The Seattle artist has produced some knockout paintings and a glorious installation in her latest show, “what stays the same is never so.”
Seattle artist Mary Ann Peters takes a multimedia strategy in her new show at James Harris Gallery, “what stays the same is never so.”
Along with paintings and a powerful art installation, she includes a sculpture, a tapestry and altered photographs, while hovering on the edge between the figurative and abstract.
The results are uneven, but the best works are knockouts. And her restless, curious search for every possibility offered by her subject matter is unmistakable throughout.
Mary Ann Peters: ‘what stays the same is never so’
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, through May 9, James Harris Gallery, 604 Second Ave., Seattle (206-903-6220 or jamesharrisgallery.com).
Peters is a second-generation Lebanese American, and her work seems both to channel ancestral memories in image-specific ways and to weigh her cultural heritage in a more internalized or conceptual manner.
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Her paintings, mostly watercolor gouaches on clayboard, are especially impressive.
According to the gallery’s press release, “messy heaven” (Peters has a penchant for lowercase titles) responds to “questionable and sometimes heinous actions used to access an enviable afterlife.”
It depicts an explosive tumult of clouds laced with mechanical debris. Peters’ sweeping, feathery brush strokes have a wind-shear volatility. Her restless heaven isn’t just messy. It’s chaotic and kinetic, dynamic and destructive.
“jinn” is an even more intricate affair, combining a finely rendered landscape with rectangular maplike elements. All sorts of shapes, textures and visual rhythms are at play in it.
Peters’ “storyboard” paintings incorporate more recognizable figurative elements. “storyboard (4),” for example, depicts a Monet-esque pond or gentle stream. The paint’s fine-combed horizontal and vertical brush strokes play off each other to create a shimmering effect. A rippling, upside-down human face, looming from under the water surface, adds an eerie element. In other “storyboards,” vigorous actions or haunting presences are similarly subject to distortion or dissolution.
Her installation “the world is a garden” occupies a whole room but doesn’t yield its secret at first glance. Initially, it looks like an opaque, three-panel screen — nothing more. But move back and forth in front of it, and a lavish flower world becomes visible behind it.
Peters’ inspiration for the piece was a quotation by 14th-century Berber-Muslim philosopher-historian Ibn Khaldun: “The world is a garden, its walls are the state.” Peter’s installation ingeniously evokes a potential terrestrial paradise that can only be accessed in a shifting, constrained, restrictive manner. You have to experience this brilliant piece in person. There’s no earthly way to photograph it.
Other entries in the show are less impressive: the title piece (eight ink-altered photographs of a spider web), a tapestry that recreates an anti-colonial political cartoon, bronze sculptures of pita bread. The paintings and installation are the must-see here.
Marianne Ibrahim Gallery
If you go to James Harris Gallery, be sure to visit Mariane Ibrahim Gallery (formerly MIA Gallery) two doors away. Its inaugural exhibit in its new space at 608 Second Ave., “Maïmouna Guerresi: Light Bodies,” is as varied in medium as Peters’ show.
Guerresi, who divides her time between Italy and Senegal, is an extraordinary photographer, creating captivating mysteries (large-scale floating figures seemingly kept upright by their ankle-length attire) and enigmatic multi-paneled domestic scenarios laced with threat (“Red Table” seems quite calm until you notice the gun shells on the tablecloth).
Her video installation, “Milk Light,” is — like Peters’ “the world is a garden” — unphotographable. It consists of three illuminated, liquid-filled bowls in which images of hands dipping into liquid are projected from overhead. It’s both meditative and disorienting — and again, something not to be missed. (11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, noon-5 p.m. Saturdays, through May 1; 206-467-4927 or marianeibrahim.com).