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  • Saturday, February 24, 2024 1:34 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Silva Cascadia: Under the Spell of the Forest

    Museum of Northwest Art • La Conner, Washington

    Forests and the trees that populate them are the inspiration for generations of artists across the world. In “Silva Cascadia: Under the Spell of the Forest,” curator Kathleen Garrett and the twelve artists included in the show explore the various perspectives provided by the forest. Garrett summarizes these views as aesthetic, forensic, metaphorical, and ecological. In summary, the exhibition offers both a holistic and in-depth view of how we are impacted by the forest and the lessons humanity can glean from how trees live (and die). The exhibition is specific to the Pacific Northwest, as the title tells us, but its lessons carry over to forests across the world. However, the show is uniquely rooted in the ecology of this region, as are the artists included. Through their observations, research, and experiences, each of the artists illustrate many of the quiet moments of reflection spent in these environments.

    “Silva Cascadia” includes the work of twelve female artists: Maria Cristalli, Linda Davidson, Kathleen Faulkner, Patty Haller, Laura Hamje, Hart James, Claire Johnson, Donna Leavitt, Karen Lené Rudd, Juliet Shen, Kimberly Trowbridge, and Suze Woolf. The show is expertly organized by Kathleen Garrett, a long-standing and beloved curator based in the Pacific Northwest. The show exhibits the hallmarks of Garrett’s curatorial body of work: a thoughtfully considered and researched exhibition filled with artwork that speaks to the curator’s experience as a researcher and writer of art. It is thrilling to see an exhibition curated by Garrett at MoNA (she was their curator in the past) as she expertly and confidently guides the visitor through aesthetic, forensic, metaphorical, and ecological comparisons and contrasts. Hopefully this is the start of even more exhibitions curated by this long-standing Northwest curator.

    All of the work in the exhibit connects to the overall theme of the show and is beautiful from both an aesthetic and technical perspective. What is particularly fascinating are three facets of the exhibit: the choice of sculpture, the juxtaposition of living trees and those impacted by fire, and the metaphorical connection of the “Mother Tree.” First, let’s review the two sculptors included in the exhibition: Karen Lené Rudd and Maria Cristalli. Rudd utilizes the often discarded cardboard box to recreate tree stumps to comment on the over-consumption and deforestation of these living organisms. These cardboard constructions are exhibited alongside Cristalli’s forged steel sculptures. There is something poetic and symbolic about the juxtaposition of a cardboard sculpture of a tree stump with a steel sculpture forged in fire and heat. In fact, one of Cristalli’s sculptures is titled “History of Fire.” Using exhibition design and dramatic lighting, Garrett calls our attention to the themes of construction, fire, and regeneration.

    The exhibition comments on fire and trees again through more representational methods in Suze Woolf’s detailed documentation of trees damaged by wildfire. Utilizing varnished watercolor on torn paper mounted on wood, Woolf captures the impacted forests with incredible precision while also highlighting their ghostly beauty using color and shadow. These artworks are often in the same field of vision as Patty Haller, Hart James, and Laura Hamje’s luscious paintings that explore the layers of the forest in varying degrees of abstraction. James almost cuts through the layers to reveal the inner workings of the vegetation, while Hamje provides the viewer with a perspective from the forest floor through the canopy of the trees above. As living organisms, dead from fire, or somewhere in between, these majestic figures of the forests continue to tell both a cautionary tale and a lesson of beauty.

    Another through-line in the exhibition is humanizing the tree and making connections to the concept of a “Mother Tree.” The gallery guide examines this metaphorical perspective quite well and articulates that the “Mother Tree” is often the largest tree in the forest with a vast network of fungi that is used to communicate with the surrounding trees so they can pass critical resources and information throughout the forest. According to the guide, this concept is central to Suzanne Simard’s research and her on-going project titled “The Mother Tree Project.” These trees are strong, old, and critical for a healthy forest to flourish. Fittingly, museum guests are greeted by three such trees in Kimberly Trowbridge’s large  paintings near the entrance of the exhibition. In her statement for the show, Trowbridge states that “trees epitomize the great lessons of figure-ground: how to embody self while also dissolving the boundaries between self and environment.” For the purposes of the metaphors within the “Mother Tree” concept, these trees extend beyond themselves to provide enrichment, comfort, and support to those around them. Similarly, Kathleen Faulkner writes that “the tree community is always available to protect, warn, feed, and heal its family. Trees understand the concept of teamwork.” Perhaps this is the most important lesson from the exhibition.

