For nearly four decades, the art of Olympia artist Kathy Gore-Fuss has moved through a fascinating metamorphosis from multi-media, surrealistic, abstract and symbolic to paintings that are as traditional as naturalism en plein air landscapes. Her gradual shift has not removed the indelible and unique signature look of her work – a style that is as unique to Gore Fuss as van Gogh’s brushstrokes and Jackson Pollock’s splatterwork.
“She has re-invented herself several times as an artist, each time thoughtfully following the calling of her heart and then working with curiosity and patience to develop a new way of working,” says Susan Aurand, a fellow artist, longtime friend and teacher at The Evergreen State College. “Her current work about the forests is remarkable in the quality of light she achieves… It’s a love affair with nature.”
Born in Seattle in 1955, Gore-Fuss spent her first 10 years in the Midwest before returning to Seattle. She later attended the University of Washington but left before earning a degree. She continued her studies at Pratt Fine Arts Center, and worked independently as an arts instructor. In 1980, she came to Olympia and set up a studio, where she pursued new interests, including silk screening, mixed-media construction, sculpture and painting.
Her work in the 1980s was often surrealistic and what she called dreamscapes — large color-drenched, distorted images either two-dimensional chalk pastels or larger three-dimensional oil painted constructions. “This series evoked my struggles to find my own female identity and beauty in the undiscovered, with plenty of satirical commentary on the absurdity of the human existence,” Gore-Fuss recalls.
During the next decade her material of choice for sculpture was plaster gauze bandage which she used to cast her body and other friends’ bodies, capturing their forms in a moment of time. She called it her Form-u-loid, like a Polaroid. She would also cast forms of everyday items such as flowers, tea cups, shoes and crystal that traced the collections individual women assemble in their own homes. These sculptures were void of color, collaged with cut up black linoleum prints on rice paper showing off her affinity for pattern, line and whimsy. Many casts of her own hands held these cast objects as they projected out towards the viewer from the wall.
In 2004, her husband of 23 years died suddenly of a heart attack. The ten years following his death involved an arduous process of rebuilding, which included returning to the University of Washington to finish up her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2007. She designed and built a new studio in 2010. In 2011 she made the definitive move of returning to her first love – drawing and painting.
Her new paintings continue to be painted entirely on the spot, regardless of the weather, in natural settings like the woods at Priest Point Park and at the Port of Olympia near her home in Olympia. They were first shown in Olympia at Dino’s Coffee Shop in 2012, and have since been shown in galleries in Seattle, Friday Harbor and Ellensburg. The paintings of sun and rain falling through the leaves and towering trees are complex, dense, and create a palpable sense of being one with nature.
Since 2012 Gore-Fuss has organized painting workshops. These workshops host painters from outside the Olympia area at her studio. A variety of instructors offer specialized instruction during one-week intensive painting workshops. Guest Instructors have included Jordan Wolfson from Colorado and Washington artists Helen O’Toole, Anne Petty, and Emily Gherard. In connection with the workshops she offers a lecture series called “Conversations with Painters.” This series offers an intimate setting to see new artists’ work, ask questions and participate in the dialog of art.
Watercolorist and art teacher Amy Fisher says, “I have known Kathy since moving to Olympia in the late ’70s. She had a big personality and shared her ideas about her work willingly. I watched her craftsmanship and content grow over the years. She has always been helpful, generous and supportive. She explored ideas of family and identity and physically worked through the paper, sanding right through paper to make statements about love and loss. Her current work in the woods is about love and loss too. I see it that way. It isn’t all sentimental or theoretical; she paints in the woods almost daily. Her work taps into larger questions about beauty and sacrificing life to cope with limited resources on an overpopulated planet.”
Another artist, Becky Frehse of Tacoma, says, “Kathy is one of the most dedicated and disciplined artists that I know. One thing that has always amazed me is how eloquent the drawing is in all of Kathy’s work; no matter the medium. Her current work painting in and about the forest is her most accomplished. Each burst of brush strokes evokes a spiritual relationship with her sense of place and light. The small, walnut ink drawings are truly jewels. I think she is enjoying much success with her current work and will become recognized as one of our region’s best landscape artists.”
WHAT Kathy Gore-Fuss “Providers”
WHERE Photographica / KDR, 313 Occidental Ave. S, Seattle
WHEN 10 a.m. to 5: 30 p.m., through Dec. 22,
Artist’s reception Dec. 7 6-8 p.m.
HOW MUCH Free, paintings for sale