The Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair returns for a second year

Whether you like abstract sculptures or nature paintings, we’ve compiled five itineraries for five different types of art lovers.

Collage of artworks: abstract round shapes, a colorful bird, a plastic tongue in antique box, four golden abstracted figures and a person in a colorful sweater

The Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair features more than 40 galleries and nonprofit institutions — from Georgetown to Skagit Valley — opening their doors for a month of dedicated shows. Pictured here, clockwise from the upper right corner, work by: Amber Flame, Alicia Tormey, Mance Engine, Barry Johnson, Jazz Brown and Thomas Stream. 

When COVID-19 canceled the Seattle Art Fair last summer, local galleries sprang into action — replacing the Paul Allen-founded, CenturyLink Field Event Center-filling, internationally attended weekend expo with a homegrown, decentralized alternative. The Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair welcomed masked visitors into Northwest galleries for the entire month of August 2020, and felt like a happy revival for an art-starved public.

The Seattle Art Fair won’t be back until 2022 (July 21-24 at the renamed Lumen Field), but the Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair is returning for a second edition this month.

This year, the list of participating SDAF galleries and nonprofit organizations has grown to more than 40, a handful of which are brand-new art spaces that have opened in the past few months, including From Typhoon, MS PAM and AMcE Creative Arts space. Also new this year is an in-person kick-off event on Aug. 5 (6-8 p.m.) in Pioneer Square and downtown Seattle, marking the official return of the Pioneer Square Art Walk — a 40-year-old tradition — with the first First Thursday in 16 months. 

Though it has a similar name, the SDAF doesn’t function like the Seattle Art Fair or other typical art expos. There’s no behemoth event hall filled with a maze of white booths, just galleries on their own turf — from Georgetown to Skagit Valley — opening their doors for a month of dedicated shows. (See the full list of participating galleries here.)

With no entry fee for visitors (or gallerists), SDAF is more affordable to attend than the SAF — and the art prices tend to be less jaw-dropping, as well. But deciding what to see among the breadth of art offerings can still be a bit overwhelming. For guidance, we’ve compiled five SDAF itineraries for a “choose your own adventure” according to the type of art you enjoy.

Jump to:

Abstract appreciators

Flora and fauna fans

Sculpture seekers

Conceptual connoisseurs

Portraiture, surrealism and pop pursuers

“Below the surface” by Alicia Tormey, encaustic with mixed media (Patricia Rovzar Gallery) 

Abstract appreciators

The paintings of Seattle artist Alicia Tormey — on view at Patricia Rovzar Gallery in New Territory (Aug. 3-26) — seem to breathe on canvas. The surface gurgles with splatters and bubbles, like cells pulsing under a microscope. Here, these tiny building blocks of life merge into abstract land- and seascapes that melt into the horizon toward something greater than the sum of its parts. Tormey creates this effect with encaustic, an ancient medium that uses heat to fuse and sculpt layers of beeswax and tree resin mixed with pigments. 

The art of layering is on vivid display at Greg Kucera Gallery, as well: In Michael Knutson’s watercolors (through Aug. 21), jagged triangles and sharp diamonds intersect with soft ovals, creating kaleidoscopes of overlapping color fields. Also on view at the gallery is a series of Rorschach-esque paintings and drawings by Jeffrey Simmons. Organized into clean vertical columns, his works have a ledgerlike feel.  

In Estrellas del Norte Al Sur (Aug. 5-Sep. 25) at ArtXchange Gallery, prominent Seattle artist Fulgencio Lazo takes a different semi-abstract tack by reducing his figures and city scenes into a hubbub of intersecting lines, checkerboards and dancing squares, like an artistic game of Chutes and Ladders.

"The A Word (Awe)" by Jazz Brown, acrylic on canvas (J. Rinehart gallery) 

Craving more geometry? Head to J. Rinehart Gallery — also in Pioneer Square — for a pairing of two local abstract painters, Jazz Brown and Melana Bontrager (Aug. 14-Sept. 11; on view until Aug. 7 is the work of longtime Seattle painter Susanna Bluhm). Both artists play with cascading curves, slinking arcs and circles to create interlocking color fields and a sense of connection. 

For more linear thinking, check out Three Years Plus at Shift Gallery. A neat grid of 1,200 square prints tracks three years in the life of Seattle artist Stephanie Krimmel, who in May 2018 started a practice of making one digital painting every day. Challenge: Can you locate the anxious COVID days among the others? 

