Olympia's Matter Gallery keeps it fresh by constantly bringing in new artists and new works by the gallery's regulars.
Among some of the new work showing now I detect a theme. The theme is painting. Specifically expressionistic painting, mostly abstract or with stylized imagery and expressive handling of paint - or in many cases stuff that looks like paint.
At most galleries this would not be unique. Painting is, in fact, the major focus of most contemporary art galleries. But it is unique to Matter because the gallery specializes in art that utilizes recycled materials, meaning a majority of the objects in the gallery are three-dimensional and either decorative and playful (like Diane Kurzyna's dolls), or functional (like Pat Tassoni's lamps). But some of the best works on display right now are paintings by Coco Edmunds, Vblast, Scott Waeschle and George Kurzman. I could single out others, but these are the ones that caught my attention on a couple recent visits.
Vblast is all about surface texture, subtle color changes and an intriguing combination of illusory and actual depth of space. It's impossible to tell from looking at his painting what kinds of materials lie beneath the paint, but it looks like leaves and twigs plus skeins of paint similar to those seen in Jackson Pollock's drip paintings. I was told Vblast often uses paint chips gathered from the floor of his studio (some of them look like they may have been painted on pressboard). Whatever it is, he works up very crusty textures that contain a lot of lyricism beneath the gritty surface. The best of his paintings are the simplest. "White" has a few clusters of black shapes that look like leaves painted over with white paint on an all-white ground. The black is veiled beneath the white. Vblast's "Opiate" is a similar painting with rich, warm brown tones and a cascade of white flowing down from the top and just off-center.
I love Edmunds' "Knocking on Heaven's Door," a playful Keith Haring-like painting of a sock monkey knocking on a screen door. It's an actual recycled door screen, and the door is drawn with a heavy black contour line (caulking) on a white surface. Edmund's "Landscape of Our Minds" is a painting of two figures - nude and gender ambiguous, viewed from the back - painted in a gritty mottled green, very flat with dark outlines. The rough, layered and scraped surface reminds me of work by Leon Golub.
Kurzman, a longtime favorite at Matter, is showing a couple of very dark and rich painted assemblages. "Sawblade" naturally features a sawblade in it, and "Picket Fence" is made from heavy hunks of painted wood. There is a warm and welcoming quality to these pieces. In comparison with the other paintings mentioned here, Kurzman's are more like painted wall sculptures.
Waeschle has for many years created nature paintings with trees made of real tree limbs. I first saw some of these paintings about 15 years ago, and although I find them a little too gimmicky, I still admire the skill with which Waeschle combines real tree limbs with painted images of trees. These are very handsome paintings.
Top pick among galleries in the Weekly Volcano's Best of Olympia 2011 issue, Matter has just celebrated its second anniversary. In addition to fine paintings by artists such as Edmunds, Vblast, Waeschle and Kurzman, Matter features sculpture, jewelry, garden art and more by more than 100 artists working with recycled materials.
[Matter, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m., Sunday-Tuesday, 113 Fifth Ave. SW, Olympia, 360.943.1760, www.matteroly.com]