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"47º North, 122º West"

Shon Frostad's maritime paintings at the Seaport Museum

“47° North, 122° West, Turquois,” mixed-media painting by Shon Frostad. Photo courtesy the artist

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When I walked into the Seaport Museum to see Shon Frostad's painting exhibition, there was a moment when I could not recognize the paintings as paintings, because the museum is filled with boats, anchors, charts, bones of whales, and other memorabilia of sea life, and I thought the paintings I saw on a wall to my left were sections of old ship hulls. As it turned out, they were paintings of sections of ship hulls -- so realistic that they become almost surreal. Like Andy Warhol's replicas of Brillo boxes, they are indistinguishable from what they are paintings of, yet clearly not the real thing. There's something eerie about that, especially in such a setting as a seaport museum.

The title of the show comes from the symbols seen on the sides of commercial vessels.

"The symbols on the ship's hull indicate such things as a vessel's ‘draft', or depth in the water, what the allowable draft is for that vessel depending on the season, and even the particular ocean the ship may be traveling in," said Frostad. "One circular symbol indicates the insurer of the vessel; another where a tugboat may or may not contact the ship's hull. Yet others show where a ship's inner bulkheads or compartments are."

The title of this show, "47º North, 122º West," refers to the geographic coordinates for Tacoma.

Frostad's paintings on wood panels vary in sizes up to 4-by-8 feet. Some of the lettering, as well as such painted details as brads and welded seams, are built up to a quarter inch above the surface, either through the use of thick paint or with some kind of gel or other media.

What stands out is the stark simplicity and straightforwardness of the images, the color combinations, and most of all, the incredible textures that lend the works the look of rust, scratches, worn and peeling paint. The only thing separating them from actual sections of ship hulls is none of them are literally bent or scratched. It is all illusory trompe le'oeil painting.

In addition to these paintings, Frostad has included two more traditional modernist figure paintings, both of surfers. One, called "Hang Ten," is a close-up, realistic painting of feet with toes hanging off the front edge of a surfboard. The other one, "Surfers," shows a line of surfers with tan bodies and swimsuits standing on a beach holding their upright surfboards. The figures are painted flat, with what appears to be pencil or graphite outlining their bodies. Both are nicely executed but do not have the visual impact of the paintings of ship hulls.

This show is guaranteed to be enjoyable, and the museum itself is filled with fascinating memorabilia of a working seaport.

"47° North, 122° West," by Shon Frostad, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday; noon-4 p.m., Sunday, through Jan. 19, $6-$10, free to members and children 5 and younger, 705 Dock St., Tacoma, fosswaterwayseaport.org

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