Having departed from Bainbridge Island a half hour earlier, the M/V Tacoma, a 460 foot ferry capable of carrying over 200 cars and 2000 passengers, is about to arrive in Seattle. I’m watching from the sidewalk next to the Four Seasons Hotel downtown, a few blocks from Pike Place Market.
It’s spitting rain out there. The sky is changeable today, morphing through rain and sun-break, and back to rain again. I don’t mind – it’s a nice departure from the blank, featureless grays that typify northwest winters. I’ve just been to the Seattle Art Museum and I’m headed to Pike Place for coffee at Le Panier, with a stop along the way to take in the view.
Looking at art can have the effect of making the most mundane objects around you look new. Museum and gallery walls expand to encompass the street, and everyday objects take on the guise of “art.” Recognizing patterns, color and form in new ways, you interact differently with the world. Neurologists might say this phenomenon is an opening up of neural pathways that, once activated, start to repeat themselves in grooved loops of pleasure. OK, that’s fuzzy science, but whatever the explanation, spending time with painting and sculpture can energize the way you look at the world.
No doubt many people would recognize the sculptural quality of this construction site near the waterfront, but after studying a beautiful steel and glass Christopher Wilmarth piece at the museum, I find the industrial duct work alive with formal possibilities.
Wilmarth, a minimalist sculptor who died in 1987, bent heavy sheets of roughly finished steel and thick slabs of plate glass like you might fold a piece of cardboard, juxtaposing their contrasting properties with apparent ease. His work caught my eye at a 1970 Whitney Museum sculpture exhibit – I still have the catalog. I’d forgotten about him, so it was exciting to see his sculpture commanding the floor in a museum show about Light and Space.
Another work that stayed with me the rest of the day was a large white painting by an artist I wasn’t familiar with, Mary Corse. Her minimalist work, especially the all white painting series, doesn’t reproduce well, but it’s very intriguing to be around. Corse uses the tiny glass beads that make road signs reflective to lend a changeable quality to the light that hits and emanates from her paintings. As I walked around her paintings the surface shifted, a pleasant, meditative experience.
One painting brought to mind a Puget Sound fog, though she would reject that characterization. For her, the paintings don’t reference landscapes or anything else in the outer world. Rather, they’re perceptual tools to make us understand reality in a new way, generating “new meaning, or presence, or state of being.”
On to the market. The press of tourists is intense even in January, so we don’t dally too long. But yes, the espresso and baguette sandwich were great. Sorry you weren’t there!
One way to deal with the crowds is to go down an alley behind the buildings, across from the main market. It’s only slightly quieter, but at least I can admire the bulging brick walls and generous windows at the old buildings’ backs.
On the way home I take the camera out again when rain-slicked skies turn the street lights into compositions of intense, luscious color.
In winter, Yellow Twig dogwood brightens the landscape, lending a haze of sunny warmth to the cool gray woodlands. I exaggerated the hazy effect above by using a soft focus effect in my camera and reducing clarity in post processing. In the version below I increased clarity, lightened the highlights and darkened the shadows, to emphasize the bare twigs’ linearity.
Over time I’ve come to accept my tendency to be attracted to opposite qualities in things. Never one to focus tightly in a single area for long, I take a lot in and enjoy shifting back and forth between opposites. It’s a both-and stance when it works, instead of either-or.
These photos were taken at a preserve near Seattle. Below, the highly invasive Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) drapes as elegantly as a couturier’s ballgown as it slowly decomposes.
Hoar frost grows thickly on fallen grass and willow leaves. As I stood on the boardwalk that crosses the preserve’s wetland and focused my camera on the frosty leaves, a photographer carrying a camera with a huge lens for birds and a tripod walked by. He gave a dismissive look and scowled, “What are you focusing on, dead leaves?”
I simply said, “Yes.”
It’s 4 pm and the sun has set. The temperature is only a few degrees above freezing and my fingers and toes are completely numb. One last shot – the odd white berries of a native shrub, the Snowberry, as they pick up a final glint of sunlight.
A hint of what’s to come –
I took a winter garden stroll through the Soest Garden, part of the University of Washington’s Botanic Garden and Arboretum complex in Seattle. Above is a type of pampas grass. Like the Yellow Twig dogwood, it glows warmly in winter sun, offering respite from gray and brown.