    Chloé Dye Sherpe

    Chloé Dye Sherpe is a curator and art professional based in Washington State.

    “Silva Cascadia: Under the Spell of the Forest” is on view through May 12, at the Museum of Northwest Art, located at 121 South First Street. Museum hours are Sunday and Monday from 12 to 5 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. For further information, visit

  • Saturday, February 24, 2024 12:55 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Saya Moriyasu: Ozekitachi - Stone Tails

    J. Rinehart Gallery in Seattle, Washington

    In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s momentous book on botany and the indigenous relationship to the natural world, the author describes her difficulty learning a Native American language; there were no nouns for bodies of water: no “bay”— only a verb meaning “to be a bay.” In her struggle, she reaches epiphany: for indigenous people, water is a living being, not an object; it may decide to be a bay, or a river, or an ocean, but it maintains its identity as water: as a living, spiritual presence with its own consciousness—and as humanity’s relative.

    There is a similar spirit at work in “Ozekitachi - Stone Tails,” Saya Moriyasu’s solo show of sumi paintings, ceramic sculptures, and small, hand-built clay figures at J. Rinehart Gallery. A Portland-raised artist with a Japanese father, Moriyasu is leaning into her heritage, into the indigenous Japanese Shinto religion, in which the spirits of nature are recognized and revered as they are in the spiritual traditions of the First People of the New World.

    For this latest work, Moriyasu was inspired by mineral springs encountered on the road trip to a New Mexico residency. She describes soaking in hot springs, feeling “enveloped in the wordless communication of the waters,” in the “presence of deities of the depth.” She sought to express, in ink and clay, those spirits and named her creations Onsen (“hot spring”) creatures. In Moriyasu’s conception, as they encounter human presence, the Onsen creatures awaken, rising to the surface and communicating through minerals exuded through their eyes and mouths.

    Moriyasu is concerned about our relationship to the earth; she uses a green process of creating art: rainwater and solar-powered kilns, hybrid car, and eating low on the food chain. Using earth-sourced clay, she lets her hands find where faces hide. Hand-sized, her creatures invite touch. She leaves them lumpen, Caliban-like, some little more than piles of sediment with pareidolic suggestions of a face. “Blue Kappa Is Watching” is a seaweed-covered lump of mud with two large staring eye-spots; a Sumo-loving, reptilian water spirit, the kappa becomes lethal when not respected.

    Some of Moriyasu’s creatures take their names from geologic formations. Her “Meromixis” Onsen creatures are named for a type of deep lake whose temperature differential at different depths prevents complete mixing, causing stratification of the water. Glazed black on the bottom like the primal slime they emerge from, the white porcelain-slip tops gape comically like a kindergartener’s clay ghosts, green puddling in their eyes, spilling as drool from their mouths.

    Larger than most, “Geode Rises from Stomatolite” references a mysterious, tube-shaped, layered, sediment formation that has provided fossils of the most ancient life on earth. Moriyasu’s creature hides a double identity: a green, frog-like face peers from the interior of the mouth—a hidden geode. Red kumihimo (Japanese braids used for samarai swords) streams from his eyes like tears.

    Moriyasu has designated her Onsen creatures Ozekitachi, members of the Ozeki, the second-highest rank in Sumo wrestling. Sumo has roots in the Shinto religion, originating as supplication and entertainment for the kami, the spirit deities of nature. Sumo also has its place in the Shinto creation story; through violent Sumo battles, the kami gained superiority over common humans and, through their battles, the earth with sun and moon was formed.

