Friday, April 20, 2018

Hart James’s Zen at Allsorts Gallery

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 19, 2018

Dog Head Falls.  Dissolving Rock.  Vermont Studio Center,” oil and charcoal on canvas by Hart James, courtesy Allsorts Gallery
Hart James is fairly new to the Olympia art scene. I first saw her work in 2013, at which time she was showing a group of flowery collages that verged on surrealism. Soon after she began showing solid, heavy landscapes perhaps influenced by Cezanne.  landscapes that were solid and somewhat heavy looking in a Cezannesque manner. Tree trunks and limbs were painted as strong angular marks that broke the canvas into flat fields of color, and mountains were slabs of heavy paint.
Over the past year she has been posting pictures on Facebook that indicate her painting has taken giant leaps forward, especially since spending a winter studying at the Vermont Studio School. Now South Sound art lovers get to see some 20 of these new paintings at Allsorts Gallery in Olympia. And they are stunners — vibrant, energetic paintings of mountains, lakes and rivers in a thoroughly modernist manner verging on conventional 1950s Abstract Expressionism. 
James’s latest paintings are in oil and charcoal on canvas, some stretched but unframed and others not on stretchers but tacked directly to the wall. They are gutsy. She attacks the canvas with an odd combination of gusto and finesse. Many of the ones in the front room are referred to in titles written directly on the canvas as “Sketches,” and there is clearly a sketchy quality to them. The paint application is thick in areas with large swaths of paint slathered on, and thin as water in other areas with washes of color that soak into the canvas run in rivulets. This group of paintings are the strongest and liveliest in the show. The paintings on stretched canvas in the other room have a more painterly, less sketchy look. We see more rocks and sky, and clearly defined mountain ranges and trees. Her use of charcoal enlivens the surface with angular and jagged black lines that in many instances look like dry brush or oil stick drawing.
There is a triptych called “Makah Spirits” that harkens back to earlier work. In general, I have a personal objection to diptychs and triptychs because that they appear gimmicky. If the artist wants a 24-inch by 54-inch painting, why not paint it 24-by-54 instead of three 24-by-18 panels? All that does is break the painting into three sections, and the edges between the panels add nothing. In this painting, however, the lines created by the edges add a needed stabilizing element to a painting that without those lines might be too chaotic. 
It is impossible to pick a single favorite painting in this show, but if I were forced to I would choose “December Sketch, Doghead Falls, Vermont Studio Center.” I see it not as a painting but as a drawing in oil and charcoal. The directness and spontaneity of this one is wonderfully uplifting. It looks as if she jotted down the shape of a mountain and a flowing river coming down from it in a few quick strokes, capturing the essence of the scene in one swoop of frantic energy, as if years of hard work and study coalesced in a momentary burst. This painting was done only four months ago. If it and others in the series are indicative of where James is going, she has arrived. She is also currently showing paintings in the gallery at South Puget Sound Community College and at the Department of Ecology.
Allsorts is a pop-up gallery in a private home. Hours of operation are limited.

Zen by Hart James, 5-7 p.m. Fri.-Sat, and during Arts Walk and by appointment, through April 28, artist reception 4-7 p.m. April 22, All Sorts Gallery, 2306 Capitol Way S, Olympia,,  323-254-6220

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