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Going out in style

Jean Nagai & Peter Scherrer at Salon Refu

“Rocks, Plants, Animals,” oil on canvas by Peter Scherrer. Photo courtesy Peter Scherrer

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Salon Refu ends its brief but amazing history as the only gallery in South Puget Sound to rival major galleries in major cities with a two-person show of works by Jean Nagai and Peter Scherrer. The gallery will close its doors at the end of this month, but not necessarily forever. There has been vague mention of someone other than gallery owner Susan Christian taking over and converting it into some kind of different arts venu, and Christian has indicated she might do something else with it in a couple of years.

Meanwhile there is the final show featuring two painters whose works nicely complement each other.

They complement each other because each is influenced by Pacific Northwest scenery and each paints over-all, that is, compositions that weigh evenly across the expanse of paper or canvas rather than with one or more prime points of interest, in the manner of such modern masters as Jackson Pollock, Jules Olitski, Mark Tobey and others. Scherrer fills his canvases with fields of short brushstrokes, Nagai with crowded fields of dots. They differ in that Nagai's fields of dots are almost mathematical in their precision and create subtle patterns that seem to emerge mystically from the background. Scherrer's short lines, applied in expressive jabs and squiggles, are much looser and more energetic than Nagai's carefully placed dots. Also, Scherer's pictures have more easily recognizable subject matter including people, animals, houses, trees and mountains. And some of them are funny as hell with snakes and crusty old men looking like the wildly imaginative creatures in Gaylen Hansen's paintings, and at least one nude that could be a merger of nudes by Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin.

A gallery statement about Nagai, which I expect was worded by the artist writing in the third person, says, "By engaging in a meditative process by which the sum of many dots accumulate (sic) to form a larger synergic whole, Jean's work creates and explores a visual microcosm of the Western landscape."

Most of Nagai's works are of modest size, 15-by-22 inches and 22-by-30 inches, there is one large one, 48-by-36 inches done in acrylic and what is listed as "cyanesque spores" on canvas. I have no idea what a cyanesque spore is and can't even find it on Google, but the painting called "Ether," made up of thousands and thousands of blue dots on white and white dots on blue looks like either a giant wasp nest or a raging tornado and is quite impressive. His smaller works are more decorative and restful and are impressive for the sheer patience and diligence required to make them.

Sherrer's most formidable works are two large paintings that face one another from opposite gallery walls. They are each a little more than six-by-seven feet. One is filled with chevron-shaped brushstrokes in blue, green and purple within which can be found four comical figures of a woman with a green face, a snake, a green man wearing a red shirt, and a frog. The other one is a similarly styled profusion of leaves, rocks, little froggie faces and dancing figures. The fascination of this one is, first, the energy and the explosion of blue, violet, black and yellow, and second, the fun of searching out all the hidden figures, many of which suddenly become clear when they were invisible a moment before.

The one I referred to earlier as a nude that looks like a merger of Matisse and Gaugin is a little oil on wood panel by Scherrer called "Phoebe 1." It is outstanding for its line quality and the creaminess of its heavy paint application, and for its subtle color variations.   

This show should be seen, especially since this might be your last chance to see works by either of these painters in Olympia.

Jean Nagai & Peter Scherrer, 2-6 p.m., Thursday-Sunday and by appointment, through May 21, Salon Refu, 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia, 360.280.3540

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