The exhibit "Organic Painting" at the Center for Contemporary Art in Ballard, featuring artists James Weed (paintings on left) and Dick Matthies (paintings in back on right), is running through Sept. 16 (CLICK ON PICTURE ABOVE TO VIEW MORE)
Ying-Yang Opposition in CoCA’s exhibit, “ Organic Painting”
UPDATE: The exhibition has been extended through Sept. 23. It can be viewed Mon-Fri, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or by appointment.
There’s something strangely poetic in viewing a contemporary art exhibit featuring artists with completely different and, at first look, unrelated styles and themes.
The Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA) in Ballard is currently featuring “Organic Painting,” an exhibition made up of work by two Pacific NW painters, Dick Matthies and James Weed.
“At first glance the two appear to be apples and oranges ... when you look closer you see similarities, and that was my goal in juxtaposing the two,” said Joseph Roberts, curator and board member of CoCA.
And indeed, when perusing the gallery, there comes forth a stark contrast, between Matthies’ touching on an innovative, economical and airy style with roots in traditional Japanese watercolor style and themes; and Weed’s strikingly vibrant colors and dark thematic undertones that comment on western culture and values.
At seventy years old, Matthies, once a Seattle contractor by trade, lives in Arlington, WA with his wife, Laura.
“Thirty years ago it became really personal to me, almost like meditation ... and I found myself in a private space of making a perfect stroke,” Matthies said.
Matthies’ collection is made up of watercolor and acrylic pieces and uses soft colors with graceful strokes depicting abstracted, asymmetrical, organic patterns that embody naturally occurring, almost floral rhythms. Simplistic natural motion is accentuated while ego is dampened.
“I live through the idea that less is more, and I try to paint the way I live,” Matthies said.
“Wabi-sabi,” which loosely translated from Japanese means “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete beauty,” was one word Roberts used to describe Matthies’ work.
Roberts explained that Matthies’ watercolor is sparse and subtly Zen-like with blurred and abstracted imagery that lends to a Japanese aesthetic.
Weed’s work, however, moves in a different direction. Roberts explained that Weed uses more simplistic child-like symbols similar to cartoons, comics, and a style that resembles parts of Japanese anime. Moreover, Weed exhibits brilliantly bold and vivid colors to depict simple symbols that have much deeper meaning than the surface glance would imply.
One example of this is an image of an elephant depicted with bright colors like red, yellow and blue. At first inspection the elephant seems happy but when you look closer, a viewer may notice the elephant is missing part of its leg, accentuated with red depicting blood, around the wound.
In the artist statement at the gallery, Weed said, "my paintings allude to factory farmed and animal testing imagery, or to the conditions of visual thinking that those institutions have created and how they affect the practice of painting."
While a student of art at the University of Arizona, Weed would visit slaughterhouses and take pictures of the animals during the slaughtering process. Later he would use those images in his painting.
Weed said he uses acrylic paint because it’s less toxic and easier to work with. Each canvas (that he builds himself) has six layers of red paint to help the colors become more vivid. He also sands in between layers to help the paint achieve this result.
After digesting the images at the gallery, a kind of mutually rising thematic pattern becomes evident. “Organic Painting,” is a kind of east meets west, a confluence of culture and style breeding disquieting discontinuity –- a seething estuary of blissful befuddlement and ennui.
Undoubtedly, the combination of the two seemingly unrelated collections creates an ironically organic symbiosis through their almost ying-yang oppositional effect. This unrelatedness creates a statement that, like haiku, is felt and observed but remains nameless, which may leave some viewers either confused or enlightened.
“When making the juxtaposition, there is a cultural imposition that invites viewers to ask what they ‘see’ when they view these two collections together ... We want people to think and have a conversation about the gallery,” Roberts said.
Igniting conversation through interesting and contemporary art has always been a goal of the gallery. Local Seattle artists and visionaries originally founded CoCA in 1980. Incorporated in 1982, this year is CoCA’s fortieth anniversary.
”Since they are a non-profit organization that functions solely on volunteers and fundraising, it can be difficult to get everything perfect ... What counts is we are creating projects that support contemporary art,” Roberts said.
CoCA is known for spearheading projects and exhibitions with artists such as James Turrel, Matthew Klein, Harris Purnomo, Piper O’Neill and Kate Vrijmoet; some having their first solo exhibition of their careers featured by CoCA.
Other projects like the twenty-four hour painting marathon, and outdoor exhibits like at Carkeek Park and Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, have been developed or directly influenced by the organization.
“CoCA is known for pushing the envelope by showcasing hot button issues and progressive ways of expression. Sometimes that can be criticized ... but I feel if we’re not being criticized we’re not doing it right,” Roberts said.
Indeed, the two collections composed in “Organic Painting” are no exception to this rule, both pushing the envelope and possibly causing slight confusion (but also epiphany) among viewers. No matter the reaction, though, it is almost certain that everyone will take away something.
The exhibition runs until September 16 from 10 am to 5 pm and can be viewed at the following address:
CoCA Ballard/Shilshole Bay Beach Club
6413 Seaview Ave NW,
Seattle, WA 98107
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