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A politician and a painter

Former Tacoma Mayor opens Roads and Rivers Unseen at Art Above Gallery

Untitled oil painting by Brian Ebersole. Photo courtesy Brian Ebersol

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Former Tacoma Mayor Brian Ebersole is a painter and owner of Art Above Gallery, located upstairs in the back of Minka on Pacific Ave. Ebersole pursued painting in his 20s, and after entering politics, he started collecting art in his travels around the world. The current show at Art Above -- Roads and Rivers Unseen: Perspectives from Around the World -- features landscape and portrait paintings in oil and acrylic, many by Ebersole and many by other artists whose work he has collected over the years.

The paintings are in a style similar to works from the Ash Can School of artists from early 20th century America -- Robert Henri, Theresa Bernstein, George Luks, John Sloan and others whose work was a gritty kind of post-impressionist realism not so much celebrating as documenting the real world of working class Americans, warts-and-all portraits and landscapes not of grand scenes but of city streets, working waterfronts and non-idealized vistas. The paint application is heavy and opaque, and their colors tend to be darker than the Impressionists who preceded them.

Along the left-hand wall of the gallery are nine acrylic paintings by Ebersole. Most are landscapes depicting everyday scenes, some of which are almost totally abstract, with clouds and bushes depicted as blurs of color. At the time of the Ash Can School, such paintings were revolutionary in that they pictured subjects that had seldom before been considered worthy of fine art, but today they are more run-of-the-mill. I do wish Ebersole and the others in this show used more vibrant colors and perhaps approached their scenes from more radical viewpoints.

There are two untitled portraits in this group of paintings. My guess is that he did not title them because he did not want to call attention to the subject, which in turn calls attention away from the painting. One of these pictures a strong woman with black hair and black clothing on a dark background. The lighting is like that of a Rembrandt or Carravagio -- single source from one side with strong chiaroscuro. There is also a Madonna by Ebersole on another wall who looks rather fierce.

The other walls feature works from Ebersole's collection and more of his own paintings. There are small luminous landscapes by Vova DeBak and one strong abstract by K.R. Moeher with orange clouds and a slash of bright crimson representing hills.

There are two interesting paintings of boats by Vahe Yeremyan, one picturing fishing boats painted with short, choppy brushstrokes with blue sky and orange-pink clouds, and another with dark brown boats on a yellow beach and hazy sailboats in the background. Many people on the beach are painted with an economy of short brushstrokes. Elements of these paintings remind me of van Gogh (the angular boats on the yellow sand) and of a less turbulent J.M.W. Turner (the misty background scene).

The paintings in this exhibition are neither bombastic nor exciting, but they are painted with confidence and quiet dignity.  

ROADS AND RIVERS UNSEEN, noon to 5 p.m., Thursday-Sunday and by appointment, through Jan. 31, Art Above Gallery, inside Minka, 821 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.961.5220

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