For much of human existence we have had nothing but our naked eyes through which to view the world around us. The creation of lenses – relatively new in terms of human history – has been a revolution. With telescopes and microscopes we can look at distant planets and single-cell organisms. The camera lens likewise allows us to see into the distance or to enlarge the minuscule. The camera further allows the fleeting visual instant to be captured and frozen in time. The tiniest flower can be enlarged so that the viewer can sit at leisure and peruse the subtle gradations of color on the dainty petals.
Since its invention, the camera has been a tool in many an artist's paint box. The visual record of the photograph is often used as a “model” from which the painter may work. (Even Johannes Vermeer is thought to have used a camera obscura, a primitive, camera-like device, in the production of his paintings.)
Currently showing at the Harmon Hub is an exhibit of paintings by an artist who makes use of the camera as a launching point for visual excursions into the intimate world of various plants and wildflowers of Washington State. Called “Grumsby's Green Period,” the show runs through the majority of March.
An award winning graphic designer, Grumsby (also known as Michael Smith) worked for 20 years for newspapers in Anchorage, Alaska and Olympia. His fascination with nature began as a child when he would go painting with his grandmother. The technical world of the graphic designer and the visionary endeavor of the fine artist are synthesized in the works featured in “Grumsby's Green Period.” In the past Grumsby painted in oil, but living in the confines of an apartment and keeping house with an autistic child compelled him to switch to non-toxic acrylic paints for this series.
Grumsby's canvases cover the walls in the back area of the expansive restaurant. Colorful forms stand out from green backgrounds: Dew-heavy flowers bow their heads. Succulent berries hang full and ripe. Fuzzy bumble-bees tumble atop vibrant blossoms. Grumsby is adept at capturing the thorns, spikes and tiny hairs that cover the stems of plants in our verdant landscape. Backgrounds range from a soft blur to Van Gogh-like strokes that color and define forms.
“Black Berries,” Grumsby's first composition in the series, depicts three blackberries – each one a cluster of juicy orbs- in various stages of ripeness. “Oregon Grape” is likewise focused on the luminous, pale-blue fruits of that native plant. In “Narcissus in Rain” photo-realist drops of water cling to the yellow-orange blossom. “Tree Frog,” almost entirely done in shades of green, is masterful in the use of light and shadow that dapple the frog's fantastic world.
The show includes the obligatory Mount Rainier scene as well as a Pollack-type, paint spattered canvas called “Time Machine.” While Grumsby is generally on stride and hitting the high notes, there are a few paintings in which he falls flat. His “Dandelion,” for example, is done in heavy strokes that make the beloved “weed-flower” look like the garish pompom of a dahlia. These minor flaws do not detract, however, from the overall impression that one is encountering the work of an emerging master of nature art.
In addition to original paintings, Grumsby offers reproductions on stretched canvas. All of the profits for prints (done in limited editions of 100) go to the Mary Bridge Children's Hospital.
“Grumsby's Green Period” runs through March 24 at the Harmon Hub located at 203 Tacoma Ave. in the Stadium District. For further information on Grumsby's art, visit www.fanartreview.com/grumsby.