The title of the Kittredge Gallery's latest show, "Gathering Image/Fugitive Form," is as mysterious and ambiguous as the works in the show itself.
The exhibit brings together four Northwest painters whose work exists on the cusp between the figurative and the abstract. The "gathering image" portion of the title refers to the impulse of each of the four artists to root their work in the world of observable objects. The "fugitive form" half utilizes the adjective definition of the word fugitive (fleeting or quick to disappear) and refers to the fact that the four artists, while involved with observable objects, are reluctant to merely report the appearance of those objects. Instead, these painters - each for his or her own reason - work to subvert a straightforward rendering of appearances so that they fall into a semi-abstract realm. Objects are summoned only to dissolve. It is in that process that something new is found and shown to the viewer.
Mary Ann Peters, for example, mingles elegant lines with cascades of rich, ghostly color that may be juxtaposed against rubbings. In "Thinking drawing (corridor)," a long, horizontal composition containing areas of white space is interspersed with loaded brush strokes, faint line work and stained areas, all of which may hint at organic forms without ever being direct. With a palette of eerie greens, old yellows, grays and browns, Peters' surfaces look like places where a master painter had practiced skillful brush strokes and painterly effects. In her work she is seeking to make a metaphor for the mind in which images and ideas, memories and thoughts drift in various states of realization.
The Irish-born Helen O'Toole is a painter with a gift for mixing up colors that are wonderfully murky and muted. While her paintings are compositionally abstract, her bewitching way with color allows her to capture the emotional depth of place from the region of western Ireland where she grew up. One can feel and almost smell the moss, the bogs and the clutching of a moody winter sky in the presence of these rich paintings. "Glomen," a small and wonderful oil painting, has darks and lights piled on thick. One thinks of a landscape viewed by a person with cataracts. There is all the dim complexity of an A.P Ryder seascape in this brooding little slice of Irish turf.
Danila Rumold is the brightest (color wise) of the four fugitive painters. Using trees as a starting point for entering into the painting process, Rumold proceeds to scrape and scratch and sand away areas of the surface as she half obliterates the boundary between figure and ground. Tree trunks and branches blur into the background. Similar to O'Toole, Rumold uses her color to recapture an emotional connection to place. Mediated by memory, Rumold revisits places she has lived or travelled through at particular moments in time.
If Rumold is the brightest of the four painters in the show, Eric Elliott is the murkiest. His surfaces look as if they are done in thousands of dollops of mud. Within each, however, there are distinct objects depicted: chairs, tables and clusters of cylinders. Elliott's paintings are similar in construction to those of the pointillists except that instead of using colorful dots he uses thick strokes of brown and gray. Elliott's big, wonderful slabs of mud are the result of his quest to find a visual language to express the interconnectedness of all things while at the same time acknowledging the individuality of objects. "Studio Objects" is the clearest of Elliott's paintings. Here the muddy tones give way to putty-like greens and blues to depict an interior with a chair, table, potted plant and kettle. Yet the thick application of blobs of paint dispels the illusion that this is anything but a two-dimensional surface.
"Gathering Image/Fugitive Form" is the perfect visual note as we enter the long, dark, moody days of winter. See it while you still can. The show runs through Nov. 14 at Kittredge on the University of Puget Sound campus. For more information, call (253) 879-3701 or visit www.pugetsound.edu/kittredge.