Thursday, February 6, 2014

A punch of color

The Camille Patha show at Tacoma Art Museum
The Weekly Volcano, Feb. 6, 2014

Flamingos I Have Known and Loved, 1981. Acrylic on canvas, 48" x 42". Tacoma Art Museum, gift of the artist.

Lucent Thicket, 2005. Oil and encaustic on canvas, 103" x 75". Tacoma Art Museum, gift of the artist.

Punch, 2013. Oil on canvas, 60" x 60". Collection of the artist.
The Camille Patha show at Tacoma Art Museum is stupendous. Frankly, having seen her paintings only on a computer screen, I had not expected anything so great. On my computer they were too slick, too intense, and overwhelming in a not-good way; but the real deal is breathtaking.

The show is “A Punch of Color: Fifty Years of Painting by Camille Patha.” She is a Seattle artist who has been recognized nationally as a proto-feminist painter lauded for, first, surrealistic paintings loaded with feminist and sexual symbolism, and more lately for large abstractions with hot, vibrant color.

“As an artist, she is virtually unparalleled in the region,” said TAM curator Rock Hushka.
The earliest works in the show are large, painterly abstract paintings with the kind of dull colors associated with the Northwest painters of the time (the 1960s). They are solidly composed with lush surface qualities. One of the early works, “Untitled (strong pink),” is open and sparse and gives hints of bold color to come. Another, “New Purpose,” is the abstract equivalent of a figure in an environment with a strong central black shape (the figure) wedged between white and brown shapes — everything nicely and firmly locked into the surface. Next come a few experiments in shaped canvases which lead into surrealistic paintings with enticing play of perspective and ghost-like transparencies.

There is “Arches of Air,” in which clouds can be seen through a translucent wall of arches as in ancient Roman architecture standing on a checkerboard-patterned floor that recedes into deep space. Similar spatial trickery can be seen in “An Honest Self-Portrait After 1974,” a cut-out shape of a face on a black background. Within the figure can be seen a stone wall, blue sky with cumulous clouds and three cherries like the balls at a pawn shop hanging from a chain. During this period she did a lot of self-portraits, but the portraits are not recognizable as figures. They are symbols.

In the 1980s she did paintings of flowers and seeds that become sexual symbols a la Georgia O’Keefe. The best of these is “Genesis,” which is highly sexualized and beautifully painted.

Beginning around 2004 her paintings revert to abstraction. The earlier of these are like broken shards of ice colliding. They are more dramatic than the abstractions of the 1960s and much more colorful, with lush and richly textured surfaces.

Finally, her most recent paintings continue in the abstract vein but with more precisely defined shapes that appear to have been painted using stencils and combining organic, flower-like shapes and repetitive patterns and color so intense as to burn the eye.

“A Punch of Color,” Wednesdays–Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 5–8 p.m. through May 25, Tacoma Art Museum, adult $10, student/military/senior (65+) $8, family $25 (2 adults and up to 4 children under 18), 5 and younger free, Third Thursdays free from 5-8 pm., 253.272.4258,]

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