ArtSEA: Getting down to earth at art galleries around Seattle

Otherworldly landscapes and an upside-down volcano. Plus, local artists take home Grammy hardware and artful ideas for Valentine’s Day.

photograph of what looks like white mountains with an ice blue river in the foreground

In his ‘Spectral’ series, landscape photographer Cody Cobb uses ultraviolet light to reveal hidden minerals. (Foster/White Gallery)

I’ve been “under the weather” this week, and recently learned that the phrase has a history in sailing ships. Sick sailors were sent below decks to recuperate “under the weather bow,” the side turned toward the wind. Maybe that’s why I’ve found myself drawn to solid ground when it comes to current art shows, as I view them online from under a pile of blankets. Land ho!

At Foster/White Gallery, Seattle photographer Cody Cobb tours us through otherworldly terrain in Spectral (through Feb. 24). With his lens focused on the American West, Cobb is recognized for stunning landscape photography that captures the majesty of untouched geologic formations.

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

In this series, he uses long exposure times and ultraviolet light to reveal a secret fluorescent world beneath our feet. Suddenly lit up in crevasse-blue and neon-orange are trails and traces of minerals and organic substances that normally go unseen by the human eye. The result: images that seem faked or filtered, but are just a look at Earth via differently enabled eyes. 

It’s a perfect pairing with another Pioneer Square show, Pentimenti at J. Rinehart Gallery (through Feb. 24; artist talk Feb. 17, 2-4 p.m.). Here, Everett-based painter Melana Bontrager presents another altered view of Earth, one with abstract rocky formations and stone arches set amid candy-colored mesas and rivers. 

“I have always been drawn to layers in soil, patterns in rock, the visual interaction between natural objects,” Bontrager says on her website. Using graphite and acrylic on wood panels, she makes that relationship clear with playful imagery that is both entirely familiar and foreign.

“Why should our bodies end at the skin?” by Sara Jimenez at Mad Art Studio. (James Harnois)

Among this groundswell of Earth works is Seattle artist Katie Miller’s show Overburden at Vestibule gallery in Ballard (through Feb. 10; artist talk Feb. 10 at 1 p.m.). After digging into historic mining practices, including the 300 mines in Joshua Tree National Park, Miller created intricate glass mosaics that twist and turn as if heading down, down, down into the seams of the Earth. (See also a salt-encrusted “hole” that gapes on the gallery floor.)

They say “Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return,” and the axiom comes alive in Edgeless Burial (at Gallery 4Culture through Feb. 29). Using colorful crushed flower petals, seeds and soil conditioner, Seattle artist Colleen RJC Bratton creates ethereal, flattened figures and chronicles them as they decay back into the ground. 

These eerie imprints call to mind both the ephemeral nature of our existence and the carbon footprint we make while we’re here. (Related: A new episode of Crosscut’s Human Elements series spotlights Katrina Spade, Seattle’s doyenne of human composting.)

And Why should our bodies end at the skin? asks Sara Jimenez in her new installation at Mad Art Studio (through March 28). The New York-based artist has built an immense “inverted volcano” at the center of the space, exploding with vibrant pink flames and black lava. 

Standing sentry near this geologic (fabric) font are several hot pink pedestals, on which Jimenez displays her melty ceramic vessels. Inspired by burial jars, these are adorned with images of her family members, animals from Filipino mythology and textile imprints of clothing her father and grandmother wore. 

Finally, see Kelly Akashi’s Encounters (at Henry Art Gallery through May 5), which includes a field of humble “folded earth” sculptures. Appearing soft as velvet, these undulating stacks of fired clay suggest an Earth altered by water and quakes — as well as by humans, who appear in the form of delicate bronze hands poised on top, holding small offerings of porcelain and glass.

Seattle-rooted supergroup säje scored a recent Grammy award. (Courtesy säje)

Pacific Northwest musicians made a strong showing at the Grammys last weekend. Two powerhouse country singers from rural Washington — Brandi Carlile of Ravensdale and Brandy Clark of Morton — paired up to win Best Americana Performance for “Dear Insecurity” (watch them sing it together at The Gorge Amphitheater). For those keeping track, that makes a total of 27 Grammy nominations and 10 wins for Carlile and 17 Grammy noms and one win for Clark.

And in another score for Northwest singing women, vocal group säje (rhymes with “beige”; read our 2021 profile) won the Grammy for Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals for their rendition of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” with Jacob Collier. 

The four women of säje — Seattle’s Johnaye Kendrick and Amanda Taylor with L.A.-based Erin Bentlage and Sara Gazarek (the latter an alum of the Roosevelt High School jazz band) — have been on fire since the release of their very first single, 2020’s “Desert Song,” which was also nominated for a Grammy. (Sink into säje’s amazing harmonies.)

Congratulations are also in order for Ganesh Rajagopalan, a gifted Bellevue-based violinist accomplished in the art of South Indian classical music. He won a mini-gramophone for Best Global Music Album as a newer member of the 50-years-running jazz-Indian-fusion band Shakti

And one more bit of good local music news: Seattle composer/trumpeter/writer Ahamefule J. Oluo is at work on a new piece of musical memoir. If you’ve seen his previous productions Now I’m Fine and Susan, or his autobiographical film Thin Skin, you know he can be counted on to combine humor and pathos with really beautiful jazz ensembles. In The Things Around Us, Oluo goes solo, and you can catch a work-in-progress version at Seattle Rep this weekend (Feb. 9 - 11).

Can Can Cabaret’s spicy show ‘Heart of Hearts’ at Pike Place Market. (Can Can Cabaret)

What’s that you say? You need Valentine’s Day ideas, stat? OK, OK, here are a few theatrical events for singles, couples, friends and throuples.

14/48 Theater (known for producing the “world’s quickest theater festival”) is putting on Black Heart: Bitter/Sweet Plays of 14/48, featuring five resurrected plays from past fests (Feb. 14 at The Center House Theater at Seattle Center). 

The Atomic Bombshells celebrate 15 years of J’ADORE: A Burlesque Valentine at The Triple Door (Feb. 9 - 14). This year’s iteration includes brand-new drag and burlesque acts, and all the customary va-va-voom.

The Can Can Cabaret promises sexy song and dance, acrobatics and burlesque with its all-new show House of Hearts (through March 3). Yes, there is a plot to follow — a queen, a fool, a Broken Hearts Ball — no, the plot is not the point. 

And for those who prefer romance with sorcery and feathers, you still have time to catch Swan Lake at Pacific Northwest Ballet (through Feb. 11). One of the most iconic ballets of all time, this story reminds us that true love might just be trapped in the body of a wild bird.

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