It’s spring in Seattle; bowers of pink buds curve above our streets, and blooming trees everywhere demand our attention. So too does the current exhibition, “Paintings About Trees,” featuring work by three local artists, at the Jeffrey Moose Gallery.
The landscapes by Barbara Benedetti Newton are suffused with gossamer colors. Newton began as a colored-pencil artist, won numerous prizes and became a well-known teacher and writer about the form. She then began experimenting in pastels and more recently in oils. In these media, too, she has won numerous prizes and become a known authority, masterfully capturing the diffused light of the Northwest.
The pastel and oil landscapes on exhibit are impressionist renderings. For some pastels she adds moisture to achieve a wash that gives the works a diaphanous quality. Yet within these works she often includes hard-edged elements more precisely rendered.
There’s a lovely gauziness in her oils, too, where shapes and colors flow into one another. In these paintings she plays with the paint, sometimes feathering it out, at other times carefully defining each element of the landscape. Look for the bursts of color in many of the paintings, bursts like subtle fireworks that are powerfully effective.
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Monte Shelton’s surreal oil paintings reflect her concerns about environmental degradation, but do so in a subtle way. What you notice first about her work is the glow they emit, the pools of shining light that compel your attention. She achieves these effects through techniques borrowed from the Old Masters. First she slowly builds up the color values, and when she achieves her goal she adds layers of acrylic varnish. “Roslyn Lake Shallow Shoreline” is a good example: rocks, water, a cut log and a shore lined with rushes — pristine nature with human intrusion. It’s so simple, yet so hypnotic because it seems incandescent.
Darin Clark, who works in wood, was thrilled when he found old beams rescued from 100-year-old houses. He cuts them into squares, emphasizing in each square a portion of the tree rings. As he organizes the squares in groups, he capitalizes on the rings by creating patterns with them. In some of his creations the rings swirl. In some they move sinuously down the assemblage, and in others they offer contrasting shapes. He applies coat after coat of milk paint (a mixture of milk protein, lime and pigment, probably the medium used for ancient cave paintings). The greens, yellows, blues, red-oranges and tans seep deep into the wood before he adds a layer of polyurethane. What this process does is emphasize what was already there and delight the viewer with the unexpected patterns. The effect is arresting.
So, it’s not just the living trees in Seattle to enjoy right now. These three artists take nature indoors, and do it to good effect.
Nancy Worssam: ngworssam@ gmail.com