Thursday, October 11, 2012

Into the woods with Kathy Gore Fuss

New works by Kathy Gore Fuss at Dino's
reviewed by Alec Clayton

The Weekly Volcano, Oct. 11, 2012

Watershed Alders

There’s a new art venue in Olympia, and they’ve been showing some top-notch art. It’s Dino’s Coffee Bar, attached to Olympia Framemakers on the corner of Harrison and Division. Their latest show is a selection of landscape paintings by Kathy Gore Fuss.

People who are familiar with her work might be surprised that she’s doing landscapes — fairly traditional landscapes at that, because for more than a quarter century she’s been known as a highly inventive artist who does mostly humorous and always unusual art, often combining sculpture and painting into works that defy easy categorization. With this new body of work she has convinced me that the art of landscape painting is not dead after all.

Gore Fuss recently hosted a plein aire workshop. For those who don’t know, plein aire simply means painting in nature. It was very popular with the French Impressionists in the mid 19th century. Gore Fuss took her workshoppers to Priest Point Park, and was apparently so pleased with the results that she went back after the event and did a whole series of paintings.

There are 16 paintings in this show. All but four are oil on panel, about 10-by-12 inches. The other four are listed on wall labels as oil on panel, but they’re actually oil on paper mounted on panels. What they all have in common is that each painting is a scene seen from such a close viewpoint that it becomes an almost abstract mesh of tree trunks and leaves with little or no ground or sky showing, and therefore becomes, in effect, an exercise in expressionistic mark making as she builds up surfaces of densely interwoven slashes of impasto brushstrokes, wet-on-wet washes and overlapping marks made from gouging and scratching. The paintings are energetic and exciting as plein aire paintings should — each picture appearing to have been done in a single, short painting session.

One of my favorites is “Snarl,” which looks like it was painted horizontally and then turned on its side so that tree trunks cross the surface from side to side instead of up and down. The straight tree trunks are overlapped by a sweep of U-shaped branches in a tangle or snarl of green. No ground or sky is shown. It’s all about the mark-making, meaning it’s about the art, not the trees.
One of my least favorites is “Early Morning,” which is like the others but as if photographed with soft focus. The watery, unfocused look may emulate the hazy look of Northwest mornings, and that may have been her intention, but this painting lacks the variety and definition of marks that make the other paintings exciting.

The works on paper are all in tones of sienna and look like old photographs. The dark-light contrasts in these are very nice.

“Golden Field” is the most nearly abstract of the lot, with tones of tan and beige and heavy impasto paint application that looks a lot like a Joan Mitchell painting. This one is another of my favorites.

“Hurdles” and “Priest Point Park Trail” are closer to traditional landscape than any of the others. To think of them in photographic terms, she has pulled back slightly to allow for a view of the overall scene and not just the tangle of limbs. “Hurdle” is the only one of the paintings with a feeling for linear and atmospheric perspective, with a fallen tree in the foreground and vertical trees receding in size and focus into the depths of the forest.

These paintings are small, unspectacular and quiet beautiful. I’m very glad she did them, but I hope they’re just a phase and soon she’ll start doing more of the edgy art she’s known for. 


[Dino’s Coffee Bar, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday, through Oct. 31, Reception Oct. 14, 2:30 – 4:30 pm, 1822 Harrison Ave. NW, Olympia,, 360.357.3232]

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