Three new shows in Seattle art galleries offer broad surveys of artists’ careers. Another captures an evolving midcareer artist in his latest phase.

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Three new shows in Seattle art galleries offer broad surveys of artists’ careers. Another captures an evolving midcareer artist in his latest phase.

David Byrd and Michael Dailey

Greg Kucera Gallery is hosting not one but two miniretrospectives of artists with very different stories to tell.

“Drawings and Paintings” covers 40-odd years in the career of abstract painter Michael Dailey (1938-2009), who won considerable attention during his lifetime. “Drawing from Painting” by outsider artist David Byrd (1926-2013) lets you inhabit the mind and difficult life of a painter who didn’t have his first professional solo exhibition (at Kucera) until one month before his death at age 87.

Byrd’s idiosyncrasies are instantly identifiable as his alone. The show consists of more than 120 pencil sketches, many of them studies for the 26 oil paintings on display. The paintings resemble pale colored-pencil drawings, and it isn’t just Byrd’s color sense that’s eccentric. Through figure distortion and offbeat composition, he reveals the inner characters of the subjects he portrays.

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A number of works draw on his 30 years as an orderly at a VA psychiatric ward. In “Waiting and Aging” the contorted postures and twisted expressions of five patients (one seems to be growing a second face) tap directly into their troubled lives.

Other paintings address more ordinary walks of life — an auction, a bar scene — but use compositional imbalance, distortion or bizarre omission (in “Mop Wringing,” set in a supermarket, the mop is conspicuously absent) to draw the eye magnetically to the action.

Some of Byrd’s graphite drawings are marvelous, too. “Loose Sketch 116” uses a fastidious weave of pencil strokes to evoke a male head and nude torso, with disconcertingly robotic results. “Loose Sketch 117 (Eva)” is a more fluid portrait of Byrd’s mother, its tight framing of her figure emphasizing her tough, skeptical dignity.

Dailey’s large-scale, color-drenched, abstract paintings are the polar opposite of Byrd’s work. In covering almost five decades of Dailey’s career, the show traces his progress from 1960s landscape artist (“Hill by the Sea,” “Cold Distant Place”) to a color-field artist in the final decade of his life, still drawing on landscape inspirations but feeling no obligation to get literal about them.

There’s an in-between phase in his progression that yields particularly beguiling results. “Maurentz, Winter Light” (1992) and “Yellow Sunset Landscape #4” (1995) both incorporate vestiges of landscape features without being limited by them.

10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through Dec. 23. Greg Kucera Gallery, 212 Third Ave. S., Seattle (206-624-0770 or www.gregkucera.com).

“Walter Quirt: A Science of Life”

This sprawling show, surveying the work of painter Walter Quirt (1902-1968), expands on a 2015 exhibit, “Revolutions Unseen,” that introduced Quirt to Seattle viewers. Gallerist Frederick Holmes, who’s intent on championing art from outside the Pacific Northwest, is passionate about Quirt, whom he sees as “a fearless experimenter … working on the leading edge of American Modern.”

That’s quite a claim. But at his best, Quirt combines a wild expressionist energy with shrewd psychological insight. In “Portrait of a Nervous Woman,” for instance, the jittery curlicues that make up the figure’s eyebrows and the rippling curl of her lips suggest a neurosis barely kept in check.

Quirt was prolific and a lot of his work, with its ceaseless swirls and smears of gaudy brush strokes, can feel slapdash. But when its hectic elements gel, it hits the mark.

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through Dec. 31. Frederick Holmes and Company, 309 Occidental Ave. S., Seattle (206-682-0166 or www.frederickholmesandcompany.com).

Dirk Staschke

Venerable tradition meets hallucinatory ceramics experiment in the work of Portland artist Dirk Staschke. The 11 works in his new show, “Perfection of Happenstance,” offer variations on Dutch 17th-century vanitas paintings, which depicted everyday objects as symbols of the ephemeral and reminders of the vanity of all mortal human enterprises and pleasures. Ranging from flower bouquets to dinner-table offerings to boudoir items, Staschke’s ceramic vanitas are all trompe l’oeil triumphs.

Staschke’s work has changed in the last year or so, especially his floral bouquets which now melt and ooze downward in brownish trickles onto his ornate picture frames like something out of a Hammer horror film. The combination of chaos and control in the glaze-work is impressive.

Staschke plays with genre in another way in “Beyond a Shadow,” in which his 3D vanitas — a pillow, a pearl necklace and two extinguished candles arrayed around a skull — is tilted on an angle, evoking a physical instability that matches the temporal instability of the piece’s contents.

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays through Jan. 10. Winston Wächter Fine Art, 203 Dexter Ave. N., Seattle (206-652-2855 or www.winstonwachter.com).