Years ago, CJ Swanson and her husband, the painter David Noah Giles, opened the now defunct Art on Center Gallery in Tacoma. Back then, her paintings were reminiscent of Sonia Delaunay’s work — a kind of soft and decorative cubism with circles and interlocking, almost kaleidoscopic or prismatic planes of bright pastel colors. At the time, her work was good if somewhat derivative. Since then her work has grown more complex and compositionally stronger. Her paintings are still decorative and colorful, but with the refinement of being deceptively simple.
On the surface they are still simple patterns in bright colors, but the relationships between the parts and the distribution of space within the frame are complex. She makes the difficult look simple. There are 10 paintings of various sizes in the show, all done with acrylic paint, some with collage elements and some with drawing in other media such as conte crayons. Her dominant theme is the repetition of a single shape — usually a hexagon or circle or box — on a grid. The colors are flat like ribbons or fine lines. Within these repetitive forms are other forms. Some are abstracts derived from landscape or urban environments, or from flowers, and many are purely non-objective. There is a lot of play between carefully drawn shapes and quickly or energetically brushed-on forms. These are paintings that become increasingly interesting the longer you look at them.
“Sectional Formulas” is a field of intense pink, violet, green and orange with triangles on one side and interlocking squares on the other framing an atmospheric center area where circles and triangles and ellipses do a kind of dosey-doe. The line and brushwork in this section reminds me of Paul Klee in the way she combines thin lines with flat blocks of muted colors.
“Organic Renewal” is a line of 17 hexagons in vertical strips. The center and two outside strips of stacked hexagons are painted in black and white and look like abstract depictions of waves crashing upon rocks, or like sections of Franz Kline paintings — bold and energetic. The sections between these are in dark brown and black and are circular swipes of loosely brushed paint. The precision and placement of the hexagons and the wild energy of the painting between them make for exciting viewing.
Hexagons show up again in “New Domicile,” acrylic and collage, this time with fields of plus signs and circles or zeroes. The composition in this one is the most complex of the bunch, and there is a lovely and very subtle illusion of shallow depth. Swanson’s use of collage in this and other paintings is nothing like the traditional use of collage, which brings recognizable images such as newspaper photographs into the paintings, but rather, the collage elements are abstract shapes no different than the painted shapes except there is a slight edge that creates an actual shallow depth to play off against the illusory depth in other parts. In “New Domicile” the plus signs have painted-in shadows along the edges to emphasize the slight depth of the collage elements. It is almost impossible to tell what is painted and what is collaged (true of all her collages but more noticeable in this one).
Readers should see this show. Have a cup of coffee and take your time looking at the paintings.
(This review appears courtesy The Weekly Volcano.)
WHAT: CJ Swanson paintings
WHEN: 10 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through Feb. 28
WHERE: Batdorf and Bronson Coffee Shop, 516 S. Capitol Way, Olympia
HOW MUCH: Free
LEARN MORE: 360.786.6717