    Many of her creatures do have the rotundity and sweetness of modern Sumo wrestlers. Like Sumo, they seem playful, yet hint of power and strength. (“Yokozuna Onsen,” his title designating him as a grand master of Sumo, rises above the slime, amphibious features exuding dignity and evaluation.) And as we who live under the looming threat of the overdue “Big One” know, ancient geology is not to be taken lightly. Like the kami, nature has two faces: it can nurture, and it can destroy.

    Moriyasu tells us that “Ozeki” can be translated as “Tail of the Stone”—and hence the title of the show and also perhaps a pun: these are the tales that stones might tell, if stones could tell tales. And here they can and do, speaking of the ancient origins of life and an alternative relationship with the earth, reminders of our deep connection with the earth—and the earth’s powerful need for our respect and care.

    Elizabeth Bryant

    Elizabeth Bryant tutors English and writes about art.

    “Ozekitachi - Stone Tails” is on view through March 27 at J. Rinehart Gallery, located at 319 Third Avenue South in Seattle, Washington. The Opening Reception is on Thursday, March 7, 5-8 p.m. An Artist’s Talk is on Saturday, March 16, from 2 to 4 p.m. For more information, visit

  • Saturday, February 24, 2024 12:25 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

  • Friday, February 23, 2024 11:49 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color

    by Jessica Spring & Chandler O’Leary (Sasquatch Books)

    Feminism has necessarily evolved to acknowledge oppressions of race, class, gender, sex, and other identities as inextricably interrelated issues. Intersections are richly entwined and depicted throughout Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color (Sasquatch Books, 2016). As a compilation of broadside prints celebrating an expansive variety of women speaking in defense of their beliefs, it won the 2018 Pacific Northwest Book Award. It is also more than the sum of its parts: a testament to the power of art and artists to instigate change; documentation of the relationship between co-creators Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring; and, in the wake of O’Leary’s sudden death last year, a legacy.

    Dead Feminists began as an intersection of two people with a shared art form. In 2008, illustrator, lettering artist and entrepreneur Chandler O’Leary arrived in Tacoma and shortly after, met designer, letterpress printer and book artist Jessica Spring at the Seattle Wayzgoose printing celebration. They connected over their love of type and discovered they lived just blocks apart. Their conversation continued, honed during what was a volatile election year infused with  derisive commentary about the women candidates’ appearance or readiness for the job. One day, Spring came to O’Leary with an Elizabeth Cady Stanton quote: “Come, come my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles and see the world is moving.” Spring hoped O’Leary could merely illustrate Sarah Palin’s eyeglasses to accompany the text. O’Leary went much further, combining ornate hand lettering for the quote, intertwined with the infamous spectacles. These words, still relevant in the midst of cultural conflict, prompted the two to create their first print together.

    That they expressed their work in the form of a broadside, a poster format used historically to spread the word about political ideas, was intentional. O’Leary and Spring both had backgrounds in design and typography, and experience in the male-dominated lineage of printmaking. While they didn’t know then that this would result in a series, they did create an edition. The 44 prints that were run of the Stanton piece represented a significant number, in honor of the 44th presidential election. Symbolism and layers of meaning continued to be important pieces of each subsequent broadside, a considered fusion of text, image, and content that amplified quotes by women aligned with contemporary social justice issues. While Dead Feminists compiles a collection of 24 of these prints, the series continued for a total of 33 broadsides.

    As artists accustomed to being solo in their respective studios, working in tandem generated layers of meaning and labor that shaped their collaboration. It is striking to consider that while each brought individual strengths, they were both involved with every creative step of their process together. Each broadside was generated using a mix of traditional and contemporary letterpress processes that combined hand and digital applications. Chandler’s renderings were transformed into photopolymer plates that were run manually by Spring through her Vandercook press. A single color was printed at a time, so a multicolor print had to be run through the press multiple times. Each run required precise registration for accurate alignment so that transparent inks either lay beside or layered on top of each other to create the resulting multicolored image. Constant testing and adjustment happened along the way.

