Thursday, August 4, 2011

Little tornadoes

"Helixes" and other prints by Bill Colby

The Weekly Volcano, August 4, 2011

"HELIX VII": A print by Bill Colby currently on display at Flow. Photo credit: Flow/Bill Colby

Featured at Flow through August is printmaker Bill Colby. The show also features a collection of wearable artwork by Jan Karroll, including handcrafted pins and necklaces that can be displayed as art in their own display frames or worn as unique jewelry. And in the back room there is a smaller exhibition of sumi paintings by gallery owner Andrea Erickson.

For those not yet in the know about Flow, it is in the space previously occupied by Mineral Gallery.

Bill Colby is practically an institution in Tacoma. He's a master print technician who often combines various printing, drawing and painting techniques and media, fully exploiting the unique properties of each - like the wood grain in wood block prints and the smooth flow of watercolor.

The works in this show combine media such as woodcuts with intaglio or lithographs with watercolor and embossing. The surface quality tends to be sharp and brittle, sparse in places with an emphasis on a variety of textures and spatial ambiguity. Everything is stylized or semi-abstract, with colors, shapes and subject matter influenced by the Northwest land, sky and water, and a lot of imagery that appears to be influenced by Northwest Native American art. There also seems to be a lot of Asian influence in some of these works. Colby is nothing if not eclectic.

There is an iconic quality to even the most natural of his landscapes. That iconic quality is most clearly in evidence in his Helix series, sparkly energetic prints of the spiral helix form seen in such things as coil springs or spiral staircases. Colby's helixes spiral vertically like multi-colored tornadoes in the center of the page. There are five helix prints in this show, each a slight variation on the other. "Helix V," for instance, is in watercolor and woodcut with wood grain markings on a light gray background, and the red, blue and yellow swirls of the helix look like fern leaves or some other kind of natural fronds or leaves. "Helix VII" is almost identical but has a light blue background with wood-grain markings that overlap and partially obliterate a sea of little multi-colored moons.

Many of the others have one or more of these moonlike circular forms of various sizes either placed on top of the helixes or floating in the background. These are like the signature symbols used in much Asian art. There is an enigmatic quality to these that evokes space and science and mysticism.

"Escarpment" is a traditional landscape in black and white intaglio with a strong use of dark and light contrast and very subtle shading in the background like soft smudges of graphite. "Rock Falls II" is a similar high-contrast print of a dramatic landscape.

"Feather Escape," another intaglio print, is much more abstract and, like the Helix series, emblematic and mysterious. A white feather floats downward on the left while different kinds of white feathers float downward on the right. The subdued use of high-key colors in this one is very nice.

The strongest use of imagery with both a Native and Asian influence can be seen in "Spirit Cove," woodcut and acrylic, which depicts a row of tree trunks lined up like sentries in water, and in front of them a large disc or moon like the ones in the "Helix" paintings.

Both Colby and Karroll will be on hand for an artists' reception Aug 13.

Through Sept. 5,Third Thursdays 5-8 p.m. and by appointment
artists' reception Aug. 13, 2-5 p.m.
301 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma

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