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Visual Edge: "Northwest Mystics" at B2 Fine Art Gallery

Artistically, iconic and historical works in downtown Tacoma

"Fir Island Farm," 2013, by Mary Froderberg Courtesy photo

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The "Northwest Mystics" exhibition at Tacoma's B2 Fine Art Gallery is a museum worthy exhibition of works by the Northwest School and the Hood Canal Colony. From the 1920s through the '50s and ‘60s, these were the artists who put the Pacific Northwest in America's art consciousness: Guy Anderson, Elton Bennett, Kenneth Callahan, Waldo and Corwin Chase, Mary Froderberg, Morris Graves, Orre Nobles, Mark Tobey, James Washington and others. It is rare when a commercial gallery is able to get access to such iconic, artistically and historical works of art.

Influenced by Asian art, infusing their paintings with a Zen consciousness, and colored by the dull gray glow of the Northwest, these artists created a contemplative brand of art that grows on the viewer and seeps into the consciousness.

Most of the artists represented by this show are dead, but Froderberg is still alive and active as a painter, and her landscape paintings tend to be lighter than those of many of her contemporaries. Her forms - trees, mountains, buildings and bodies of water - are laid down in large swaths of color with a minimum of detail. Her colors, like those of many of the Hood Canal painters, are toed down but brighter than they first appear - and brighter than most of the others in this show - with a marvelous glow that seems to seep outward from behind the canvas like embers in a dying fire. I especially loved her painting of a winding slough and a little painting of simple houses fronted by a field of yellow grasses (this one sold already).

Kenneth Callahan is known for large, expressive abstract paintings with strong dark-light contrasts and barely recognizable figures and objects. One of his finest pieces in this show is a tempera and oil landscape with highly energetic paint application and figures in white and black like dancing ghost figures of people and animals that seem to dance on the surface. On another level can be seen rocks and trees in dull browns and greens. This painting has a delicious weathered look.

Another Callahan of note is a mysterious night scene with features that can barely be seen in all the subtle dark tones showing a family asleep in a rocky landscape.

There are a few nice Tobys in this show. My favorite is called "Family of Yore." It depicts four figures in gold and silver with what looks like some kind of resist technique.

There is a large selection of Elton Bennett prints of fishermen and workers with a strong sense of place. One of the strongest is "Earth Diggers," four men digging for clams at the water's edge. All are in dark and almost colorless tones except for their coats, which glow with red, bronze and blue colors. A similar effect can be seen in "Tidewater," which pictures two fishermen repairing their nets at sunset. All is dark but for a bright orange coat on one of the men and duller but similar orange tones in the sky.

This is a wonderful show of historical significance. Don't miss it. A note of consideration: these artists are not as showy or bombastic as more contemporary painters, but their work will grow on you if you let it.

"NORTHWEST MYSTICS: THE NORTHWEST SCHOOL & HOOD CANAL COLONY ARTISTS," 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 9 p.m. third Thursday, through Jan. 11, B2 Fine Art Gallery, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065

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