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Three Artists Who Never Stopped Exploring

Updated: Oct 23, 2022

“Romare Bearden Abstraction” at the Frye Art Museum, runs June 25–September 18, 2022.

Romare Bearden. “River Mist,” ca. 1962. Oil on unprimed linen, and oil, casein, and colored pencil on canvas, cut, torn, and mounted on painted board.

The exhibition was a revelation! Romare Bearden has long been famous for his collages with poignant representations of Black life in the South. He began those collages in 1964, at the height of the Civil Rights movement following participation in the Spiral Group. After the 1963 March on Washington, Bearden and his friends began Spiral in his studio in order to discuss the role of representation of the African American experience in art at a time that abstraction dominated mainstream art. As a result, Bearden turned to figurative collage.

And he became absolutely identified with those works.

But looking at his abstractions from 1952–1962 it is obvious that he was never a fully abstract artist—there are many elusive figural references. At the same time, his collages continue to include his sophisticated understanding of spatial relationships and color. Bearden explored new techniques and experimented with pigments. His sources of inspiration spanned the globe from European old masters to Chinese sumi painting.

For example, in River Mist, 1962, he works with oil on unprimed linen, and oil, casein and colored pencil, cut, torn and mounted on board. Lurking in River Mist we see silhouettes that can evoke rising mists, architectural elements, facial profiles, archeological formations, or celestial events.

Bearden’s creative sumi technique distinctly contrasts with that of another major artist currently showing his work here: George Tsutakawa.

Installation View “George Tsutakawa: Language of Nature” by Hunter Stroud, courtesy of Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.

George Tsutakawa: The Language of Nature at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (until October 8) includes drawings, watercolors and sumi works as well as oil paintings, his famous fountains, and even furniture. Tsutakawa also explored both East and West aesthetics, but his work comes back to nature even as it appears abstract. One of his favorite forms was the Obo, the rock that pilgrims in the Himalayas pile up to create a memorial. In his sculpture, you can see that reference, as he creates cedar or teak sculptures with both highly polished and carefully textured surfaces.

His watercolors of landscapes, particularly two of Mt. Rainier, one in transparent watercolor, the other like an obo rock itself in black, opaque sumi, demonstrate his close observation of changing light and atmosphere. In one photograph we see him on the beach at low tide sketching the sea with his paper on the sand.

Tsutakawa is best known for his bronze fountains of which there are twelve just in Seattle, and seventy-five around the country. The first and best known is “Fountain of Wisdom,” 1957–60, in front of the Seattle Public Library. These elegant metal sculptures subtly incorporate a water flow that interacts and completes their form.

The exhibition borrows many works from the Tsutakawa family that have never before been exhibited. The thoughtful installation emphasizes the interplay of two- and three-dimensional work. Make the trip on the ferry, the Bainbridge Museum of Art, walking distance from the ferry, is open every day and it is free.

Lawney Reyes’ “Dream Catcher” at Yesler and 32nd Street.

Lawney Reyes 1931–2022

We all know the work of Lawney Reyes in Leschi: His Dream Catcher stands at Yesler and 32nd Street in honor of his famous brother Bernie Whitebear and talented sister Luana Reyes. It seems perfect for us now to consider it also a memorial to the artist himself who died on August 10.

His story is extraordinary, from the Sin-Aikst, Colville tribal group, whose land and river were wiped out by the Grand Coulee Dam, he and his sister were sent to one of the infamous Indian boarding schools. In his case, however, it seems to have had positive as well as negative results, as he was introduced to other native cultures and began to create art. He attended the University of Washington, served in the Army and then was hired as a designer for Seafirst Bank at which he was extraordinarily successful. He began to make sculpture at the same time that he pursued his work as a designer. He even became an architect for the Daybreak Star Center in Discovery Park, created as a result of his brother Bernie Whitebear’s nonviolent protest to regain the land from the federal government. Finally in his 70s he also began to write vivid narratives including B Street Notorious Playground of Coulee Dam (2008) and The Last Fish War: Survival on the Rivers (2016).

Lawney Reyes definitely caught dreams throughout his life.

~Susan Platt, PhD


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