Friday, September 5, 2014

Group show at Art House Designs

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 4,2014

“Mouth of the Skokomish River” mixed media by
Susie Engelstad
It’s been a long time since I’ve visited Art House Designs in Olympia. Since I was last there they have remodeled with larger display spaces, and the place is jam-packed with art. Susie Engelstad, Mia Shulte, Simon Kogan, Tom Anderson and Rose Nichols are just a handful of the many artists represented.

Much of the art is of a type I tend to dismiss as too common or trite or decorative or sweet, but if I take off my snob hat for a moment I have to admit that most of it is well done — more than merely competent.

There are tons of pictures by Engelstad, nearly all brightly colored landscapes. Two in particular caught my eye: “Mouth of the Skokomish River” and “Lake Cushman.” 

“I did those on my I-Pad,” Engelstad said. Or maybe she said I-Pod. I was looking at the art and not playing close attention to what she said. Both landscapes are small, approximately 8-by-10 inches and look like colorized digital prints taken from photographs of the lake and river, into which she has sewn fine lines in silver thread and tiny glass beads. Her colors are rich and velvety, and I particularly like the aerial view of the Skokomish River. Aerial views of landscapes tend by their very nature to verge on the abstract and often have the look of quilts. The addition of the sewing plus meandering red, blue and green lines enhances this look in a nice way and add a feeling of shallow depth.

Shulte is showing a group of three ink and pastel abstract paintings that are lyrical and restful despite the energetic sweep of her forms. There is one mostly blue painting that looks like a burst of light in a dark room. I didn’t see this at first, but after studying a photo of it on the gallery’s Facebook page I noticed that the explosion of light looks like a walking man.

Kogan is showing three small oil-on-board landscapes, among other paintings, that are nicely composed with a mysterious look — one gets the impression these are scenes far, far away from any urban center. His colors, predominantly dark blues and greens, are rich and dark, and where there is light it shines. There is something timeless about them. They could easily be seen as farmland in Western Washington of the countryside in Russia in the 19th century.

Nichols is showing three small oil on board landscapes with trees and hills reflected in water, and one reclining nude. They all look so soft that I thought they were pastels or perhaps watercolors. Reflecting back on my opening statement, these are images of a type I usually find to be trite and clichéd, but as done by Nichols’ they are quite attractive. The nude in particular is interesting because of the color changes and the way it works into the background. The woman’s legs are bright orange fading into light skin tones in the body and into a dark, purple-gray face that blends into the background. In the breast area and nowhere else there is some impasto paint that lends solidity to an otherwise amorphous figure.
Anderson’s abstract paintings are solid and iconic like carvings on the façade of buildings.

Art House Design, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tue.-Fri, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sat., no closing date set, 420 Franklin St SE, Olympia, Washington

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