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The Journey surprises

Exhibition of Plein Air Washington Artists has a unique twist

“Falling Through the Cascades,” oil painting by Patricia Clayton. Photo courtesy American Art Company

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Now on view at American Art Company is The Journey, an exhibition of Plein Air Washington Artists.

I can't honestly review this exhibition without stating my personal bias -- and yes, critics always have personal biases, no matter how they might try to be objective. The paintings in this show are of a type I usually disdain. They are slick, commercial, calendar art: warmed-over Impressionism, a kind of art that has been done to death over the past century.

Having stated my bias, I will now talk about some of the better pieces in the show. But first, one more general statement: This show does something I have never seen. It shows plein air paintings next to identical or almost identical paintings of the same subject that were painted back in the artists' studios, as opposed to out in nature, which by definition is what plein air painting is. The only difference in most cases is the size and the price.  

Patricia Clayton's "Falling Through the Cascades" holds down a prime spot, making it the first thing most visitors see when entering the gallery. It is a large painting at 30-by-40 inches. It depicts a rushing waterfall with luscious, heavy paint strokes applied with some kind of knife or scraper -- heavy globs of paint that look as wet and shiny as the rocks and rushing water depicted. It is a highly dramatic picture. There are three other paintings by this artist: one a smaller but similar painting of a waterfall and two paintings of golden sunsets over the ocean, one with misty skies and one with golden water. Like "Falling Through the Cascades," these are bold and dramatic paintings that are executed with great skill, even though the scenes are clichéd it might be noted that heavy paint application is typical of many paintings in this show. There is also a preponderance of mist, water and sunset themes. Brilliant orange, gold, pink and violet are everywhere to be seen.

Kathryn Townsend's "Miner's Cabin" and "End of the Road" have the same kind of heavy impasto, brilliant colors and dramatic scenery as Clayton's paintings, but with richer color combinations. The brown tones in the foreground look like rich chocolate, and the tiny blue roof on the outhouse dead center in the combination is a real attention grabber.

Karen Bakke's two paintings of a lighthouse remind me of Edward Hopper's paintings of lighthouses, but a comparison with Hopper would be unfair to Bakke, because Hopper's honesty and inerrant sensitivity to spacing and composition is beyond the reach of mortals.

Perhaps my favorite painting in the show is an unpretentious little watercolor by Felicity Chastney called "Silence in Echo Bay." It is quiet, soothing, and not so showy as many of the other paintings in this show.

THE JOURNEY, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, through Jan. 26, closing reception 3-5 p.m., Jan. 26, American Art Company, 1126 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma, 253.272.4327,

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