    The fluid collaborative energy O’Leary and Spring generated while making the broadsides is evident in the book. Each broadside is augmented with explanatory text evoking issues of the time during which each quoted feminist was living. In O’Leary’s words, “We wanted it to be about all of humanity, through the lens of women’s contribution to humanity.” The array of women portrayed reveals the collaborators’ care and inclusion of diverse races, cultures, and points of view. Chapter headings are verbs that suggest actions to continue to move humanity in a more equitable direction, admonishing us to build, grow, protect, make, tell, lead, play, and share.

    The artists lived into the ideas that they set forth in their book, putting words into action. Starting in 2010, the artists began giving donations to organizations that aligned with the causes embodied by the broadsides. They later started the Dead Feminists Fund, carrying forward a mission of supporting fledgling nonprofits that empower women and girls to become community forces for good. It is fitting that layers continue to be a central reason why Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color remains relevant eight years after its initial publication. It is the combined impact of the layers of ink, the art, the way these two women connected and collaborated, and the importance of the stories they depict that keep reaching for us.

    Kristin L. Tollefson

    Kristin L. Tollefson is an artist and educator based in Tacoma, Washington.

    For further information about the Dead Feminists book and series, visit and

  • Friday, February 23, 2024 10:45 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Ethereal & Tangible Art 

    Bainbridge Arts & Crafts • Bainbridge Island, Washington

    Coming off its 75th anniversary late last year, Bainbridge Arts & Crafts continues the excitement with a show of two intriguing regional artists: painter Christian Carlson (Mount Vernon) and sculptor David Eisenhour (Port Hadlock).

    Carlson is a relatively recent arrival to the Skagit Valley, a place that has long produced and attracted landscape painters inspired by the region’s natural beauty. Carlson’s spacious coastal scenes are meditative and luminous; they can seem gently severe or pleasantly serene as your own perceptions of them evolve.

    In “Winter Light,” as in so many of his paintings, islands or spits of land occupy the middle distance—dark backlit forms that straddle the horizon line. Behind them are misty headlands, while in the foreground sits a body of water rich in reflection, undulations, shallows and depths. A diffused light from an overcast sky softens the scene before you. But this painter is not out to capture the scene and call it good—he transfigures the setting in novel ways.

    For decades Carlson favored conceptual art and abstract expressionism. Only with his move to Mount Vernon in 2017 did a representational approach take hold. An abstract-expressionist spirit is present the work: stark contrasts, dynamic interplay of shapes, gestural marks, and reduction of detail—these echo New York School artists, or point even farther back to Tonalist painters and their search for essence. Carlson simplifies his landforms by rounding them off, eliminating the coniferous forests that so define this region. He excludes boats, buoys, pilings—only the natural world belongs. Even wildlife is erased, as Carlson pares down to the elemental. By these means he distances his work from the Salish Sea; his islands and peninsulas become foreign, only vaguely familiar. Carlson’s not painting a place but letting the act of painting take him places. As he himself writes: “With tenacity [artists] will eventually find themselves in uncharted territory and this is the point!”

    A subtle but important part of Carlson’s pursuit is to render realistic detail. A thin stroke of white describes a wave beginning to crest (“Red Hill”); a smudge of raw sienna defines a distant bluff. These touches seem to arise spontaneously from Carlson’s fluid, unfussy brushwork, but they anchor the mood and atmosphere to the specific. As if to counter these moves he will draw a graphite pencil along the painted surface, leaving hairlines that read, at first, as cracks in the paint (“Perfectly Still IV”). Their presence snaps you out of the immersive illusory space and back into the present moment.

    In one way Carlson heightens the drama inherent in coastal settings; then again his formal simplicity evokes serenity. Working with muted colors and a limited palette, he depicts calm waters and placid skies captured at the most tranquil moments of the day. Even his titles are action-free: “Winter Light.” “Red Hill.” “Perfectly Still.”

    If Carlson tends toward the ethereal, the sculptor David Eisenhour is all about the tangible, usually in the form of bronze and stainless steel. Life-forms are mostly absent from Carlson’s work, but in Eisenhour’s there is nothing but the life-form—his commitment to the theme is total.

