Works by four artists in Seattle galleries consider our human-built environment in varied and revealing ways.

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The buildings we erect, inhabit and abandon say a lot about us. Four new shows in Seattle art galleries ponder architectural possibilities in wildly varied and revealing ways.

Peter Waite: “Thresholds”

Swimming pools, train stations, gymnasiums, a bank vault …

Connecticut-based painter Peter Waite’s knockout show at Winston Wächter Fine Art finds a fraying grandeur in all these locales. His acrylics on panels are usually large-scale works that combine tour-de-force technique with deliberate paint-splotch sabotage. Their coloring resembles that of hand-tinted postcards, with something sickly and fluorescent seeping in from the margins.

Waite prefers his vistas to be empty of visitors, and he apparently has the charm and persistence to talk his way into any venue that grabs his attention. He then creates his paintings in the studio, working from photographs he takes, sketches he makes and memory. His focus, he says on his website, is “sites of the built environment that embody public sentiment or ideological concerns. … My interest lies in the intersection of personal and social memory.”

The results can be spectacular.

“Greenhouses,” an 8-foot-by-8-foot rendering of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s glass pavilions and the ponds in front of them, is a highlight of the show. The crystalline structures of the pavilions and the skies above them are artfully reflected in the placid water below. Meanwhile, a busy “static” of lurid hues — bright magenta, lemon yellow — infringes upon its upper and lower peripheries. An orange smear of paint disfigures the walkway next to a garden bench. A faint grid in crayon red and green attempts to impose its own geometry on the architectural angles already present.

The resulting image suggests a magnificent edifice trying to hold its own against crude erosions and incursions. Waite’s blend of photorealism and blatant visual disruption makes for some feisty compositional verve and drama.

In “Bank/Cincinnati,” a massive steel bank-vault door looks threatened by bright colors invading it from all sides. In “Old School Boys Pool/Cincinnati,” the graffiti in an empty pool and Waite’s own vivid paint-blemishes seem to work in anarchic alliance with each other.

These gripping paintings are both elegiac and subversive.

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays through March 7. Winston Wächter Fine Art, 203 Dexter Ave. N., Seattle (206-652-5855 or

Daphne Minkoff and Gabe Fernandez

Other architectural concerns turn up in two new shows at Linda Hodges Gallery.

Seattle artist Daphne Minkoff uses a combination of photographic collage, oil painting and abrasion to create rough, complex surfaces in her work. Her focus is on housing in Seattle’s Central District that has seen better days. Some homes lie vacant. Others are on the market as “fixer-uppers.” Many have been demolished since Minkoff caught them on canvas-board.

In her artist’s statement, Minkoff says she gets pleasure from “investigating the geometry of the world, both man-made and natural.” Many buildings she depicts are overgrown by greenery or heavily graffitied (both seem equally organic in the way they disrupt the angles of walls and rooflines).

One interesting anomaly in the show is some charcoal-on-paper drawing that shows the true extent of Minkoff’s artistic chops. “Untitled 2” is especially arresting in the way it simultaneously evokes fine details of a Central District home while at the same time investing it with a ghostly, unstable quality.

Minkoff doesn’t deliver quite the eye-candy that Waite does, but there’s no denying the rigor of her approach as she blends social critique with figurative-versus-abstract showdown.

Portland-based artist Gabe Fernandez is crisper in his rendering of brightly colored environments. He has a special fondness for the motels and trailer parks of Southern California. In “Behind the Tiki Motel,” he catches the outsized effect of turquoise-painted walls on their surroundings. In “Woody’s Airstream,” he goes to town with the distorted reflective surfaces of a recreational trailer. If you’re a fan of Richard Estes or the 1970s Los Angeles paintings of David Hockney, you’ll enjoy Fernandez.

10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through Feb. 24. Linda Hodges Gallery, 316 First Ave. S., Seattle (206-624-3034 or

“Sandow Birk: American Procession”

Calling Los Angeles artist Sandow Birk’s new body of work “political satire” is a bit like calling a volcanic eruption a “burp.” His pieces are as searing in content as they are accomplished in technique.

The title piece in “American Procession” is a 40-foot-wide wood-block-print triptych by Birk and his wife, artist Elyse Pignolet, inspired by “The Procession of Princes,” a 19th-century mural in Dresden, Germany. In this version, the procession consists of iconic leftists and right-wingers converging on a U.S.A. verging on ruin. It’s heavy-handed (Birk and Pignolet clearly lean left), but has hefty impact.

Two astonishingly intricate large-scale ink drawings from Birk’s “Imaginary Monuments” series are even more impressive. “Proposal for a Monument to the Outer Space Treaty” pays skeptical homage to a 1967 international pledge not to bring nationalistic rivalries to space exploration (Birk places a small homeless encampment at the base of the monument and incorporates a model of the Starship Enterprise as one of its flourishes). “Proposal for a Campus of Monuments to All of the Wars and Interventions of the United States” takes stock of every armed conflict our country has engaged in. The list is endless enough to be dispiriting. And its arrangement in a parklike setting topped with an atomic mushroom cloud is scathing in the extreme.

The timeliest work is “The Horrible & Terrible Deeds & Words of the Very Renowned Trumpagruel,” a series of lithographs portraying our Tweeter-in-Chief in various apocalyptic scenarios (including the White House going up flames). It’s inspired by 19th-century artist Gustave Doré’s illustrations of 16th-century satirist Rabelais’ “Gargantua and Pantagruel.” Its grotesqueries are as on the mark as you’d expect them to be.

10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through Feb. 24. Prographica/KDR, 313 Occidental Ave. S., Seattle (206-999-0849 or

Editor’s Note: This is Michael Upchurch’s last monthly art-gallery roundup. For more of his arts writing, visit And look for visual-arts event info in Look Ahead, our monthly recommendations for arts-and-entertainment events.