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Davidson Galleries’ latest show of three contemporary artists offers something for everyone interested in comparing artistic techniques for works on paper. Here you’ll find massive charcoal drawings, muscular woodblock prints and scenes done in sumi ink and gouache. And if you enjoy depictions of Seattle and its environs, all three artists — Douglas Cooper, Lockwood Dennis and Robert Connell — render familiar scenes, present and past.

Cooper, a Pittsburgh-based artist, is a man who loves water and bridges, and what better place to find them than Seattle? His 2005 mural series installed at Seattle’s King County Courthouse offers visualizations of our geography, history and land-use patterns. The large-scale charcoal works now at the Davidson Galleries offer bird’s eye views of bridges all over the city.

He particularly likes scenes where two bridges cross in proximity to one another. Think of Fremont. The low Bascule or drawbridge takes local traffic, sometimes at a frustratingly slow pace, across the Lake Washington Ship Canal. High above it, the Aurora Bridge spans the same waters but offers speed, not waits.

None of Cooper’s works are photographic. He puts people in windows, boat traffic plying the water, tree-covered hills and houses crowding apartment buildings. In the Fremont drawing, he captures the essence of Fremont and the role of the bridges and waterway, not the actuality.

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In his scenes of West Seattle bridges, again there are both high and low bridges and multiple view points. These capture the energy of the docks, the vitality of the shipping industry. There are trains, cranes, trucks and factories. And, of course, there’s a never-ending stream of cars.

The sweep of Cooper’s massive drawings, some as large as 8 feet by 4 feet, is immense, and each offers multiple points of view. But there is such wonderful detail, so much to notice, it behooves you to look closely.

Dennis, who died in 2012, is among the most beloved of regional artists. He was fond of saying that his woodblock prints are influenced most of all by Cezanne. You and I might focus first on their likeness to 1930s and ’40s art, particularly WPA works. His cars, trucks and earth-moving equipment have the solidity and rounded lines of that era. His images of iconic Seattle buildings past and present like the Kingdome, Smith Tower and those famous cowboy boots and hat have simplicity of line, sharpness of color and edge of humor.

Connell’s work begins en plein-air with black sumi ink applied on white paper. Back in the studio, he adds gouache colors, not with a brush but with a roller, layering them on top of the black, thus maintaining the spontaneous quality he achieves with the sumi brush.

For both landscapes and city scenes, he paints sky and water white to reflect the clouds of this region. “Lake View” illustrates this effect most wonderfully. In the foreground, spots of yellow suggest leaves on the black tree whose branches partially obscure the white lake beyond.

These artists offer three conceptualizations of our social and natural environment, putting what we think of as background into the foreground.

Nancy Worssam:

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