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Wall fodder

Lois Beck, Mia Schulte and Becky Knold at the Washington Center

“Forest Canopy,” acrylic on paper by Becky Knold. Photo courtesy Becky Knold

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The Ways We See," now showing in the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia, are paintings by Lois Beck, Mia Schulte and Becky Knold, three women whose paintings have a lot in common - so much so, in fact, that unless you have studied their paintings in detail and over time you would be hard pressed to know which paintings are by which artists. I have known their work for years and I had to read the labels on many of them to know who the artist was.

The paintings fill three floors. They are all abstract, and except for a couple of black-and-white monoprints by Beck they are all colorful and filled with layered organic shapes.

They're like the three bears of painting: not too big, not too small, but just right; i.e., just the right modest size to fit comfortably in your living room, which brings me to my one criticism of this show. These paintings are too comfortable. They are what I like to call wall fodder - non-committal art guaranteed to please most people and not offend anyone. I admire Beck, Schulte and Knold, and I've seen enough of their work to know they are capable of doing riskier stuff. Recent paintings by Knold seen online are quite bold. So I think the sameness and the timidity of this show must be happenstance.  I also feel the need to point out that the constraint of this show is not so much in evidence in individual pieces as in an overview.

Knold's painting in oil on paper "Forest Canopy" is an abstraction based on the feeling perhaps more than the appearance of entangled leaves and limbs seen when standing in a dense forest and looking up into the canopy. Flat areas of yellow-green overlap one another in shallow layered space like piles of leaves interspersed with a light, dull blue (as I describe this, it sounds more illustrative of leaves and sky than it actually is). These shapes are partially outlined by black marks that also dart into, over and beneath the green shapes to create a nicely ambiguous spatial dance. The quality of the brush marks in the black lines remind me of Willem de Kooning.

Schulte uses a lot of icy cold white and light gray in many of her paintings, which have the feel of ripped sheets of colorful and highly transparent tissue paper pasted together in patterns that seem almost but not quite random. There is an implied depth in her paintings that draws the viewer in. The title "Breaking Away" in her mixed-media painting could easily refer to glaciers breaking apart.

Beck's "Placer" is one of the bolder paintings in the show, with its lightning-like zip of white from top to bottom over soft-edged rectangles of muted orange, gray and blue. Her two black-and white monoprints, "After Midnight" and "String Theory" offer tantalizing contrasts between floating clouds, flat cut-out gray shapes and scribbled lines that seem to hover. In many ways I think these two prints are the highlight of the show.

"The Ways We See," by appointment (Monday through Friday noon to 4 p.m.), or to ticketed patrons an hour prior to an event, through March 14, The Washington Center for Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, 360.753.8585,

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