“Bewick's Bren” by Thomas Stream, gouache painting (Stonington Gallery) 


Flora and fauna fans  

Birds are flocking to Seattle galleries this summer. At Stonington Gallery, many of the new, exuberant gouache paintings by Sun’aq Aleut artist Thomas Stream feature local birds: a golden eagle, tanager, tricolored heron, white cheek — all rendered in Stream’s signature style, which merges Aleut motifs and pointillism. Featuring other local animals as well, Colors of Summer (Aug. 5-28) is a splendid ode to polychromatic Pacific Northwest summers. 

Birds have also fluttered into Woodside/Braseth Gallery, whose 60th annual Summer Group Exhibition (through Aug. 15) includes two avian friends — species unknown — by Pacific Northwest modernist legend Morris Graves (1910-2001) among some of his other still lifes, as well as local landscapes by (mostly) contemporary artists. Seen all together, the paintings reveal a hue for each region: shades of sage for the Yakima River Canyon, chartreuse for Skagit Valley farm fields and pasta-yellow for the strawy grass at Long Beach. 

“Yakima Canyon Sunset” by Lisa Gilley, oil on panel (Woodside Braseth Gallery) 

The group show In here at studio e in Georgetown (Aug. 7- Sept. 11) veers toward the domestic — visions of clothes drying on the rack, apples in a bowl, the messy insides of a pantry — but a sense of the “outside” and nature is still very present. For example: the loose-handed, moody paintings of Tessa O'Brien and the near-naive paintings of Gail Spaien. Particularly of note is a recent work by Spaien titled “Anchored Out #9,” where, in a squarish blue tree, a dozen birds of all feathers flock together. 

Finish off your tour of Pacific Northwest flora and fauna at this year’s Contemporary Northwest Print Invitational at Davidson Gallery (Aug. 6-28), co-curated by Romson Regarde Bustillo and Sam Davidson. The contemporary works on paper by Northwest artists span an exciting variety of themes, styles and subjects, including a few feathered friends. Go birdwatching for the winged vaulter intaglio and a wood-cut snowy plover.

“Anchored Out #8” by Gail Spaien, Acrylic on linen (Studio e) 

Sculpture seekers

Stone is a notoriously unforgiving medium. The process of imposing and revealing shapes in their material by carving away excess means sculptors are often one tiny misstep removed from removing too much. 

This suspense is apparent in the work of two local stone carvers with solo shows at local galleries. Pacific Northwest artist Will Robinson, whose works are on view in Tapestry at Foster/White Gallery (Aug. 5-28), finds his boulders and slabs of stone — basalt, granite — across the region. After carving them, he often pairs two contrasting stones by placing one atop the other in a balance that seemingly defies gravity. Robinson adds to the risk by playing with negative space, carving eyelets into the stone. 

“Steamer” by Raven Skyriver, blown and cut glass (Smith and Vallee) 

Also playing with suspense and suspension is Ken Barnes, whose work is on view at Shift Gallery (Aug. 5-28). Barnes is also known to carve holes into his stone sculptures (“There is just something about seeing the inside of a stone,” he writes on his website), but many of the works on view in Transitions — a cross-section of his work from the past few years — are oblong stone structures caught in a careful balancing act.  

For sculpture that’s see-through, head to Smith & Vallee in the tiny Skagit Valley town of Edison. The group show Fragile (Aug. 6-29) features glass artworks by renowned local artists — such as Dan Friday and Raven Skyriver — honoring the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. From the small forest of iridescent yellow chanterelles (Sam McMillen), a semi-sheer clamshell featuring radiating ridges (Raven Skyriver) and a translucent polar bear (Dan Friday), the message is clear: Let’s preserve this brittle ecosystem. 

Model of the uterus sculpture Fumi Amano will build in Method Gallery in Pioneer Square. (Fumi Amano)

Conceptual connoisseurs

Looking to be born again after the long, strange 2020? Try a visit to Method Gallery in Pioneer Square, where local artist Fumi Amano has fashioned a giant uterus-shaped sculpture from a metal skeleton and ropes. When the womb is installed (Seattle artist Tory Franklin’s slithering “Nest of Vipers” is up through Aug. 7), visitors can enter and exit the sculpture “Where are you from” (Aug. 20 - Sep. 25) to experience their own rebirth, Amano says. “By interacting with my art,” she notes in her artist statement, “I hope people can better understand the ways in which women’s bodies are impacted by outside forces and rethink their own participation in the patriarchy.” 

Also tackling the male gaze is Laura Hart Newlon at Specialist gallery in Feel Good Pictures (through Aug. 21, open by appointment). Newlon’s series of wet plate collodion photos (a 19th-century technique), are a wonderful whiplash. In their dark sepia, they feel ancient, but in fact these are digital collages (of images caught in photo app windows) brought to life on tin and glass plates through a darkroom process.  