    His fascination is often focused on miniscule organisms that we rarely see in life or in media. Eisenhour is entranced, too, by the patterns that creatures manifest: the precise spirals in mollusk shells, the radial symmetry of jellyfish. This aim is not only to perceive and to praise these wonders but to advocate for their protection. There’s some poetic irony in the fact that the fragile creatures Eisenhour offers up are cast in bronze and stainless steel—heavy-duty materials created under industrial-strength conditions.

    Eisenhour moved to the Puget Sound in 1992 to join the legendary Riverdog Foundry in Chimicum. There at the Northwest’s first bronze casting facility he learned all phases of the casting process; he assisted such prominent sculptors as Tony Angell, Phillip McCracken, and Phillip Levine, bringing their visions to final form. Eisenhour left the foundry to pursue his own creative work in 2003.

    Though Eisenhour knows how to work a bronze furnace, his process really begins with a dissecting microscope. A life-long appreciator of minutia, Eisenhour magnifies his findings for all to admire. “Lovegrass” is a single seed of grain that you’d need a micrometer to measure, but here it’s magnified to pumpkin-size and transmuted into stainless steel. We can savor its detail, trace the grooves in its patterned surface. We recognize the reality of the miniscule beings that sustain us, a reality that now becomes ours to sustain or to neglect.

    The remarkable “Endless Forms” is the show’s standout piece—literally. From its coiling chambered base it extends the long elegant curve of its limb far from its pedestal and into the gallery space, where it unfurls a jubilation of foliate forms. Form from form from form—just as its title implies.

    Tom McDonald

    Tom McDonald is a writer and musician living on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

    Christian Carlson and David Eisenhour exhibits are on view daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through March 31 at Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, located 151 Winslow Way East on Bainbridge Island, Washington. For information, visit

  • Friday, February 23, 2024 10:41 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Every So Often

    In our living room—that is also our den, dining room, and my office—there is a sweeping view of the surrounding rooftops. When I look south, I can see the sky over Elliott Bay shift from a hovering grey to open gaps of blue. Without hesitating—without thinking, really—I say aloud: thank you.

    Sometimes you just have to say the words.    

    Sometimes you just have to stop what you are doing, look around, and be moved.

    Then, after I’ve found my words for the day, I long to leave my writing behind and be moved by anything, everything, else. I want to see people. Embrace people. Even the stock clerk at Trader Joe’s who searched the back for another bag of olive oil potato chips because I asked him to. Well, that’s not exactly true. I begged him to. The thought of those chips was all that got me through my pages that day. I didn’t hug him. But I wanted to.

    Contact makes a huge difference in our lives. The world is just too lonely without it. During the pandemic, we mourned its absence on a magnified level. Email, a text, Zoom (especially Zoom) is not the definition of contact. Contact is the state or condition of physical touching. Even in 2021, I refused to interpret the word in any less meaningful way. 

    Of course, getting to say this is one reason I write. Though someone will likely disagree and email to say, in anger more often than not, how mistaken I am. And I will wonder again: When did we grow so impatient with each other’s opinions? Has it always been like this? My mother used to say, “The division today is nothing compared to the war years.” I stopped reminding her that we’ve been in—and too briefly out of—“war years” my entire life.

    But most of my readers are far more appreciative. Perhaps, like me, post-pandemic, they relish life on this whole new meaningful level. In so many ways, we have come to know ourselves better. As well as our limits. Which we have reached. Over and over. And over again.

    But still, we hang in there.

    And if my thoughts about contact had not intervened just now, I might have started this piece by saying how, as a child, I favored being alone to playing with other kids.

    Every so often I like to remember that child.

    Especially the way she loved books. How she’d hide behind the sectional to read the encyclopedias her parents so proudly bought and then never used, I love that memory.

    Later, I overheard our priest tell my mother not to let me read too much because books would “fill my head with ideas.” And you know what? They did.

    Books helped me to cope in their The-World-Is-So-Much-Bigger-Than-You way. They still do. I read about other people and what concerns them, and I think, let’s cut all this “divided” talk. We are more alike than they want us to believe. 

