Works by Lisa Gilley, at Woodside/Braseth Gallery, and Kathryn Altus and David W. Simpson at Harris/Harvey Gallery.

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When is landscape art more than a mere depiction of a landscape?

Three artists with new shows in Seattle galleries provide some felicitous examples.

Lisa Gilley: ‘American Grandeur’

An animist energy suffuses the oil-on-panel paintings of Seattle-area artist Lisa Gilley. She has a knack for making nuances of landscape seem psychologically as well as topographically complex. Her Alaska glaciers, Grand Canyon vistas and Pacific Northwest peaks raise emphatic points. It’s no wonder that the names of gods and ideals sometimes get invoked in the scenes she conjures.

The most vigorous “character” in her new series of paintings at Woodside/Braseth Gallery may be the brutal slanting cloud in “Storm Over Vermilion Cliffs, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, AZ.” It exudes a crackling threat as it looms above its red desert landscape. The layers of violet rising from its crown make clear its volatile energy.

In “Wotan’s Throne, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ,” the focus is on the labyrinthine complexity of the canyon itself. In both “Throne” and “Storm,” she exaggerates the curvature of the horizon to emphasize how epic in scale these scenes are. The effect is both humbling and reflective.

Closer to home, the knuckled peaks of “Liberty Bells, North Cascades National Park, WA” seem to thrust of their own volition into the sky, while the splitting silver ribbons of water in “Palouse Falls Canyon” suggest a reckless plummeting of mood.

This may be over-anthropomorphizing Gilley’s paintings. But the fact is they’re strong enough to take it. Her instantly recognizable style reveals a mind at work as much as it does an eye at work.

11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through July 1. Woodside/Braseth Gallery, 1201 Western Ave., Seattle (206-622-7243 or

Kathryn Altus: ‘New Paintings’

David W. Simpson: ‘The West: A Fragment’

These two contrasting exhibits at Harris/Harvey Gallery show that landscape artistry can stretch to something well beyond the pictorial.

Altus’ paintings, all in water-soluble oil on canvas, are accompanied by the artist’s commentary on the historical perspectives she sometimes brings to her subjects.

Prime example: “Lantern Harvest, Kent Valley, 1941,” which imagines a predawn lantern-lit harvest scene of farmers about to lose everything. In those years, Japanese-American farmers rose early to pick vegetables destined for Pike Place Market later in the day. A ghostly Mount Rainier looks down on layers of magenta clouds that bathe the volcano’s lower slopes, a purple tree line of Douglas firs at the edge of a field, and then the lantern-lit field itself. It’s a gorgeous time capsule of a way of life about to vanish with the forced removal of ethnic Japanese to internment camps.

Altus’ colors can be stained-glass rich or palely luminous. She employs a seductive visual shorthand as she distills landscape features — water ripples, mountain slopes, cloud formations — to their essence.

David W. Simpson’s works look like abstract paintings, but they’re toned cyanotype photographs. “The West: A Fragment” includes a sculpture or two, too.

In his four-paneled “Wyoming X-Ray (A Thousand Acres),” Simpson focuses on the land in close-up — bones, branches, sagebrush, rock formations — as he hints at the essence of semiarid desert rather than depicting it explicitly.

The four images in his series “Western” take a longer perspective. Their overhead shots of irrigated landscapes, printed on crumpled paper, evoke the land’s topography in a startling tactile way.

Whether bright or shadowy, these images take organic objects as their starting point and make something otherworldly of them. Even “Wyoming (Self Portrait),” with its ghostly outline of the artist in a cowboy hat, suggests a presence from another realm.

11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through July 1. Harris/Harvey Gallery, 1915 First Ave., Seattle (206-443-3315 or