Not much can beat having a gallery in the neighborhood. It’s a few blocks away and we walk by it frequently. In a way it feels like another room of our house. So when we learned that Sidestreet Arts gallery has an opening reception on the first Friday of each month, we circled our calendar. We are glad that we did.
The gallery was packed last night. The Frolic in the Forest exhibition features three artists who work in different mediums and techniques but are united under a theme about nature.
The centerpieces from Laura Dufala’s work are bird ceramics perched on natural wood. She starts with slab construction for the bodies, then switches to freeform hand building and some coil techniques for details. Her birds have a heightened sense of awareness, accentuated with a design echoing the Arts and Crafts movement. “Peregrine Falcons are so popular here, “ she said to me. (Admittedly, I have not seen one!) The chocolate clay has a warm dark hue perfect for the body. “The glaze on the head, believe me, or not, is called gold. It is quite shiny.” What makes the piece unique is that she combines a piece of darkened wood as the wing. The rustic and matte woodblock is carved with subtle vertical lines, leading viewers to the vigilant eyes of the falcon.
We have seen Jennifer Foran’s small works in a few galleries in town. In this exhibition, we were delighted to see some larger pieces. Without priming the wood panel, Foran uses woodburning techniques to render forests of the Pacific Northwest.
Woodgrain, which most landscape painters would prime over, becomes her intuitive guide on where to create lines and shapes. She applies woodburning with great deliberation — some lines are barely touched, which cross over or go in parallel to snarly darkened branches. It is through this intertwined light and shadow that she enlivens the forest interior space we are all familiar with.
In “Away,” a painting depicting a night wintry scene along the Columbia River Gorge, the horizontal cloud dictated by woodgrain contrasts with rhythmic trees darkened through burning the wood. The eerie clouds, the glowing moonlight and accentuated forms offer a Ryderish quality. But it is in her large painting “Impart” that she is offered a platform to showcase that knotty and tangled branches in the interior forest, when spotlighted at a center stage, can be both mesmerizing and elegant. I don’t recall noticing them before, mainly because places like Forest Park will bury all distinct forms into inseparable patches of lush green. Foran takes the artistic liberty to play down the vales and hues for the rest of the painting with thin wash and acrylic. Through her vision, I see clearly that nature is baroque, and nature is byzantine.
And if a labyrinth of detail from nature is not enough, Davis Te Selle offers painstaking realistic prints that demand hours of a close look. The artist patiently explained to me the process of aluminum lithography. He would do many studies first and then use a piece of tracing paper to transfer the final drawing, through a piece of iron oxide sheet underneath, onto the aluminum plate. “That creates a positive imagery.”
What makes these prints special is the marvelous details, probably through days, if not weeks of meticulous rendering. Drawing, as Roger Winter states, is not for a timid mind. Lithography, as a medium, does not allow reduction (hence mistakes), and demands a different mindset from the typical drawing in which the process of discovery is through trial and error. Selle’s prints infuse naturalism with a balance between expressiveness and sensitivity; perfect but moving, precise yet poetic. They recall the grandeur of Hudson River School, like Asher B. Durand and Albert Bierstadt, despite its modest scale.
I asked the artist where Table Rock is, as the work bearing the title is my favorite in the exhibition. He told me that although there is a place called Table Rock in Oregon, the scene depicted is from Northern California, where he had a studio for many years. I commented how I love the middle tone through the duo-tone application. Selle said that the richness in black was influenced by his father, who is a photographer, and Ansel Adams’ dramatic photograph of the American landscape.
“This is more of a retrospective for me. As you may notice that most prints were from the ’90s. Now I look at these pieces, and sometimes I wonder what I was thinking at that time. Gosh, that was crazy!”
Frolic of Forest runs through the month of March 2023 at Sidestreet Art Gallery at 140 SE 28th Ave. The gallery opens Thursday to Sunday noon to 5 p.m.