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A Visit to Downtown: Small Spaces, Big Ideas

“Beauty in the Decay”

For a spring treat, you have until the end of April to stop by the ArtXchange Gallery near Pioneer Square to see the Alan Lau exhibition “Beauty in the Decay.” His subtle Sumi-e ink, pastel and watercolor paintings envelop us like a walk in the woods. Lau studied Sumi-e ink brush painting, but intentionally aspires to a contemporary style that incorporates ink with layers of surface drawing in charcoal and chalk: “The spirit of the tradition looms behind me not as a rote model but as a continuing renewable source of encouragement to push ahead.”

(Alan Lau, Blue Message, detail, sumi and mixed media on rice paper, 60x60)

Each of his large paintings uses a different type of stroke, contrasting layers, and even shifts of tone, but all of them are embedded in nature, and the cycles of life. Also, enjoy the intimate watercolors, often of a fruit or vegetable in a precise condition of ripeness or incipient decay. Lau worked as produce manager at Uwajimaya for many years, an aesthetic adventure that gives him an intimate feeling for this topic.

Lau writes eloquently about his work:

“There is a modern poet who writes about weeds. For myself, there is something common, stubborn and oddly attractive about weeds and their random persistence. The simple beauty of nature, though it looks still to our eyes, is constantly teeming with activity. Sometimes it’s this quality I want to capture in my work--that of a seemingly quiet, inert surface alive with the continual process of change, decay and growth within its deepest layers."

Coincidentally, I saw his exhibition immediately after visiting a Florida wildlife sanctuary. The photo I took with reflections of the sky, penetration under the water and the surface of decaying grass, with a diving bird, echoes Lau’s vision for his art.

The ArtXchange exhibition provides a rare opportunity to conveniently see Alan Lau’s paintings in a Pioneer Square venue. For many years, he showed at Francine Seders Gallery up in Greenwood, until it closed a few years ago. As a pillar of the art community in Seattle, we also know him as a poet, art critic, curator and journalist. He will be reading his poetry at the gallery on April 21.


Alan Lau — Beauty in the Decay

521 1st Ave. S, Seattle

Municipal Tower and City Hall: the Art Venues

While you are downtown, take the time to also visit the art galleries sponsored by Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture in City Hall and the Municipal Tower. They offer several surprises. First, and most easily found on the third floor of 700 Fifth Avenue, is the Ethnic Cultural Heritage Gallery, created by Preston Hampton. “What’s Left Behind,” by Satpreet Kahlon until April 15 addresses sexual violence and its aftermath of trauma. The closer we look at these works, the more we feel the intensity of Kahlon’s focus. For “Sharam (Shame),” the largest work, she tore and burned dozens of pieces of paper, then glued them to a 150 x 60 inch plastic sheet. In the center, she created the word, “Shame” as negative letters, written in Punjabi, clearly testifying to the after-effects of sexual violence. But the piece also speaks to survival as part of a community. Another work weaves layers of threads into plastic suggesting both fragility and cloaking. She particularly addresses women of color “by recognizing the burden they face to protect their communities while simultaneously advocating for themselves as victims.” Kahlon’s brave and intense exhibition encourages thoughtful engagement with a topic that is only rarely addressed in a public venue.

(Satpreet Kahlon, Sharam (shame), 2016 detail, 130x60in, burnt paper, plastic sheeting, Ethnic Cultural Gallery)

Not far away in “Seattle Presents,” a small space at Columbia St. and Fifth Avenue, the city launched a series of six exhibitions titled “Dialogues in Art: Exhibitions on Racial Injustice” with Barry Johnson’s “Signs of the Times.” Fortunately, I heard the artist speak about his work. Casually relaxed in layered pale grey shirts, he changes the narrative about African Americas from crime and poverty. Based on his statistical studies, he counters stereotypes. First, with stacks of mortarboards, he charted the dramatic increase in PH.D.s awarded to African Americans since the 1970s. Second, logos of major inventions by African Americans demonstrated their fundamental contributions to our world including the microphone, and three-color streetlight. Third, he defied prejudices about same sex couples with words like “nurture” “love” and “community ” written on red tape over a silhouetted couple. Although this exhibition has closed, the next in the series, “Jasmine Brown, Remembrance” features poignant icons of murdered young black men in the style of small medieval altars (you can compare them with Kehinde Wiley’s icons with a different purpose at his glamorous exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum). Jasmine Brown will be an artist-in-residence in the gallery on Thursdays from ten to three until May 13.

(Barry Johnson installation, at Seattle Presents Gallery, Municipal Tower)

But, we are not finished yet, with our tour of city-sponsored exhibitions. A third space, near the Ethnic Cultural Heritage Gallery in the municipal tower, currently features group exhibitions. From April 7 – June 29, 2016 “Cultural Perspectives” displays an amazing 66 works by 45 artists recently purchased by Seattle Public Utilities (that’s our one percent for art program still going strong after all these years, the upside of our construction mania). The current group show “Seattle Simplified, Part 2” featured multimedia, photography, and prints by such well –known artists as Jacob Lawrence, Juan Alonzo, and Mary Ann Peters.

Finally, in the main lobby of City Hall itself (and on a lower level in the Ann Folke Gallery), the “Real Change Agents Portrait Project,” presents individually painted portraits of our Real Change vendors. These men and women, whom we normally meet by talking to them briefly as we buy our papers in the street, now gaze out at us directly. Each painting includes a detailed narrative of the vendor’s impressive survival amid diversity.

While you are entering the City Hall lobby, take a minute to view the permanent installation by Vancouver artist, Eric Robertson Evolving Wing and the Gravity of Presence that evokes canoe journeys and the aerospace industry in a stunning semi abstract installation.

So save on postage and pay your utility or tax bill in person in April, then enrich your day with a visit to these many exhibitions, as well as the Alan Lau exhibition at ArtXchange, not far away.

Susan Noyes Platt,

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