Paintings of the outdoors cover Kirsten Gallery’s walls. The gallery is additionally laden with intricate wooden bowls and carvings. Though these works were created by two different artists, they undoubtedly belong together, uniting tangible pieces of wood with intangible depictions of the environment.
Kirsten Gallery is currently showing Byron Birdsall’s paintings. Each November, for 38 years, Birdsall has displayed his work at the gallery, which has been open for 42 years.
His collection, “Life is Now, Art is Forever,” consists entirely of watercolors, but remarkably, that doesn’t imply dissolving, melting colors. Instead, his paintings are focused, defined, and full of earth tones. He is a grand master of this form.
From vibrant hues in a sunset to shivering contrasts of snow, Birdsall’s work is beautiful. Influenced by Alaska’s white winters, he likes to use abstract contrast. The blanketing snow emphasizes differences between light and dark, making the two easier to distinguish.
One painting, “Through an icy window,” was particularly attention grabbing. Birdsall uses light, reflected in and through ice, to frame a mountain and lake. The ice functions much like a window frame, outlining the focal point. Adding to the scenery is the display light above the painting, which shows the timid sparkles smoothly brushed atop the lake.
Birdsall frequently travels to Tibet where he receives a little black bag full of “sparkly stuff,” as he calls it, from a good friend. This “sparkly stuff” is not your average glitter found at the University Book Store. The sparkles are delicate and simple, adding elegance to Birdsall’s painting. However, he only uses the sparkles when painting water.
Birdsall’s favorite pieces are “ … a perfect day” and “Tagish.” In “ … a perfect day,” he likes specks of red, which is an uncommon color for Birdsall, as well as painted bits of foam and mist. I had no disagreements.
Kirsten Gallery also features Diana Friend’s “Pacific Turnings.” Her wood pieces are imperfection: smooth where they need to be and naturally rough where necessary.
Friend’s pieces are distant cousins of bowls and plates, occasionally having holes and unexpected indents.
To create her masterpieces, Friend turns raw wood using lathes. A lathe allows her to shape and smooth the wood, using different tools, as it rotates.
Friend uses various types of wood including rhododendron trunks, holly, and black birch. She has even been known to ask people for their firewood.
“[These works of art] are all my children,” Friend said. “You get so connected while you’re making them.”
Her connection shows. Each piece of wood is used in a creative way.
Each intricate detail that the wood naturally creates is emphasized in Friend’s work. Little holes within the tree’s inner and outer bark are either kept or discarded to accent the myriads of naturally occurring waves and lines. Some pieces look as if waves are swirling inside of them.
The combination of Birdsall’s paintings and Friend’s wood pieces are inspiring and comforting in both atmosphere and technique. Each collection focuses on the intricate details of nature, either created or organic.
Their art requires a daunting amount of diligence to make. Despite this, Friend and Birdsall supply Kirsten Gallery with enough artwork to satisfy any curious eye.
Kirsten Gallery is located on 5320 Roosevelt Way NE. “Life is Now, Art is Forever” and “Pacific Turnings” both show until Dec. 28. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is free.
Reach contributing writer Kelsey Hamlin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KelseyHamlin_UW