ArtSEA: Seattle loses one of its most colorful artists

Camille Patha leaves a legacy of brilliant hues. Plus, fantastic acrobatics, the Noir City film festival and bad news from the Bellevue Arts Museum.

photo of a white haired woman painting the name PATHA in pink on glass

Camille Patha paints her name in a still from David Wild’s doc ‘Camille in Color.’ (Tacoma Art Museum)

Seattle’s color spectrum dimmed a bit last week with the passing of artist Camille Patha. She was 86. Just this past March, Tacoma Art Museum exhibited a new series of her famously vivid abstract paintings — featuring wild streaks of color shooting across black expanses and calling to mind interstellar explosions.

Born in Seattle in 1938, Patha took to painting and ceramics from an early age, including at West Seattle High School. “I was a Seattle girl … All I ever saw was rain, moisture and brown … All the subtle colors that are the Northwest,” she told curator Rock Hushka in the 2014 catalog A Punch of Color: 50 Years of Painting by Camille Patha. “I painted in those colors. I probably dreamed in those colors.” 

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

But her love of bold hues didn’t bloom until she spent a few college years in Arizona. Seeing the hot reds, yellows and oranges of the desert changed her vision forever. Once back in Seattle, she attended art school at the University of Washington, earning both a BA (1960) and MFA (1965) despite teachers who repeatedly told her to tone down her palette.

‘Tuesday,’ part of Camille Patha’s 2023 show ‘Night Thinking’ at Tacoma Art Museum. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

“Color has a voice … there are no words, but it talks to you,” Patha says in Seattle filmmaker David Wild’s wonderful short doc Camille in Color (viewable in full here).

Commissioned by the Tacoma Art Museum as part of Patha’s 2023 show Passion. Pleasure. Power, the film beautifully captures her punk rock spirit. Decked out in electric colors — including her favorite, magenta — she seems like a person fully engineered for artmaking.

Patha’s drive to paint was exuberant, sensual and mysterious. She disliked labels like “woman artist,” “Northwest artist” and even “abstract artist,” instead calling herself a “colorist” and insisting that people experience her works as pure emotional connection. (Step into the lobby stairwell at Tacoma Art Museum and do so yourself, with her 17-foot-tall “Alternate Confessions.”)

“I’m not going to tell them what to think,” Patha says in the film. “The paintings have to stand on their own, when I’m alive now and when I’m gone.”

‘Humans 2.0’ is the latest acrobatic creation by Australian troupe Circa. (Meany Hall)

Weatherwise, we aren’t out of the “rain, moisture and brown” woods yet. But there are many enjoyable ways to pass the days until spring brings us a splash of color. Consider, for example, stepping right up to the three-ring circus of acrobatics shows in the region. 

At Meany Center for the Performing Arts, you’ll encounter Humans 2.0 (Feb. 15 - 17), the latest show by Australian contemporary circus troupe Circa. Wearing plain clothes on a minimal stage, seven athletes perform incredible feats of physicality — from human swings to human towers to humans crawling across several other humans’ heads. (All of which place me solidly in the human 1.0 category.)

Or catch beloved local troupe Acrobatic Conundrum performing the new show Threads at 12th Avenue Arts (through Feb. 22). With a loose storyline about what connects us and loose limbs capable of remarkable twists and tricks, the performers embrace an emotional range from melancholy to jokey — all while spinning on aerial ropes, handstanding on each other’s bodies, swinging from a trapeze, and in one case, shooting a bow and arrow with two feet.

Up north, tickets are selling fast for the annual My Circus Valentine show at the Bellingham Circus Guild (Feb. 16 - 18). Expect displays of love and clownery, hula hoops and talented drag acrobat Manny Manstands. Wondering what to wear? “Circus finery” encouraged.

And yes, Teatro Zinzanni is still in residence at the Lotte Hotel downtown through February, performing a special Valentine’s Day-themed show this week (through Feb. 18).

‘Four Ways Out’ (1951), one of several heist movies featured in Noir City. (SIFF Cinema)

If you prefer your colors of the black-and-white variety, you’re in luck. The long-running and much-beloved Noir City Seattle film festival is back (at SIFF Cinema Egyptian, Feb. 16 - 22), and along with it plenty of suspicious dames, hard-boiled Brunos and bump-offs. 

Suspense is the name of the game, see? You’ll find it in flicks like 1942’s Street of Chance, featuring Burgess Meredith and with the first instance of amnesia as a plot device in classic noir. And Asphalt Jungle, John Huston’s groundbreaking heist film that daringly encouraged viewers to sympathize with the criminals. Plus many more kidnappers, embezzlers, adulterers, con artists and prison-breakers as portrayed in noir films from around the world.

Arts News Nuggets

This just in … Bellevue Arts Museum issued an urgent press release today (Feb. 15) with a plea to “Save BAM” and also “Keep Bellevue Alive.” Having officially hired Kate Casprowiak Scher as new executive director on Feb. 12, the museum says it is in “a state of financial crisis” and needs to raise $300,000 for immediate operating expenses. The press release points to decreased revenues (due to lower post-pandemic attendance, retail sales and donations) as the culprit of the current crisis. Stay tuned. 

The Seattle Office of Arts and Culture has a new director, Gülgün Kayim, sworn in on Feb. 13. (Learn more about her background in The Seattle Times.)

Seattle City of Literature has launched the Seattle Literary Calendar, an online community calendar tracking the many literary events happening on any given day in the region. 

Seattle Jazz Fellowship has a new live-music venue in Pioneer Square (in the old Cafe Nordo space) with a calendar already packed with local jazz luminaries (including trumpeter Jay Thomas, Feb. 16-17; and drummer D’Vonne Lewis’s ensemble, Feb. 23-24). The old-school and intimate hall is first-come, first-served seating with a $20 suggested donation. 

Finally, a personal note: I’d like to wish Crosscut newsletter editor Martina Pansze a fond farewell as she heads off to new endeavors. For the past two years she has been a vital and good-humored partner in getting this newsletter out the door weekly — with clever headlines, no less! Thank you, Martina.

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