after decades of suppression.

    The largest expression of that, at the back of the gallery, is the lower section of the artist’s trademark work “Song for Generations.”

    The entire banner represents a dignified husband and wife at the top, with their lush fields behind them, cleared from forest; in the next panel, strawberries fall to the ground and a house is burning. The bottom section, in the BONFIRE exhibition, dramatically represents the ongoing pain of the incarceration with barbed wire in the open mouths of two Nikkei and flames around their heads. The strawberries become children, those born in the camps amidst barbed wire, but at the very bottom, a girl lets fly away a paper crane. You can see the whole mural in a small print nearby.

    The next section of the exhibition features photographs of the artist’s maternal and paternal grandparents that document their lives before, during and after incarceration. These touching images speak to the real family stories of immigrants who had businesses and lives destroyed in 1942.

    A similar feeling comes from paintings based on formally posed portrait photographs from the Takano Studio Collection from the late 1930s to early 1940s, called here “Nihonmachi portraits.” Nihonmachi is the name of the Japanese business area of the International District before the incarceration destroyed it.

    Facing these is a creative expression of memory: handkerchiefs with inscriptions such as “Generations were taught to keep your head down, study hard, and not be in front.” Nearby are “furoshiki” traditional Japanese wrappings for packages, here holding unspoken memories. Over generations as the artist states “the knots slowly loosen, releasing the pain, shame and anger. And we allow ourselves room to carve and define our own unique identities, to transform and fly.”

    In addition to all of these thoughtful approaches, a slide show of photographs alternates with quotes from a broad selection of members of our contemporary Japanese American community. The destruction of the heart of the Japanese community, Nihonmachi, and the unwillingness of survivors to speak of it are two major themes.

    Michelle Kumata has a second major installation at the Bellevue Museum of Art “Emerging Radiance, Honoring the Nikkei Farmers of Bellevue.”

    It features an immersive mural that uses augmented reality that enables us to actually hear three Nissei farmers of Bellevue tell their stories. The stories are based on interviews recorded in the Densho Digital Archive an incredible online resource that expands our understanding of the lives of those who were incarcerated.

    Michelle Kumata boldly experiments with representing the ongoing psychological damage of the original historical event of Japanese incarceration. She creatively makes audible what has been unspoken and makes visible what has been buried. 

    Susan Noyes Platt

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

    “Michelle Kumata: Regeneration” is on view until March 26, Thursday through Saturday noon to 5 P.M. at BONFIRE Gallery, located at 603 S. Main Street in Seattle, Washington. For further information, visit

    “Emerging Radiance, Honoring the Nikkei Farmers of Bellevue” is on view until March 13, Wednesday through Sunday from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. at Bellevue Arts Museum, located at 510 Bellevue Way NE, in Bellevue, Washington. 


  • Wednesday, March 02, 2022 12:38 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    The more familiar you are with the arty charms of Port Townsend, the more you appreciate its unofficial motto: “We’re All Here Because We’re Not All There.” The quirky logic captures the spirit of the place. Two artists that embody Port Townsend’s whimsical nature are Max Grover and Loran Scruggs. They are showing their work together this month, but it won’t be all there in Port Townsend. Instead you’ll find it all here at Bainbridge Arts & Crafts (BAC), the non-profit art gallery on Bainbridge Island. The show opens on March 4, and runs through March 27. There are toys.

    BAC’s choice to pair these artists is an inspired one. Both artists revel in bold colors that border on loud; they favor direct statements and are A-OK with child-like simplicity. Grover and Scruggs work in different media, giving the show a built-in contrast. Grover produces oil and acrylic paintings on canvas; Scruggs works three-dimensionally, often repurposing tin cans, or bottle caps, to make her light-hearted creations. In BAC’s Sally Robison gallery, some zany call and response is bound to take place between Grover’s paintings and Scruggs’ tin constructions.  

    Max Grover is no stranger to galleries and museums around the Pacific Northwest. His popular children’s books also place him into libraries and living rooms. A painter who delights in a flat picture plane and simplified forms, Grover makes witty color choices, and arranges basic shapes into rhythmic patterns that swing and groove. Grover’s whole world is animated, and through his curious looking glass things appear out-sized and outlandish. In his cityscapes, cars resemble board-game pieces, and apartment buildings have a chucklesome aspect, as if leaning in to gossip about their inhabitants. In his seascapes, the ferry boats look like 1950s toasters, except their colors are so cheerful, and they have smokestacks shaped like giant tubas. He’ll paint a still-life now and then, but its objects won’t sit still. 

    Not everything is jocular. The mood of Grover’s “Dreadnought” stands in contrast to his usual lightness: the painting depicts a Navy ship that aims its absurd gun barrels in every direction. The somber palette here—all gun-metal blues and grays—and the inert composition (the ship sits in the dead center of the canvas) reveals a side of Grover not often in view. Port Townsend sits across the bay from a major US Navy munitions depot, after all. Maybe Grover can see it from his studio.

    If in Grover’s work there’s some nostalgia for a more innocent time in our national past, for Loran Scruggs the hint of nostalgia may attach to her own childhood, the timelessness of child’s play. She loves to toy with toys, that’s for sure. In fact, Scruggs often seems to be playing games with the distinction between play-toy and art-work. In one series, Scruggs takes on preschool building blocks (“Q is for Quail,” and “T is for Turtle”) though these wood-and-tin cubes are not the right size or the right materials for a small child’s hands. Or consider her fully-functional tin whistles: each one is a shiny thoughtful visual feast, one that also provides a pleasing sound, a tactile experience, and use value. Several of her other pieces are similarly hand-crafted hybrids of play-thing and fine art object. “King of Hearts” is an eight-inch-tall rodent assembled from the tin shards of the iconic Hershey bar package design: does the piece qualify as a sculpture or a pull-toy? The answer may be “yes,” even if no toddler has the fine motor skills or patience required to pull the “King of Hearts” pleasantly along without it toppling over.  

    It’s the bottle cap creations that may steal the show. A bottle cap folded in on itself forms a sort of bivalve shape, a mouth, a seed pod, a flower petal, a chile pepper (if the color is right). Scruggs repeats that shape a few dozen times with more caps, or she’ll group three or more folded caps into yet another more ornate shape which she then repeats. Chaining the caps together is another strategy Scruggs deploys. This artist’s game is to find yet another fresh way to express beauty and evoke wonder with a simple bottle cap collection. Top that.

    Hot Tip: The show’s opening reception on March 4, from 6 to 8 P.M. doubles as a release party for Tideland, a new quarterly magazine covering Bainbridge Island and other Kitsap communities. Led by veteran journalists Alorie Gilbert and Leif Utne (whose family founded the much beloved Utne Reader), Tideland aims to “celebrate the vibrant communities, creativity, and natural beauty that define our region.” Feel the need for “in-depth regional journalism on social and environmental issues like housing, equity, inclusion, and conservation”? Come out to connect with the folks who not only feel that way too but are doing something about it.

    Tom McDonald

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

    The Max Grover and Loran Scruggs exhibit is on view through March 27 at Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, located at 151 Winslow Way East on Bainbridge Island,  Monday through Saturday from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M., and Sunday from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. For more information, visit

2023 © Art Access 
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software