ArtSEA: Flower power beats winter blues at Seattle galleries

Plus, new arts leaders take the reins at Pratt, Coyote Central and the Frye Art Museum.

an abstract painting with splotches in multicolors

“Orange Bingo” (1976) by prolific Seattle painter Alden Mason, one of many works in his vibrant “Burpee Garden” series from the 1970s, now on view downtown. (Woodside Braseth Gallery)

Today marks four years since we launched the weekly ArtSEA newsletter — that’s 200 issues — a milestone deserving of a woohoo and a thank you to all the loyal, arts-loving readers (that’s you!). I’m celebrating with a bouquet in the form of botanically themed gallery shows. Join me?

For a joyous and much-needed jolt from the January gray, step into Woodside Braseth Gallery, where an immersive explosion of color comes courtesy of the new show Alden Mason & the “Burpee Garden” Series (through Feb. 10). A prolific Northwest painter, Mason (1919-2013) worked in several distinct styles over his long career.

ArtSEA: Notes on Northwest Culture is Crosscut’s weekly arts & culture newsletter.

This one — inspired by the Burpee Seed Company packets he remembered from his rural Skagit Valley youth — bloomed during the 1970s with titles like “Rainbow Teaser,” “Winter Zinger,” “Orange Bingo” and “Butterfly Twinkler.”

Mason made these huge Technicolor works by laying the canvases on the floor and standing over them on a specially constructed low bridge. Starting with oils and diluting them with paint thinners, he achieved an intriguing depth of field and abstract images that shift like clouds from deep pools to mica-like scales to fiery pits and yes, flowers — that is if you shoved your face right into a bouquet.

The series gained national acclaim in its day and individual works have recently soared past auction estimates, including a Burpee-style (but slightly later) painting that sold during the November auction of Paul Allen’s artwork collection. Recalling the swiftly escalating bids in the Christie’s auction room that day, gallery owner John Braseth (who did not buy the painting) told me, “I wish [Mason] were alive to experience the excitement … it’s something he would’ve thoroughly enjoyed.”

“Candy Flower 2,” by Seattle artist Erin Kendig, is part of a new group show of botanical studies. (Harris Harvey Gallery)

You’ll find more flower power at Harris Harvey Gallery near Pike Place Market, where the group invitational Joy: Floral and Botanical Studies (through Feb. 25; artist reception Feb. 2) showcases a wide-ranging cast of Northwest artists. See: Harini Krishnamurthy’s ghostly cyano-lumen photograms of daisies; Daniel Carrillo’s daguerreotype of a wilting protea and Erin Kendig’s “candy flowers,” eerie watercolors that luminesce on black backgrounds. 

THIS JUST IN: After this newsletter went to press I learned of yet another fragrant flower show happening downtown. Bloom at SAM Gallery (Feb. 1-26; opening reception Feb. 2, 2-4 p.m.), is showcasing two Northwest artists skilled in layered digital imagery. Stephen Rock shares pieces from his “Gardener’s Journal” series, large-format works that superimpose confetti-like flower imagery against moody landscapes.

photo of a blue dahlia up close and blurred out at the edges like pop art photos
Seattle artist Troy Gua’s “Blue Dahlia,” on view in ‘Bloom’ downtown. (SAM Gallery)

And Troy Gua brings the kapow! with photo-transparency close-ups of dahlias, dandelions and hydrangeas fractured into flora-pop portraits.

Petal pushers are popping up in Pioneer Square too. Next week, check out Figure | Ground Gallery, where a new show, The Bold and the Beautiful (opening Feb. 2), features Northwest oil painter Kevin Cosley, whose series of abstract “Florals” burns brightly with flowers that appear to be on fire.

Nearby, Foster/White’s group show Elements: Water (Feb. 2 - 18) features two works by Carol Inez Charney, who uses a film camera to photograph digital prints of flowers through water on glass, creating a tangible sensation of wetness and melting.

And at J. Rinehart Gallery, Seattle artist Gala Bent presents The Garden at Night (Feb. 2 - Mar. 4), abloom with softly colorful flowers, buds, seedpods and snakey “knots” rendered in gouache, ink, graphite and pencil. Some flora are recognizable (a bowed and seedy sunflower), but others emanate the feeling of a fairy tale, with surprising twists and turns and a mystery that ripples just below the surface.

Seattle’s newest arts leaders include three executive directors (left to right): Jessica Borusky at Pratt, Gabriel-Bello Lawrence-Diaz at Coyote Central and Jamilee Lacy at the Frye Art Museum.

New year, new arts leaders 

Seattle is starting the year with three new arts leaders. Since fresh eyes often lead to bold ideas, I’m excited about the possibilities and promise they bring — especially as they all have demonstrated a commitment to art that engages with the public outdoors. 

Coyote Central youth arts center has welcomed new Executive Director Gabriel-Bello Lawrence-Diaz, a Puerto Rican artist who previously managed the teen and youth program at Pratt Fine Arts Center. Exciting: In addition to serious teaching cred, Lawrence-Diaz brings a background in architectural engineering, robotic engineering, leather sewing and 3D digital fabrication — and helped create one of the coolest Augmented Reality designs in the recent AUGMENT project in South Lake Union. All of which means good things for Coyote’s Central District and Lake City locations.

Pratt Fine Arts Center has a new executive director too. The 47-year-old organization — named in honor of accessible education and housing activist Edwin T. Pratt — has hired Jessica Borusky to lead the hands-on instructional facility into a new chapter. Exciting: Borusky has worked at arts organizations in Kansas, Oklahoma and Florida, and is responsible for innovative programming from an interactive art exhibit about Alzheimer’s disease to a public display of art and performance along a Kansas City streetcar line to their own video-art performances lampooning Manifest Destiny. 

And after an extensive search, Frye Art Museum has announced Jamilee Lacy as its new executive director. She officially takes the reins on Mar. 1. Exciting: Lacy was previously a curator for Providence College Galleries, where she helped found the My Home Court project. This collaborative effort renovates and revitalizes parks in Rhode Island by repairing public basketball courts and painting them with vivid curated designs. 

“What I really like to spend a lot of time on, and I think perhaps one of the reasons I was selected for this position,” Lacy recently told The Seattle Times, “is external programming.” Here’s hoping that translates to innovative new public works across the city.

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