Artist Patricia Halsell surrounds herself with things that bring her joy — both inside and outside. In her Seattle home there’s an abundance of books, a piano and greenery. Her comfortable living space puts guests at ease and you may be able to catch a quick glance of her cat Fuzz. But Halsell’s paintings encourage viewers to step outside, slow down and appreciate the quiet beauty that surrounds us. She believes we’re all stewards of the land, and rather than mine it for resources to the point of depletion, she sees nature as a garden that needs tending.
“In this age of distraction, I think it’s really easy to overlook things and if you don’t have them right in front of you, you’re not going to take care of them,” said Halsell. “That’s why it’s so important to get so many people out into nature because if they aren’t exposed to it they won’t realize that it’s a legacy for all of us.”
Paintings from her River Stone series are hanging throughout the cozy space. They were most recently on display in an exhibition at Steele Gallery. The works include “Following the Wrong Gods Home,” a painting of mostly cool colored stones of various sizes. It’s a scene one might come across while spending time outdoors. The title comes from a line in the first stanza of the poem “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” by William Stafford. In her show at Steele Gallery, she paired poems with her paintings. It reflects her love for another form of creative expression. The title also sums up how she feels about the current culture — society is following false gods to the detriment of rivers, salmon and orcas.
“We’ve got misguided values. We’re following the wrong Gods home. Capitalism is out of control,” said Halsell. “All the isms.”
This viewpoint is also why she’s not creating figurative work despite enjoying it. For her, humans don’t need any more attention, so she chooses to exalt the environment. When explaining this, Halsell referred to herself as old and cranky and couldn’t help but laugh at the description. Her work isn’t preachy. She makes her case through contemplative scenes.
Being a full-time artist is a second act for Halsell. After receiving a degree from Gonzaga University, she went to law school in Portland, Oregon. After moving to Seattle she worked for a judge to learn trial skills, then moved on to a public defender agency. After seven years, Halsell moved to Siapan, in the Northern Mariana Islands located in the Philippine Sea. While there she worked as an assistant attorney general for the U.S. government. She was put in charge of immigration cases. Halsell later went on to open a boutique law firm with a friend. She said the experience was wonderful and is proud of the fact that they were able to run it the way they wanted to, creating an environment friendly to women. That chapter of her life ran its course and she moved back to Seattle in the winter of 2001.
Halsell decided it was time to tap into the creativity she’d put on the backburner for decades in favor of a more pragmatic career path. She’s the oldest of four and grew up moving around frequently because her father was a physician in the Air Force. At 7 years old, they moved to Madrid and lived there for four years. She made countless trips to the Museo Nacional del Prado, which fed her curiosity. “I always just assumed as a little kid that, yeah, one day I was going to learn how to paint and unlock the mystery of how they do that.”
Halsell initially pursued writing. She received a certificate in literary fiction and one in editing at the University of Washington and worked as a freelance editor for a couple of years. She didn’t get the fulfillment she was seeking so she switched gears to art, enrolling in drawing classes at Gage Academy of Art.
“I’d been good at it when I was a kid and won some awards but I hadn’t paid any serious attention to it since I was 11 years old,” said Halsell. “It’s hard for lawyers to be creative because you’re not allowed to make any mistakes and that really inhibits creativity. I had a whole lot of regrooving to do to get over that real tightly wound lawyer persona and approach to things.”
After several years of classes at Gage she was accepted into their Aristides Atelier. For four years she received intense instruction. Students don’t even pick up a paintbrush in the first year. From there students work in gray scale, then color because they want students to understand values and temperatures first. It was hard work but Halsell felt at home and knew she made the right decision.
“In my life, I’ve studied a lot of things for which I had no aptitude: calculus, organic chemistry, law, lots of different things and none of them ever came as easily to me as art,” she explained. “There was great comfort in that, knowing that if I was inherently good at this, perhaps I’d be able to succeed at it.”
Since finishing the atelier program four years ago, Halsell has been working on finding her voice as an artist. The current series she’s working on was inspired by the banks of the Skagit River.
One of her river stone paintings is currently on display in the exhibition “Water’s Edge: Landscapes For Today” at Whatcom Museum in Bellingham. Next year, Halsell’s work will be on display in a solo show at Adobe’s Fremont office. Commissions are also keeping her busy.
Halsell said, in addition to growing her business, she’s pushing herself to create stronger, more expressive works with each painting. She plans to push her personal style to more abstract or mythical quality.
When Halsell argued cases in front of a jury she employed a strategy taught to lawyers — lead them right up to the conclusion you want them to reach without specifically spelling it out. The idea is to keep them intellectually engaged. She’s applying the same strategy with her artwork. “I hope to make work that’s not strictly mimetic or literal, leaving some breathing room for the viewer to find her own meaning in the piece.”
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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