ArtSEA: Forest bathing in tree art at Northwest galleries

10 ways to get your grove on, from the shushing sound of aspens to majestic cedars captured on canvas.

abstract painting of a forest

“From Samish to Lummi” by Seattle painter Patty Haller, in the group show “Silva Cascadia.” (Museum of Northwest Art)

This issue marks five years since I sent out the first arts and culture newsletter. Cue the confetti! The longevity of a weekly arts missive isn’t guaranteed, but this one is still chugging along thanks to your opening it, reading it and sharing it — and sometimes even sending me nice notes about it (thank you!).

So let’s celebrate this milestone in proper fashion. The traditional gift for a five-year anniversary is “wood,” which is a perfect fit for the forest of tree art around town right now.

We’ll set the tone with Seattle sound designer and journalist Jeff Rice, whose current audio installation at the Jack Straw New Media Gallery in the University District is called Pando Suite (through March 8; artist talk Feb. 9 at 7 p.m.). For this project, Rice created high-fidelity field recordings of one of the largest organisms on the planet: an aspen grove in south-central Utah. 

Latin for “I spread,” Pando is the name for a single quaking aspen whose stems (40,000 genetically identical trees) span 106 acres.

There are many fascinating facts about this ancient tree that looks like a forest, but Rice encourages us to listen — to its countless leaves rustling, to a thunderstorm rumbling above its massive root system, to a mysterious creature whose nom-nom noises are captured underground. (Get an audio glimpse at the links above.)

I got a similar peaceful, leafy feeling from Seattle painter Patty Haller’s new show Painted Forest (at Woodside Braseth Gallery through Feb. 10). Haller’s softly abstracted Pacific Northwest florascapes capture the particular layered quality of the tree scenes that surround us.

Instead of a single spreading aspen, she reveals how cedars, firs and ferns form ecosystems of balanced diversity — and brings them all to life in pastel hues that whisper and nod to each other.

“Weave” by Northwest artist Laura Hamje. (Chatwin Arts)

You can see more of Haller’s work in an upcoming show at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner. Silva Cascadia: Under the Spell of the Forest (Feb. 3 - May 12) is a group show of 12 Northwest women artists whose work is forest-focused.

Though highly varied in style, the combined works form something like an ecosystem in themselves — an artful version of the “wood-wide web,” as coined by forest ecologist Suzanne Simard. 

Look for: Juliet Shen’s tangled trees brushed on towering scrolls; Karen Lené Rudd’s clever cardboard stump; Kimberly Trowbridge’s deepest-of-deep-green oil understories; Donna Leavitt’s graphite drawings across tiled pieces of rectangular paper — each trunk and branch so detailed they look like black-and-white photographs. Overall: a great way to get your grove on.

Included in this loamy mix are works by painter Laura Hamje, who also has a solo show at Chatwin Arts in Pioneer Square — one of several new Seattle arts spaces emerging in 2024. In Across the Water and Into the Forest (through Jan. 27), Hamje shares nature scenes inspired by her move from Seattle to rural Lakebay in the south Sound region. 

Her show swims with thickly painted waterscapes and also includes quite a few tall trees. In these she perfectly mimics the sense of majesty experienced when we’re walking through Northwest woods, necks bent backward to marvel at the canopy above. 

Bonus: Part of Chatwin’s mission is offering high-quality, editioned prints of the featured work, with the goal of making fine-art buying more affordable. (Most of the prints from Hamje’s show are $45, or $70 framed.) Perhaps you’ll take a tree home.

Here's another chance for forest bathing: Enter the Forest at SAM Gallery (Jan. 31 - Feb. 25, reception Feb. 3, 2 - 4 p.m.). Adjacent to the Seattle Art Museum store (enter through the gift shop), the gallery features Northwest artists and offers a cool rent-to-own — or just rent — program.

This new group show includes paintings by Linda Davidson (tousled green plein air scenes), Chris Sheridan (pretty copses where the sun peeks through) and several others.

“The Garter Snake” by Seattle artist Michael Doyle. (AMcE Creative Arts)

For a few more artful ways to take in the trees (in addition to visiting an actual forest, which is also highly recommended!), consider these:

At Harris Harvey Gallery (through Jan. 27), see richly toned mid-century modernist trees by renowned Bellingham landscape artist John Cole (1937-2007) contrasted with Seattle photographer Peter De Lory’s crisp black-and-white photographs of nature, the latter including one spectacular Sitka spruce on Lopez Island’s Iceberg Point.

AMcE Creative Arts’ new show Au Natural (Jan. 27 - March 3) features Christine Nguyen’s far-out botany in aurora borealis hues; Seattle artist Niki Keenan’s blurred Northwest landscapes where sunset seeps through the branches; Portland painter Wesley Younie’s stark and almost comical tree scenes; and local artist Michael Doyle’s simple, graphic paintings of iconic tree shapes.

Also giving trees a closeup is Solas Gallery in Pioneer Square, with An Tobar (aka “The Well,” Jan. 27 - March 9). Co-founder Cian Hayes took these black-and-white photos on walks through the woods near his local home, where he says the thickets and tangles reminded him of certain superstitions he heard while growing up in Ireland. 

Among them: “There are places — trees, rocks, the corner of a field — that are avoided because they belong to beings from another world ... those beings will take their revenge if they, or their places, are disrespected,” Hayes writes in his artist statement. “I don’t believe in these superstitions, but I want them to be preserved. More than preserved, I want them to live.”

Perhaps we’ll hear from the trees themselves when Skagit Valley artist Todd Horton presents his “topographia” series (coming to Mt. Vernon’s Perry and Carlson Gallery in March). To achieve these works, Horton invents analog wire systems to hang writing implements from trees, allowing them to “draw” on canvas with every sway and dip. 

That brings me to the end of my tree talk, but expect more this spring with the release of Seattle writer Taha Ebrahimi’s illustrated book Street Trees of Seattle (coming in April from Sasquatch Books). I am currently reading an advance copy and loving the celebration of our city’s urban treescape, from a Wedgwood spruce to Fremont pines to Seward Park’s magnificent forest.

“Matriarch,” a graphite drawing by Donna Leavitt in the group show “Silva Cascadia.” (Museum of Northwest Art)

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