At the Center on Contemporary Art, Meghan Elizabeth Trainor also marries the digital with the ancient in Let us not confuse zero with the stillness of electrons (through Aug. 21), in which she traces the origins of computer science back to ancient, predigital knowledge systems, drawing on connections between electrical circuits and the protective circles of witch- and spell-craft. Trainor’s tender encaustic paintings and assemblages of beeswax, copper wire, and electronics on panel can be esoteric but have an immediate, visceral quality that can be understood by the uninitiated. 

“Lazy Semaphores” by Laura Hart Newlon, ambrotypes in artist's frames (Specialist Gallery) 

Would you rather take part in an artwork? At Wa Na Wari, Pittsburgh-based artist Vanessa German invites the public to join her in creating an immersive mixed-media installation meets “living poem” called W E (Aug. 21-22). Visitors are encouraged to bring objects of personal importance or items of clothing and join the artist on the stage for a moment of togetherness, whatever that may look like for you and the artist, right then and there. Wa Na Wari also has an excellent new lineup of shows well worth a visit (Aug. 6-Dec. 31): dreamy collages by Seattle artist Adetola Abatan (Tell Our Stories), Amber Flame’s queering of dandyism in installation and paintings on paper (dandÉlion), and selected multimedia installations made out of quilted fabric, braided cedar, hair, leather and beads by the nationally acclaimed, Oregon-based artist Natalie Ball. 

abstracted painting of a playing card
(Joshua Thompson/SEASON)

Also not to be missed are two shows curated by SEASON gallery. In the new pop-up space at Chophouse Row on Capitol Hill, Blue Ether (Aug. 12 - 31) will showcase nostalgia-laden, semi-erased collages by Genevieve Gaudreau and playful sculptures by Mike Simi. And at SEASON’s home base in Ravenna, KNAVES OUT (Aug. 7-Sept. 30, by appointment only) features local artist Joshua Thompson’s intriguing impasto paintings — a process of layering paint and cold wax in thick, sculptable layers — depicting playing card kings and jacks in a state of disintegration.

“Imagination” by Adetola Abatan, mixed media collage on canvas panel (Wa Na Wari/Adetola Abatan) 

Portraiture, surrealism and pop pursuers 

Seattle artist Barry Johnson is not easily categorized. His work spans abstract art, pop and surrealism, involves oil painting and sometimes iron oxide, and is alternately dark and colorful. At Vermillion, preoccupied (Aug. 5-29) offers a glimpse into what has occupied Johnson’s mind (and many of our own) this past year: “There’s been bright moments where we’ve made progress as a country pertaining to issues around race, but also dark moments of solitude and high amounts of death that happened throughout the pandemic,” Johnson told me. In these oil paintings, each figure has a companion, an abstracted black tornadolike drawing that lurks near the subject and in the mind of the viewer. 

Find more unsettling scenes at Roq La Rue (which recently moved to the Madison Valley), where English painter Ben Ashton distorts the Regency-era portrait style to grotesque extremes, and in the process questions the glory of the British Empire in To Our Glorious Future (through Aug. 28). His show is paired with work by gallery artists working in Roq La Rue’s signature neosurrealist style. 

“Drifting Towards the Inevitable,” by Ben Ashton, oil on canvas (Roq la Rue) 

Seattle artist (and self-proclaimed “recluse”) Mance Engine’s playful and absurdist show Gifts of Distraction, at Bonfire Gallery (Aug. 4-Sept. 25), is another solid source of pop art meets surrealism. Yes, those are in fact plastic-foam doughnuts pierced with sausages (a work titled  “X’s and O’s”), and that is indeed a silicone tongue displayed in a heritage jewelry box. 

Finally, get acquainted with artist-curator Tariqa Waters’ new art space: Martyr Sauce Pop Art Museum, aka MS PAM. Open since May, the immersive art space/gallery augments her underground Martyr Sauce space with storefront square footage to showcase her gallery artists, as well as some of her own work. Beyond the threshold awaits Waters’ world: a space decked out in candy-pink walls, checkered floors and an immense, rotating vintage lunchbox. Continue into a room painted floor to ceiling in a puzzle of abstract, colorful planes by artist Kenji Hamai Stoll, with a rug of artificial grass and a giant cardboard tree stump, courtesy of artist Clyde Petersen. It’s all larger — and maybe even better — than life. 

Barry Johnson's "Untitled," on view at Vermillion this month. (Barry Johnson/Vermillion)

This article has been updated to reflect that the Pioneer Square Art Walk started 40 years ago, not 60.

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