Visual Edge: "Coastal Alchemy" at Museum of Glass Pacific Northwest in painting, sculpture and poetry By Alec Clayton on April 28, 2014
Art is most effective when it can evoke the essence or the spirit, of a person, place or event without necessarily looking like that person, place or event. More often than not it is most effective when it does not look like the subject because illusory depiction often detracts from the core of the artistic statement. Coastal Alchemy at Museum of Glass beautifully, inventively and powerfully evokes the natural world of our Pacific Northwest in painting, sculpture and poetry by artists Anna Skibska, Meg Holgate and T.s. Flock.
To borrow words from the press release: "With lead artist Anna Skibska creating glass collages and sculptural installations, Meg Holgate contributing her luminous landscape paintings, and poet Flock's visual poetry, Coastal Alchemy offers visitors three different but
interwoven perspectives on the region. Central to their collaboration is a sense of being on the edge, on the margin of the continent, between land and sea, surrounded by nature. A similar affinity for the sense of place in the Northwest characterized the so-called Northwest Mystics."
Flock's visual poetry is the first thing that meets the eye upon entering the gallery. Approximately 120 organza sheets are suspended by shimmering wires across the wall that faces the entry. Handwritten lines of poetry fill these sheets. Are the words of the poem written on a wall text or in a catalog? If so, I missed it, and it is impossible to read the words as they are displayed; but visually it is beautiful and luminous and sets the mystical tone of the exhibition.
To the right are two large galleries filled with Skibska's glass sculpture, collages and works on paper and other mixed media. To the left stand two more large galleries filled with paintings and stacked rocks in display cases by Holgate.
With minimalist forms and subdued colors, Holgate captures the feel of our streams and forests in quiet reverence. Some of the paintings are on glass or on surfaces that combine paper and glass. They are majestic and simple. The softness of her painting is awe inspiring. There are paintings that are little more than a series of vertical forms representing tree trunks, one called "Moonshine IV" that looks like a space ship, and a painting of a rock barely visible in the mist but which casts a hard-edged black shadow. These are astounding paintings.
Skibska's sculptures and collages are almost indescribable even though some of them have very clearly defined subject matter. There are portrait heads, animals and other figures on glass, paper and other materials, with words attached on and near the paintings in such a way as to obscure any sense of where one work stops and another begins while lending additional meaning to the works. And suspended from the ceiling in front of or nearby each piece is a kind of mesh glass grid that takes the form of, variously, boxes, balls and clouds, or like crystalline spider webs that shimmer in the light and
cast intriguing shadows that partially obscure the imagery on the walls. Walking through these two galleries that house Skibska's work is like taking a stroll along a beach at the edge of a forest - a beach that is littered with driftwood, gnarled tree trunks and rocks. There are no beginnings and no ends. There is humor, there is beauty, there is mystery; there is the essence of nature without slavishly copying the look of trees and mountains and bodies of water.
This, in my humble opinion, is the most engaging exhibition I have seen at MOG since the show of Richard Craig Meitner's strange vessels three years ago.