by ASHLEY MILLER
for the Sequim Gazette
The beauty of the North Olympic Peninsula regularly attracts people from all over the world.
The summer exhibit at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center entitled “The Back Country” contains the work of 32 artists selected from 52 who responded to a call for submissions engendered by their notions of what “the back country” might be.
The exhibit opened Sunday, July 10, and will remain in place through Oct. 9.
“The opening was good,” said Jake Seniuk, center director and exhibition curator. “It provoked a lot of conversation, friendships and collaborations.”
According to Seniuk, the theme and title were inspired by the 1971 book “The Back Country” “by the seminal Cascadian poet Gary Snyder, a writer who gave eloquent voice to the wilderness and has been at the literary front line of growing environmental awareness for more than half a century.”
Seniuk describes “The Back Country” exhibit as the final portion in a series of three, following the Utopian-themed “Envision Cascadia” in 2009 and the “Safe Harbor” summer exhibit last year.
“It is particularly poignant at this moment in time as the impending demolition of the Elwha dams focuses attention on the connections between the wild Olympic interior and the zone of habitation,” he said.
The exhibition sets out to explore hinterlands — physical, mental, spiritual and political — and aims to draw connections between those realms of experience.
The physical splendor of wilderness is manifested in Sequim pilot and photographer Dave Woodcock’s misty aerial view of the rugged Olympic high country.
In a pair of small canvases by Mitchell Albala (Seattle), mountain peaks are barely visible, blasted with golden sunshine blindingly bright in the thin-aired “heavenly” back country above the timberline.
Sequim photographer Charlotte Watts identifies the back country as the back door into the forest that surrounds her rural home, up small roads and smaller animal trails, finding solace in small spaces and intimate nature.
The spirit of the back country takes on cultural significance in Erik Sandgren’s (Aberdeen) large painting titled “Journey.” Using swirling brush strokes in transparent layers, Sandgren concocts a hazy atmosphere alive with totemic spirits imbedded in the clouds and sea. On the indistinct horizon, a Native long canoe emerges on a journey spanning the mists of time.
Christian Swenson (Seattle) ventures into the world of self-portraiture with “Feets.” Presented as a looping slide show, “Feets” unfolds a photographic chronicle of Swenson’s bare feet touching and being touched by the natural textures of a wide array of remote paths that he’s walked upon in his travels as an entertainer.
A number of artists present “the back country” under siege. Bright blue spray-painted lines and numbers blazed on the gnarly tree trunks in Michael Berman’s (Port Ludlow) lush photographs of the DNR forest adjoining his Port Ludlow property mark the path that chain saws soon will take.
“I hope guests are stimulated by the individual pieces,” Seniuk said. “Each artist presents a unique interpretation and there’s a wide variety.”
Last but not least
In addition to the summer exhibit, the center offers “Art Outside” in its 12th season. New works by 15 artists join the existing 100-plus pieces on display in the Webster Woods Art Park.
From the 10 “woods creatures” painted on the trunks of trees throughout the five-acre area to the giant “Paul Bunyan” chair looming in a small clearing overlooking the city, “Art Outside” is anything but ordinary.
“Magical, enchanted, whimsical, delightful and transcendent” are just a few of the adjectives that escape routinely from the lips of those who walk the trails, Seniuk said.
Starting in August, the center begins a series of educational programs for children on Mondays, enlisting the help of local artists to teach in fields such as storytelling, photography and ceramics. More information is forthcoming.
Even with its current support, the center is in dire need of new members and sponsors, Seniuk said.
“We’re experiencing another financial strain at the moment and are counting on people to come here, see the exhibits and spread the word.”
For more information, go online to www.pafac.org.