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Pastels and Batik

Sherry Buckner and Lisa Kattenbracker at Childhood’s End

“Logged Field” pastel by Chris Maynard. Photo courtesy Childhood's End Gallery

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Sherry Buckner's latest pastel landscapes beg an old question: why do it? Nature can be stunningly beautiful, especially when there are sunsets or stormy skies, or, in the case of Buckner's pastels, mist and fog. But it is so much easier to snap a photo than to paint the scene, and paintings of nature's wonder have been done countless times over the years, going all the way back to JMW Turner and Winslow Homer and James McNeil Whistler in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. Questioning the artistic value of paintings of this nature is important. They can be mysterious and relaxing to gaze upon, and we can admire the artists' skill, but is that enough?

Buckner's pastel landscapes might not be transformative or transcendent; they might not be as powerful as a Whistler or a Turner (primarily because these artists were among the first to make such paintings).

Buckner is showing half a dozen works in her latest installment at Childhood's End Gallery. All but one are pastel scenes of trees and water in fog or mist. The one exception is a small serigraph called "Yellow Tree." The tree in question is, yes, yellow and also bare of leaves, standing sentry on a promontory overlooking a distant mountain range. Everything is simplified into flat planes of color. I wish there were a lot more of these in the show -- at least a grouping of five or six to complement the pastels.

The pastels are super soft and misty, infused with the silvery gray light of the Pacific Northwest. There are layers and layers of barely seen trees receding into atmospheric perspective. Color is reduced to a tiny bit of blue sky peeking out between clouds and small areas of green grass. Everything else is gray or black. Compositionally they are strong but subtle, with images lining up or repeating in ways so understated that most viewers won't notice. For example, in "Logged Field" the tops of the darker trees and the more amorphous tree line farther back and to the left create a strong diagonal that reverberates with the diagonal of the land in the foreground and contrasts with the oppositional diagonal of the patches of blue sky.

Contrasting with Buckner's work are Lisa Kattenbracker's half-dozen framed batik-on-cotton pictures. They are small, cute and decorative, the kind of thing one might enjoy seeing on someone's kitchen wall. There are a couple of lovely images of young girls holding hands and a few birds perched on the tops of flowers, and one picture of jars, one filled with what looks like cherries, and the other filled with an image of the sun with radiating rays.

There are also bins filled with unframed prints by Kattenbracker. Her work and Buckner's are all moderately priced.

Also on view is a continuation of last month's exhibition of feather art by Chris Maynard (reviewed in this column in early November).

SHERRY BUCKNER PASTELS, w/Lisa Kattenbracker batik, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through Jan. 20, Childhood's End Gallery, 222 Fourth Ave. W., Olympia, 360.943.3724,

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