    It’s just impossible to not be curious if you read books where we are allowed to enter the mind of another and discover so many different ways to see the world, and ourselves within it.

    And I came to see that this was exactly what my parents and priest were most afraid of: that in the silence of all my reading, so much was being said.

    Mary Lou Sanelli

    Mary Lou Sanelli is the author of Every Little Thing, a collection of essays that was nominated for a Washington State Book Award and a Pacific Northwest Book Award. Her newest title, In So Many Words, is forthcoming in September 2024. She also works as a speaker and a master dance teacher. For more information about her and her work, visit

  • Friday, December 29, 2023 5:46 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    My Aunt Connie used to sit me down at the kitchen table to share tales of her great journey from Calabria to New York. About how young and scared she was, but also how hopeful. A rock in our family, we could always count on her. If one of us needed help, she’d cook up some pasta, open a bottle of red, and listen. Everything will work out, she’d say, tutto funzionerà.

    Today, her stories stay with me. Especially this one: When people asked her where she was from, she was afraid to admit she came from a country that had sided with Germany in “the war” (and then she would cross herself), but she was never uncertain of how to answer. She was nothing but sure.

    On the opposite side of this country, people move here from all over the world, drawn to its natural beauty, work opportunities, openness, acceptance. There have been so many new arrivals that the Northwest—the perception of it—has begun to feel more like an opinion, heightened in our minds by experience, background, political leaning, and attitude. Many of our conversations also begin with the question, “Where are you from?”  

    But it’s always the same reluctance on my part. Unlike my favorite aunt, I can still be so unsure.

    Am I from New England, the place of my formative years? Or am I from the Northwest because I’ve lived here longer?

    Honestly, I can still have such strong sensations of displacement that when my sister called from Florida to tell me how, after Hurricane Ian, the snakes and alligators hid from view in the puddles after being flooded out of their ponds, an intense wave of empathy came over me. I kept imagining myself peeping out from under the murky pools, clinging to the bottom with my toes, moving my hips back and forth to keep from cramping. Does this make me a truly compassionate person or just one with a writer’s crazy imagination?

    When I tell this story to my friend in New York, also a writer and also Italian, she laughs. As with most conversations about writing, especially between two writers, we move on to discuss our current projects at length. Writing might not offer the same challenges as scaling the side of a mountain or ascending slippery rock, but when we talk about the ups and downs, those are exactly the metaphors we use. Finally, I ask her what she would call this sense of home-uncertainty. “Well,” she says, “I don’t know what they (meaning anyone not living in New York) would call it, but I (meaning all Italians or all Italians living in New York, I’m not sure) think writing and craziness are practically the same thing.

    I could almost hear her smiling on the other end.

    But I don’t feel any sense of insult about my “craziness,” quite the opposite. I can easily wrap my mind around the fact that this is one of those qualities over which I have no say whatsoever.

    Which makes me re-remember something: Tutto funzionerà.

    My Aunt Connie was (and still is) an honest-to-God saint in my life, the largest imaginable kind, the size of my every hope (past, present, and future) and purpose.

    That’s what I like to believe.

    Mary Lou Sanelli

    Mary Lou Sanelli is ts the author of Every Little Thing, a collection of essays that was nominated for a Washington State Book Award. Her previous titles include fiction, non-fiction, and a new children’s title, Bella Likes To Try. She also works as a speaker and a master dance teacher. For more information about her and her work, visit

  • Friday, December 29, 2023 5:41 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    stormy weather

    and we enter

    another world

    the dots of rain

    between traveling umbrellas

    the fractured patterns

    of the crimson kimono

    the twisted blue

    of a strap

    on a school girl’s backpack

    the wet smack of feet

    on a grey sidewalk

    Alan Chong Lau

    Alan Chong Lau is a poet and visual artist based in Seattle, Washington. He serves as Arts Editor for the International Examiner, a community newspaper. As a visual artist, he is represented by ArtX Contemporary in Seattle, Washington.

