ArtSEA: Northwest art blooms abstract for the spring equinox

Plus, a celebration of animated movies at MoPOP and a design-film festival at Northwest Film Forum.

Abstract, globby pastels form a landscape of brush, leaves and overlapping trees

Seattle artist Gillian Theobald’s “Fictive Space (Coast),” part of the new show “Heavy Light” in Georgetown. (Courtesy of the artist and studio e)

We did it! Monday, March 20 marks the official start of spring, which means brighter days are contractually obligated to show up. (At least until June-uary.) I’ve spied yellow daffodils and a few pink crocuses, and while the trees visible in the University of Washington’s Live Cherry Blossom Cam aren’t bursting with blooms yet, they seem poised to pop. Stay tuned.

The calendrical waypoint is perfectly timed with several new art shows that hum with electric color. All showcase the work of women painters who’ve been on the planet long enough to understand how placing this hue against that one can cause a visual vibration. 

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

We’ll start with Heavy Light, the new exhibit by longtime Seattle artist Gillian Theobald at studio e in Georgetown (through April 1). Born in 1944, Theobald has been exhibiting art for some 40 years, working in both abstract expressionism and sculptural collage. 

She calls her recent large-scale landscapes “Fictive Spaces” because rather than replicating real places, she’s creating lush imagined worlds. Closely grouped gold, coral and olive flora suggest beaches, forests and brambles but with more gradations of color — as if seen through the eyes of a bird or butterfly.

In addition, look for Theobald’s playful pieces made entirely from castoff everyday materials, often corrugated cardboard and packaging (see below). She shapes these into poetic geometries, then douses them with colors that impart depth and complexity. (Try this at home and you quickly realize how much a keen eye for color matters.)

“Woman in Water” by Katherine Bradford, on view in the expansive survey “Flying Woman.” (Frye Art Museum)

Also awash in color is the fantastic new show Flying Woman: The Paintings of Katherine Bradford at Frye Art Museum (through May 14).

Born in 1942, Bradford splits her time between studios in New York and Maine and makes large-scale paintings that reach out and grab you by the eyeballs. When I walked through the show at the Frye recently, part of the fun was hearing visitors enter each room and express amazement at the vivid color fields — indigo, sky blue, hot pink and teal. 

Bradford’s subject matter is simple: often women, some swimming, one attempting to fly. Small gatherings of people touch awkwardly with stiff arms. Facial features are unnecessary. Limbs tend to stretch into long stripes.

“I was a total long shot, as far as developing as an artist of any note at all,” Bradford says in one of three charming documentary videos that accompany the paintings. She explains that her 1999 painting “Woman Flying” embodies her artistic beginnings: an outline of a faceless woman, nude except for a red cape, awkwardly lifting upward. “More in a state of longing than accomplishment,” Bradford says in the video. “That was me … As an artist I felt like I was just getting off the ground.”

Now she’s a prolific painter — and connoisseur of paintbrushes, which she prefers from the hardware store — with a genius understanding of color. 

Magenta is Seattle artist Camille Patha’s favorite color. “Think of me this way,” she says while holding up the color sample in the documentary “Camille in Color.” “Every time you see me, think this is all my face.”

“I have a great need to make art,” says Seattle artist Camille Patha. “I can’t explain it. All I know is that it’s a desperate need.” Born in 1938, Patha has been feeding that need for decades with her wildly abstract paintings and bold experiments with color. 

The new show at Tacoma Art Museum, Camille Patha: Passion Pleasure Power (through Sept. 3), showcases a range of her work, including a 2020 series called “Night Thinking.” Here, black backgrounds are interrupted by what look like violent interstellar explosions. 

Accompanying the exhibit is Camille in Color, an irresistible new documentary celebrating the artist’s punk-rock spirit and soulful commitment to her artistic practice.

Created by local filmmaker David Wild and featuring original music by Seattle rock legend Kurt Bloch, this terrific short film will make you wish you could bottle Patha’s effortless, ageless cool and spray it all over yourself before your next arts outing.

“I make paintings because … they’re waiting for me,” she says in the film — one of countless choice sound bites she spontaneously drops in this vivid portrait of an artist. With her tousled platinum hair, bright red lipstick, orange nails, color-block outfits and clever bon mots, she is something of a living painting herself. 

“Color has a voice … there are no words, but it talks to you,” Patha says. In the case of this remarkable artist, it comes through loud and clear. 

Two collage pieces by Seattle artist Gillian Theobald: At left, “11-11-2021”; at right, “2-24-2023.” (Courtesy of the artist and Studio e)

If you’re in the mood for more fantastic films, MoPOP has a world-premiere film exhibit opening this weekend: Hidden Worlds: The Films of LAIKA (starting March 18). Showcasing the mind-blowing stop-motion animation techniques of this Oregon-based studio (known best for Coraline), the exhibit offers a close-up on the sets, puppets and computer magic that come together to build each world. 

The Seattle Jewish Film Festival (through March 26) is screening its customary array of documentaries, comedies and feature films for its 28th year. Simultaneously, a brand-new film festival is making its debut: the Make Believe Seattle Film Festival (March 23-26), a celebration of new and archival films in the horror, science fiction, fantasy and animation genres. 

And perhaps my favorite annual film festival is rolling as well: The ByDesign Architecture and Design Film Festival at Northwest Film Forum (March 17-19 in person; March 17-26 online). 

In conjunction with the Seattle Design Festival, this showcase features all kinds of documentaries on super-niche topics such as Monobloc plastic chairs (everyman seating or environmental scourge? both?); a visual travelogue highlighting how marble statuary is made; plus shorts including a documentary-dance film about Soviet architecture in Ukraine and Seattle filmmaker Web Crowell’s stop-motion film Bad Neighborhoods (winner of Best Animated Short at Local Sightings in 2022).

A spring feast for the eyes, for certain.

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