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Making his mark

Abstracting the world with dashes and X’s and V’s

Painting by Jeff Olson. Photo courtesy Tacoma Community College

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After viewing Jeff Olson's exhibition, Making my Mark at Tacoma Community College, I visited his web site out of curiosity and discovered statements from the artist that seem at odds with what I observed in his exhibition. Olson stated, "My paintings offer a unique vision of the landscape and the inspirational forces of nature which shape it." And "The canvases are boldly colored and the brushwork energetic, reflective of the physicality of the land and the processes of painting." Bold colors and a reflection of landscape are in keeping with what I observed, but the claim of energetic brushwork is not. He went on to speak of his "direct and rapid technique."

Olson's paintings are all about the marks, thus the show title. But to my eye these marks are controlled and laid upon the canvas with a certain amount of deliberation -- anything but rapid and energetic brushwork. To me, his brushstrokes look more like those of Robert and Sonya Delaunay and some of the early American abstractionists such as Stuart Davis.

Despite questioning his claims about the speed and exuberance with which he applies paint to canvas, I was impressed with his paintings. They are joyful and colorful. Seeing groups of them together with their slight variations on similar images is like walking through a desert landscape with here and there a change in light and shadow or a surprise outcropping of vegetation.

Olson's show is a large exhibition with a striking consistency of style. All the paintings are abstract but evoking landscape.

Olson paints with short dashes and X's and V's of color laid side-by-side on the canvas with no blending or overlapping. Each brushstroke is self-contained; each color stands out clearly and reverberates against its adjacent stroke. These marks are, in most instances, lighter or darker values of the same color and are grouped together to form shapes that read as hills or cliffs or clumps of bushes, or in some instances forms that don't so much look like anything in nature but which evoke the feeling of being out of doors. Most of them have flat backgrounds that are seen as sky or water and are of solid or almost solid colors that are loosely brushed.

Behind the counter as you enter the gallery are two large paintings of hills reflected in water, one in shades of blue and the other in shades of yellow and gray. Other paintings that look like hills, some with roads or rivers winding through them, are displayed in the front part of the gallery. In the middle area groups of paintings with brilliant, sun-lit forms are hung -- one with a white shape like a funnel cloud or a drill digging into an orange ground. Another in this area looks like a torn curtain with yellow light shining through. The back section of the gallery is filled with paintings in more muted tones with X's and V's forming shapes like clumps of sticks -- bales of spikey hay.

To me, it is a feel-good show.

JEFF OLSON: MAKING MY MARK, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Thursday, through Aug. 9, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off S 12th St. between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G.

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