    John Levy is a poet and photographer. In 2023, Shearsman Books published 54 poems: new & selected, works from 1972 to 2022. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.

    Alan Chong Lau and John Levy have published three volumes of a poetry and photography collaboration that can be found by searching online for “eye2word.”

  • Friday, December 29, 2023 5:32 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Linda Okazaki’s retrospective exhibit at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is an exploration of painting and life that requires us to look and look again. First we experience the subtle color relationships, the extraordinary handling of watercolor. Then we register on the imagery, and finally a pervasive anxiety and discomfort.

    This major exhibition includes many themes, but they are not clustered together; rather curator Greg Robinson, in collaboration with the artist, conducts a symphony of phrases that build on one another, and repeat each with a new variation. Artist Jo Hockenhull, who knew the artist well in Pullman, commented “No one attacks watercolor with such surety and knowledge as Linda Okazaki.” The transparency of watercolor conveys many moods of water, the color relationships evoke emotions. Okazaki immersed herself in a study of Goethe’s color theory and then made her own color charts in order to exactly convey emotions that she wanted to express.

    The theme of water is one example: at the outset of the exhibition, we see “Evening Departure” (1980). The sea (Puget Sound) swirls around the boat, as the artist, accompanied by her dog, is held in the arms of a large wolf. The embrace is tender, but the image suggests anxiety. This represents on one level her departure from many years in eastern Washington to live in Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula.

    But on another level, we can sense her fear of starting over in an entirely new environment through the imaginary—but gentle—embrace of a wolf.

    In “River Story Return” (1989), the artist now depicts herself nude in the water, carrying a raven reaching for the shore as a glass vessel seems to fall toward her, and a person in a large red and black striped robe fails to connect to her. Desperation is palpable, expressed through the color, textures, and images. “Crypt Swimmers” (2012) heightens the sense of danger as several figures swim among heavy columns and arches.

    Okazaki received two degrees from Washington State University and taught there in the 1970s. She became part of an edgy group of artists who cohered, not into a single style, but into a concentrated group of supportive friends, who, because of the isolation of Pullman, partied together, but had plenty of time for concentrated work. Artist Gaylen Hansen was one of her professors, and near the beginning of the exhibition is “Studio Conversation Vincent and Gaylen”(1985) of Gaylen Hansen and Vincent Van Gogh. We see Hansen’s presence in Okazaki’s benevolent animals and birds that fill her paintings. But her birds multiply and congregate and disperse as in the wonderful recent painting, “Birds Take Flight into Twilight” (2023). We see twenty different species of birds, each carefully observed, fly away in a landscape filled with a rainbow of colors. Another inspiration was the Bay Area artist Joan Brown, who also pursued a personal vocabulary of self portraits, dancing and swimming, in a fantasy world. Also important to her was the anguished imagery of Frida Kahlo, as we see in “Letter to Frida” (1985).

    The formative event in Okazaki’s life occurred when she was six. Her mother was murdered by a stalker who then committed suicide. For the first time, the artist is showing several works that refer to this trauma, each more explicit than the last. The earliest is a pencil drawing made while in art school, but later large watercolors confront the subject with a courageous directness. This is the first time she has shown these works.

    Not surprisingly then, the overall sensation of the exhibition is one of unease, everything is off kilter, filled with undecipherable metaphors, particularly in the still life paintings of tables set vertically against the picture plane and filled with odd objects. Much of the imagery is from dreams, dreams that suggest struggles to just find a firm footing, particularly in juxtaposition with water.

    But I will end where I began, with the dazzling color: Okazaki deeply understands the subtle relationships that she creates to convey exactly the right emotion. So seeing these paintings through color first gives us a feeling of comfort and sometimes joy, even as the paintings themselves take us on a fantastic adventure.

    Susan Noyes Platt

    Susan Noyes Platt writes for local, national, and international publications and her website,

    “Linda Okazaki: Into the Light” is on view through February 25, 2024 at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, located at 550 Winslow Way East on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information, visit

  • Friday, December 29, 2023 5:16 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

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