The stallion runs — but the paint also runs, suffusing the image with such nervous, galloping, slantwise energy that you half expect it to splatter right off the canvas.
Seattle artist Tracy Boyd’s paintings, on show at two local galleries, are all about that energy. They revel in how fast and loose her brush-strokes can be and yet still cohere in a powerful image — whether that image is of a horse, a bull, a human visage or a hapless figure falling through space.
In “Churning Currents” at Sisko Gallery, her paintings — mostly oils on canvas — are mounted on neat square or rectangular frameworks. The subject matter may be frenzied, but it’s contained within crisply defined fields of vision.
“Gaze” greets you as you enter the gallery. It’s an enormous “headshot” (72 inches by 72 inches) of a face composed from a multitude of hectic brush strokes crisscrossing in a multitude of directions. Yet there’s something steadying in the way the eyes are rendered that makes the title make sense.
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Further back in the gallery, Boyd captures horses in a variety of moods and actions, echoed in the paintings’ titles (“Freedom,” “Escape,” “Regal,” “Fighting Chance”). Everything about her application of paint to the canvas suggests velocity dissolving toward abstraction. The finest of these may be “Ghost,” in which a stallion half-materializes in midair out of snowy whiteness.
Rounding out the Sisko show are studies of sprawled human figures tumbling backward through a void (“Descent,” “Plunge,” “Immersion”) and studies of hands stretching out toward the viewer (“Reach,” “Grab,” “Grasp,” “Grip”).
Up at Vermillion, the material on which Boyd paints is as unruly as her imagery. “Into the Wild: Paintings on Reclaimed Tarps” offers large-scale work in acrylics done, as Boyd explains in her artist’s statement, on “aged, weathered tarp previously used to cover machinery, tools and army engines.”
The tarps, some stretching from floor to ceiling, hang loosely from the wall, giving Boyd an uneven surface to work with (some even have rips in them). The subjects include horses, bulls, an elk and, curiously, Republican politicians.
Boyd’s brushwork is even more energetic than in the Sisko show. “Violence,” “Mayhem,” “Tailspin” and “Ending” evoke the final stages of a bullfight, with the animal composed from swirls of crudely painted streaks. Step close to them and the images atomize into color chatter. Step back and all you see/feel is desperate animal energy. Boyd’s use of lurid yellow is particularly effective. It seems to signify both the creature’s blood and the hardness of the matador’s lance piercing its flesh.
In “Ron,” “Karl” and “Dick” (as in Reagan, Rove and Cheney), Boyd employs different tactics. These large-scale portraits, executed with the same busy brush strokes that energize “Gaze” at Sisko, are overlaid with dripping reds, whites and blues straight out of Jackson Pollock. The effect is ambiguous. It looks as though they’d either been vandalized by their detractors or had their embrace of Uncle Sam messily explode in their faces, leaving them dripping in patriotic gore.
Both shows are contrasting must-see ventures in what paint can do and what a canvas can be.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com