Thursday, May 19, 2016

Bill Colby: The Sixties

Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 19, 2016
 “Tideflats East,” watercolor by Bill Colby, courtesy Matter.
Art entrepreneur Lisa Kinoshita, along with birdloft furniture (Jeff Libby and Adrienne Wicks) and rePly Furniture (Steve Lawler), have opened an exciting new shop on Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma. Called Matter: Tacoma made modern, the new shop is a showcase for furniture, woodworking and visual arts. For its inaugural visual arts show, Matter is displaying prints and watercolors by Bill Colby.
At 89 years old and an innovative artist who taught printmaking at University of Puget Sound, Colby is a revered elder statesman of the Tacoma art community, whose works are in the permanent collections of major museums.
The pieces selected for this exhibition are from the 1960s, shortly after he first came to Tacoma. The work on display, however, is not like the psychedelia and pop art of that decade, but is more like the more sedate work of the Northwest mystics: Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan, and Guy Anderson. There is a quiet, spiritual quality to it, and a sureness and economy of style, plus the muted colors reflect the colors not only of the Northwest mystics, but of the air we breathe.
Some of his prints display a bit of what I take to be influences from Coastal Indian art, not in subject matter but in style. This is evident in a piece called “Spring,” a woodcut that has a feel for landscape but is abstracted to the extent that I can’t recognize any intended subject matter. Native American influences can also be seen in “Ceramic Bird,” an artist’s proof drypoint etching of a bird in flight. The bird is more iconic and symbolic than naturalistic, with heavy dark-and-light contrasts and a strong feeling for sweeping movement. 
There are two lovely watercolors of Tacoma’s tide flats. “Tacoma Tideflats 1962” is the most naturalistic picture in the exhibition. There is marvelously rich blue water with dark, yellowish hills on the horizon and a gray sky that feels stormy and ominous without overly obvious storm clouds — Colby underplays dramatic effects. This painting looks more like a gouache than a watercolordue to its detail and opaqueness. 
By way of contrast, the other tide-flats painting, “Tideflats East,” is light and sketchy, a landscape with water, logs and posts in water in the foreground, and houses on the farther shore. It is done with a delightful economy of brushstrokes and appears spontaneous, as if dashed off in a matter of minutes. 
One of the more intriguing pieces is a silkscreen print called “Television Trance.” Done in broad dots and strokes of dull brown and ochre, it is an almost Pollock-like overall composition of quick marks that barely meld together into an interior scene with three figures watching television, apparently mesmerized by the screen.
This is a small show. The paintings and prints are neither large nor showy, but they are masterfully done. The furniture and woodworking by birdloft furniture and Steve Lawler are also nice to look at. Much of it would make a fine addition to any home.

Bill Colby: The Sixties, Matter, Monday-Friday 11:30-5:30, Thursday- Saturday and by appointment, through June 11, for appointment call Lisa Kinoshita 253.961.5220, 821 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.879.3701.

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