The current show at Flow honors sumi and collage artist Mary Shizuka Bottomley, a co-founder of Puget Sound Sumi Artists who recently passed away. The show features 11 works by Bottomley, which offer a sampling of the wide array of her art, plus sumi art by six of Tacoma's better known sumi artists, all of whom have studied with Bottomley. They are: Bill Colby, Flow owner Andrea Erickson, Darlene Diehl, Patrice Bruzas, Selinda Sheridan and Fumiko Kimura. And another plus, the display case that is usually filled with jewelry presents a display of sumi inks and brushes with examples of the type of marks they make, and other materials.
Bottomley's work is very traditional and very sparse. She says a lot with a few brushstrokes. There are eight ink drawings, most in black, white and gray, and three collages with rice papers and other papers and ink drawings.
The collages are colorful and sweet, with a density and variety of patterns and marks not seen in the sumi ink work. They are delicate and interesting in their textures and patterns. In "Kaleidoscope" there is a swirl of movement toward the middle, a look that is, indeed, very much like what you see when looking into a kaleidoscope.
"Memory of Summit" has diagonal movement that reflects the movement of climbers summiting a mountain. "Random Poem (Kana) is much different than any of her other works in that it has stronger color and dark-light contrasts as rough squares of different colored papers serve as fields for Asian writing that - judging from the title - must be poetry. Without being able to read the writing, it is visual poetry.
The only other work with color is a painting of a flower called "Spring." It may be the weakest work in the show because the too-literal depiction of a flower detracts from the energy and delicacy of the mark-making, which is the hallmark of the other ink drawings. (You'll notice I alternate between calling these works drawings and paintings; that is because they contain so many elements of each.)
The black and white works are the purest and the strongest. "Flower Arrangement," is lyrical and highly charged with thin strokes in black and gray that are integrated beautifully in shallow space. It captures the essence of a flower arrangement much better than the more descriptive or illusory "Spring."
My favorite work is "Anguish," a very sparse painting with three distinctively different brush strokes on a white background. There's an emphatic check mark, a long vertical stroke that varies in width, and then a winding, convoluted mark that goes from smooth to jerky as it doubles back on itself. There seems to be an animated conversation going on between these three marks.
"Rainy Mountain" is heavy and foreboding with its few broad strokes of the brush, and "The Fall" is light and fanciful as thin black writing dances over a subtle gray and brown background. As with the ambiguous distinction between painting and drawing, the marks on these works may be seen equally as writing and drawing.
Colby's "Tiger" combines Western and Eastern art traditions. Sheridan's "Yugen" is very much like Bottomley's "Anguish."
It's a small show but it provides a good overview of one accomplished artist and of a group of Western Washington artists who paint with an eye toward Japan.
[Flow, "Beautiful Shining Flame," Third Thursdays and by appointment plus Saturday, Oct. 27 2-4 p.m., 301 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, 253 255-4675]