You might expect an art show with nature in the title to reflect the luminous signs that signify warmer days to come: colorful fields of blooming tulips in Skagit Valley or cherry blossoms transforming the University of Washington’s quad into a pink paradise. But that’s not quite the case at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art’s (BIMA) show “Revering Nature.” Instead, Chief Curator Greg Robinson chose to focus on the force of nature — the power of its beauty.
“There’s very little reference to human beings in the show,” Robinson said. “I really wanted this to be about the kinds of things you’d experience in nature.”
Located in the center of the gallery, visitors will find what Robinson considers the anchor of the show. “Unfolding Universe” by Will Robinson is a commanding work made of basalt, a dark volcanic rock. At more than 7 feet tall, the shape is reminiscent of a hook. It’s a mixture of smooth and ridged surfaces.
“It’s about the Big Bang theory. It’s when all of creation as we know it starts,” Robinson said. “What I love about this is — whether people think that the world is billion years old or a few thousand years old — everybody has their own conception of how things may have started. Everything else in the show comes after that.”
The group exhibition combines the work of 20 Pacific Northwest artists who each have several pieces in the show. The art-meets-nature theme plays out in abstract and literal ways. The work of Vashon Island artist Leslie Wu is among the sculptures, monotypes and large slices of red cedar. Her oil paintings bring a serenity to the space. “Morning Beckons” shows an empty canoe on the shore. The idyllic green landscape is reflected onto the water.
“Dream Tracks” takes the audience into the middle of a calm cerulean sea. Growing up on her grandmother’s farm cemented Wu’s admiration for the outdoors. She’s inspired by camping and spending time in her kayak. She brings a camera on outings to capture her surroundings.
“Just being on the water in my boat brings me so close to soulful things. It’s a powerful connection for me,” Wu said. “I get still. It’s the one place that allows that to happen. There’s not a to-do list. I’m not going to change anything. I’m not judging anything. I’m just in it.”
La Conner-based artist Peregrine O’Gormley contributed several hand-knifed creations to the exhibition. His animals are impeccably crafted, realistic works. “Origins” is a clam shell made of maple. Sitting partially open thanks to a functional hinge, it’s large enough to fit two toddlers inside as evidenced by O’Gormley’s two children. Nearby is “Minus 25%,” a crouched falcon with a portion of its wing cover missing. O’Gormley was inspired by a BBC report citing an estimate by scientists that one-fourth of the world’s wildlife died between 1970 and 2008. He asks, “What system remains functional when an entire quarter of the whole is removed?”
O’Gormley’s ominous “Scythe” is a cast bronze owl that appears to be pushing through burnt western red cedar. Its talons are extended out as if it’s about to catch dinner.
“For me it’s not just creating an owl or some other animal subject matter,” O’Gormley said. “It’s more about telling a story about something else using the animals as characters in that story more than just going after the representation of their form.”
“Point Begets Line” depicts a heron in the water. Its neck grazes the surface of the water without touching it, creating an impressive cantilever. O’Gormley used western red cedar for most of the piece but chose juniper for its legs. The strong wood met the aesthetic he wanted to create, and it’s functional.
“Especially having that natural knee, that natural bend is particularly strong,” O’Gormley said. “I love how the way that it silvers when it’s out and exposed to the elements into the air, the sun and rain and wind. It silvers beautifully.”
O’Gormley also said the piece shows the symbiosis between the heron and fish.
One of the conceptual works in the show comes from June Sekiguchi. Her “Utility Series” consists of three panels of enamel on scroll-cut engineered wood. The patterns represent air, earth and water. On the opposite wall David Eisenhour’s “Defense Series” is an ode to how nature protects itself. A cast bronze rose thorn, scorpion stinger, southwest seed pod, milkweed and bee stinger are magnified to show their detail.
Becky Fletcher’s “Nest” is an oil-on-canvas painting of the cross section of a wasp nest. The contrast between the light and dark colors gives the effect of a never-ending worm hole. “Nest” echoes the work of Chris Maynard, who has a solo show on the first floor.
Robinson originally curated “Revering Nature” for Vashon Center for the Arts in November. He brought it to BIMA and doubled the number of artists participating.
The tumultuous climate of the 2016 presidential election inspired him to create the show.
“I respect everyone’s thinking and all the good fights people have, but how do you keep your battery recharged? How do people have the energy to continue doing what they’re doing?” Robinson asked. “The one thing I think we all have in common regardless of what we believe is this amazing world we live in.”
While the PNW has no shortage of environmental champions, “Revering Nature” beautifully showcases the diversity of nature from varying artistic perspectives. Every animal and plant plays a role in the larger ecological system. Getting away from the urban jungle and returning to the natural terrain has physical and mental health benefits.
“The landscape is alive,” Wu said. “If we have an open heart when we’re out in it, it brings so much back to us.”
What: "Revering Nature"
When: March 11 - June 4, 2017
Where: Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, 550 Winslow Way E, Bainbridge Island
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. Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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