Friday, July 25, 2014

Bill Colby’s “Water and Rocks: A Journey”

The Weekly Volcano, July 24, 2014

Red Rock River, woodcut/watercolor by Bill Colby

Stonewall Beach, woodcut and watercolor by Bill Colby
A visit to Bill Colby’s latest exhibition at The Gallery at Tacoma Community College is like a trip to the beach. The gallery is filled with — by my cursory count — 44 bright paintings dominated by clear blue water and clear blue sky complemented by rocks of bright orange. It’s a feast for the eyes, restful and joyous.

“The joy of nature is within all of us and in my art work,” said Colby in his artist’s statement. “’Water and Rocks’ has been an evolving theme from 1956 to the present.”
Included are works in a variety of print media, watercolors, pastels, and other mixed media. The majority combine wood cuts and watercolors, media with almost exact opposite properties. The brittle slashes and gouges of woodcut and the amorphous softness of watercolor are blended beautifully by Colby.

The artist depicts water and rocks in degrees of abstraction, from a brilliant blue seascape behind the desk that is only slightly stylized to stacks of orange rocks in bands of blue with only the slightest hint of subject matter. Scenes of beaches and of waterfalls abound. Some of the waterfalls appear to be solid like monoliths pasted against canyon walls, the picture plane tilted forward like the hills of San Francisco in Wayne Thiebaud’s iconic cityscapes. Others, as in a series on the right-hand wall including “Waterfall,” “Blue Water” and two versions of “Austin Rock Waterfall” that show pod-like cliffs or boulders sliced by vertical bands of blue and white, have an iconic or symbolic look to them, possibly influenced by Northwest Coastal Native American art.

Also iconic is “The Big River,” in which the river is a solid blue S-shape like some kind of corporate logo with boulders in shades of orange on either side. There is something of a pop art feel to this one.

Some of my favorites can be found in a group of seven woodcut and watercolor combinations on the wall opposite of the “Austin Rock Waterfall.” These, variously titled “Stonewall Bench” and “Stonewall Strata,” picture groups of orange stones lined up within the confines of bands of blue. They are like banners or flags, and the colors are brighter and crisper than in any of the other works in this show. (The colors in most of the others are bright but with a pastel softness.)

Another favorite is “Ancient Rocks,” a misty seascape with massive rock formations protruding from the sea with waves pounding the mist-shrouded water. This picture and a similar one next to it are the most atmospheric in the show. The orange of the rocks glows like fire, and, strangely, there seem to be hieroglyphs carved into the walls of the rock formations.

This is an excellent show. I heartily recommend it.

Tacoma Community College, Global Perspectives, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, through Aug. 14, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G.

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