It isn’t immediately obvious when you peruse Seattle painter Jared Rue’s new show, “Broken Line,” at Woodside/Braseth Gallery — but Rue, in his oils on canvas, doesn’t merely paint scenes of nature.
He also paints himself and his family as scenes of nature.
When that’s the case, his imagery has a sort of pulse behind it, hinting at something more than is being depicted. And his titles often supply the clue as to what that “something” might be.
Take his image of two tall Douglas firs looming raggedly up into an ocean light at the sandy edge of the terrestrial world. Its subtleties and complications are derived, in part, from nature’s own subtleties and complications. But its title, “In Exile,” suggests there’s more in play here than an artist’s exploration of a wooded shoreline’s shadows and light.
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Sure enough, comments from Rue reveal that this coastal scene depicts the Washington coast near the home of his father, whom he hasn’t seen for 14 years.
It turns out that, like many of the canvases in “Broken Line,” “In Exile” addresses a generational break in Rue’s family due to “a somewhat odd, relatively newfangled religion in which my family placed incredulous and excessive credence and importance” (as Rue puts it in his artist’s statement).
Rue’s own story is that he is gay — a conundrum when you’re growing up Mormon. But the break wasn’t just between himself and his parents. His siblings and their children, too, are part of it, presumably due to conflicts over belief.
You don’t have to know these specifics to appreciate Rue’s work. But it does explain the sense you have, when studying his paintings, of something volatile lurking beneath the sylvan surfaces.
Whatever its metaphoric weight, “In Exile” is painted in Rue’s most straightforwardly naturalistic manner. But in other pieces, he takes curious liberties with composition, color and style.
“Reunion” seems to be painted in four different styles at once. Unnaturally ink-blue fir branches on the left extend toward more realistically rendered fir foliage on the right. From the top of the painting, tree leaves — maybe from a beech — hang down.
In the most brazen touch, silver stems and flowers reach out from the lower right. With their quick-stroke artifice, they seem under a Japanese influence. At the same time, they incorporate drip-painting technique, with trickles of silver slithering down from the branches and leaves toward the bottom of the canvas.
There’s a family anecdote behind this painting, too. Yet even without being aware of it, viewers can register how four different slants on what’s “natural” are in intimate contention in the picture.
Sometimes Rue shades more toward the abstract. “Untwine” has a backdrop taken from nature, again in a stylized manner. But superimposed on it is a pretzel-like, silver-tinted tangle that, far from resembling any known plant-life, seems almost a psychological construction caging the detail behind it.
Rue is equally adept at rendering water reflection and water vistas. “Sailing Past,” with its mix of rippling tree-trunk reflections and hazy underwater plant-life, is Monet-like in its visual bliss. (It and a number of other paintings draw on Rue’s boyhood memories of living on Camano Island.) Several paintings — “Yielding Passage” among them — offer visions of vast bright spaces framed by leaves and boughs, rendered in sharp botanical detail. Does freedom lie beyond them? Or vertiginous free-fall?
The most mysterious item in the show may be “The Grove.” Its tree trunks, in the foreground, are transparent enough to reveal details of the forest glade behind them. Rue says it depicts the woods in Palmyra, N.Y., where Joseph Smith had his revelation. But you don’t need to know that to feel yourself yielding and dissolving, like the trees themselves, in this shifting, gauzy, ambiguous vision.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org