Northwest painter Camille Patha is featured in a small retrospective in a recently opened show at the Tacoma Art Museum. Called “A Punch of Color: Fifty Years of Painting by Camille Patha,” the show relates a tale of how Patha exercised her passion for bright color despite initial resistance from her professors at UW. Presumably these were stodgy old adherents to the Northwest school of painting in which colors are very muted (think of murky, muddy Mark Tobey).
Patha seems to have been rather stylistically restless if not uncertain. The show gives an experience of compressed time and one can walk through the exhibition and track Patha’s zigzag course from abstract expressionism, minimalism, surrealism and back to abstraction. Throughout these twists and turns, however, Patha remained steadfast in her commitment to using bright color, which is the unifying feature of the show.
The story put forth is that Patha, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, discovered bright color during a sojourn in Arizona where she was exposed to the brilliance of desert hues. She then brought her love of color back to the Northwest where she earned her art degree at University of Washington.
Her color is indeed stunning. The brilliant yellow and orange “Space Game” is a minimalist-inspired work. It was this work that brought early success to the young painter with its inclusion in the Washington State Pavilion at the 1970 Osaka World’s Fair.
Patha’s surrealist period (much of the 1970s) is also marked by brilliant color. She painted apples that blend into purple brick walls and Roman arches that fade into the sky of Italian landscapes. Later, Patha became more grounded in the landscape of our region by painting beaches, islands, bodies of water and floating docks along with long-legged shore birds. Always Patha can’t resist notching up the loudness of her color. The landscape of the beach is variously done in orange sherbet, burgundy or dreamy, creamy pink.
Her most recent works are explosions of color. They are multi-layered, musical color jumbles with titles like “Tropican,” “Yella Thrilla,” “The Juicer and the Berry” and “Punch” (from whence the show title is derived). Detached from any shred of regionalism, these latest paintings are more citrus and sunshine than fir needle and fog bank. But in this post, post modern age in which we live, anything is fair game.
A curious feature of the show is that there is a 20-year gap in the chronology of the paintings presented. There is no work from 1985 through 2004. The subtitle “Fifty Years of Painting” is thus a little misleading. That being said, this is a great show. It is encouraging to see the work of an artist who, like a fine wine, has gotten better and better with age.
“Punch” runs through May 25. For further information visit http://www.TacomaArtMuseum.org.