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Bright scenes of sea and land

Barbara Noonan and Beverly Fotheringham at Childhood’s End

“Poised,” pastel by Barbara Noonan. Photo courtesy Childhood's End Gallery

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I wasn't sure I wanted to review Barbara Noonan's work at Childhood's End Gallery because the image I saw on the announcement looked too much like too many other landscapes I have seen -- pretty, predictable and unimaginative. But when I saw the work in the gallery, I recognized a surface quality and an awareness of color and design that was much more compelling than I had expected. Then I glanced at the east wall and saw Beverly Fotheringham's seascapes and thought they were photographs until I got closer and realized they were water colors with a subtle painterly quality I liked a lot -- each brushstroke clearly delineated and laid on with confidence. And then I turned around and saw a group of landscapes and pictures of, of all things, cows. I thought they were by yet another artist; I was surprised to find out they were more pastels by Noonan. These two women have created pictures in a style and genre that is often overdone and typically banal and lifted them up a notch or two.

Noonan's landscapes are soft and dreamy. There is one called "Slipping In" that is more abstract than literal, which I interpreted as glaciers melting and slipping into the sea. With a wide range of blue and white tones, it looks so cold I shivered looking at it.

Noonan's best work is a group of six pastels of barnyard animals. There is one titled "Holy Cow" that pictures a single cow on a white sheet of paper. No background, just the glaring white of the paper. The cow's body is painted with short, chiseled blocks of color and its face is left blank, the white of the paper flowing from background into the animal's face, a brilliant move on the part of the artist in the way it economically unifies figure and ground. Also in this group is a similar pastel called "Poised" that pictures two cows in a field of yellow-green grass. They're painted with the same choppy strokes, and the background advances visually. There is also one of a chicken that looks delightfully comical to my eyes.

Fotheringham's seascapes are rich in color and detail. As indicated in the opening paragraph, I love that they look like photo-realist paintings until you get close enough to see the brushstrokes. She uses a lot of high contrasts of hue and value, especially in the bright blues of sky and water contrasting with a burning orange on piers and in the lights on the piers and in the sky at sunset. I was particularly attracted by a closeup of a cleat on a pier and of the trunk of a birch tree titled "Birch Brilliance" with its bright ultramarine background and tones of light blue, orange, brown and white on the peeling tree trunk.

The gallery has also held over a group of six paintings by Christopher Mathie from the previous show.

BARBARA NOONAN and BEVERLY FOTHERINGHAM, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through Sept. 30, Childhood's End Gallery, 222 Fourth Ave. W., Olympia, 360.943.3724, childhoods-end-gallery.com

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