For those who think a firm line can be drawn between painting and photography, several artists with new shows in Seattle art galleries are out to confound you.
Wendelin Wohlgemuth: ‘Desert Paintings’
Bellingham native Wendelin Wohlgemuth, at Linda Hodges Gallery, bases his oil-on-panel paintings on archival photographs. His “Desert Paintings,” he explains, depict “shifting, boundless, open spaces that are born from destruction.”
From a distance they look like out-of-focus sepia snapshots that have been deliberately defaced. “Desert” shouldn’t be taken literally. Some images are of beach scenes, while others seem to depict Arctic wastes. In either case, they’re a far cry from photorealism.
“Desert III,” for instance, is a seaside vista, perhaps from Edwardian times, in which two children appear to be combing the sands for shells or some other treasure. Wohlgemuth “distresses” the image as much as possible. A straight black line on a slant divides the two figures. A thumb-sized smear of green at the left and a finger dab of white/purple on the right further blemish the surface.
In all the “Desert” paintings, vertical streaks of glaze make you feel you’re seeing the scene through a fogged lens or after they’ve been fed through abrasive rollers. His aim, Wohlgemuth says, is “to consider our connection to the cruelty and indifference of the natural world.”
A second series of paintings, derived from vintage photographs taken in psychiatric institutions, addresses human fears and cruelty. The photographic illusionism in some of them is uncanny.
“Phobic Woman” and “Man with Illness” crackle with neurotic energy, accentuated by abstract paint-smears that come off almost as psychic hallucinations. A small pink blob in “Woman Sitting” is so thick, it’s as if Wohlgemuth stuck a piece of chewing gum to his panel.
This is masterfully layered work, exploring the paradoxes of what paint can do.
Note: In BLUR Gallery, upstairs from Linda Hodges, Wohlgemuth has good company in the photo-inspired oils-on-canvas of Samuel Blatt, whose “Women/Detroit” series explores the darker, more awkward side of family holiday celebrations.
10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through April 29. Linda Hodges Gallery, 316 First Ave. S., Seattle (206-624-3034 or lindahodgesgallery.com).
David Beckley: ‘Surface’
A casual glimpse at Seattle artist David Beckley’s work might prompt you to think he’s quite the painter. But his 12 portraits at Gallery 110 are actually giclée prints of digital photographs.
Beckley uses long exposure and multiple exposures to achieve his effects. Some of his images have an airbrushed quality, heightening certain aspects of his subjects and their surroundings.
Other images, you could swear, had help from Francis Bacon. In “Portrait No. 10,” a woman’s head is seen from multiple angles, with multiple grinning teeth and eyeballs grotesquely out of alignment. Yet, as in a Bacon painting, you can tell the model is pleasantly attractive.
In several shots, characters’ “props” are in sharper focus than their owners. The human figures may be hazy, but the ashtrays, cigarette packs and coffee cups before them couldn’t be more clear-cut.
Beckley plays with formal portraiture, too. “Portrait No. 10” might almost be the work of a wedding photographer — if the couple in question were male, with one in a smart white shirt and the other in an elegant black evening gown. The connecting thread throughout is of animated presences in dynamic tension with their surroundings.
Noon-5 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through April 29, Gallery 110, 110 Third Ave. S., Seattle (206-624-9336 or gallery110.com).
Joe Rudko: ‘Basic Techniques of Photography’
Seattle artist Joe Rudko, in his first solo show at Greg Kucera Gallery, uses found photographs as his artistic materials — but what he does with them is anything but “basic.”
In “Studio Portrait” and “Studio Portrait (Enlargement),” he shapes hundreds of tiny squares of cut-up photographs into collages that subliminally suggest the outline of a human head. Up close, you can see fragments of actual human features in the film images he has sliced and diced for his purpose.
Other work is more conceptual. “Time Structure” is a precarious cage of thin-cut photographic strips whose details include three clocks. “Cloudscape” assembles torn snapshot pieces of partly cloudy skies. But from a distance the “clouds” that jump out at you aren’t photographic; they’re the blank white spaces between those cloud-photo fragments.
The more obsessive Rudko is, the more persuasive he is. The titles of some works (“Infinity Mirror,” “Zone System,” “Entry”) evoke their intricate appeal. Other pieces — like “Mood Board” which simply pins large photo fragments to a backdrop of white photo corners — are less satisfying.
While you’re at Greg Kucera Gallery, don’t miss Daniel Carrillo’s new show, “Studio Visit,” a series of daguerreotypes shot in workplaces of his artist friends. The result is a who’s who of the Seattle art scene, with “Dan Webb’s Woodchips” and “Jeffry Mitchell’s Toolbox” among the highlights.
10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through May 27, Greg Kucera Gallery, 212 Third Ave. S., Seattle (206-624-0770 or gregkucera.com).