ART REVIEW by Alec Clayton for OLY ARTS

Olympia’s Art House Designs is not your typical art gallery. They seldom have regularly scheduled shows. Rather, it is more like an art fair or a funhouse of contemporary art with prints, paintings, ceramics, and sculpture by more than 30 artists, including such popular local artists as Barlow Palminteri, Simon Kogan, Hart James, Becky Knold and Dale Witherow, in a series of rooms covering 4,500 square feet of display space. The art is everywhere — on the walls, on tables and easels and stacked on the floor. There are no opening and closing dates for shows. Artworks remain indefinitely. I was assured by owner Susie Engelstad that the works featured in this review will be on view at least until the end of August, and probably much longer.

Carlos Barnav paints animals. His acrylic painting Mayan Green is a close-up look at a horse’s face. At least I think it is a horse. It is large and confrontational, a kind of strange- looking animal painted acid green. The animal’s long ears and strange eyes and the painterly Abstract-Expressionist background along with all that unsettling green add up to an image you cannot ignore. A little less unsettling and graphically interesting is Barnav’s Icelandic Horse, another acrylic painting. It is black and white and looks like a large etching or scratchboard drawing more than a painting. The subtle brushstrokes and the thin white lines cut into the black paint lend it a subtle texture. I wanted to touch the surface, but of course that’s not allowed.

I saw five paintings by Rose Nicholas  in oil on board and on paper in sizes ranging from approximately six-by-ten inches up to a large painting of swimmers at about five-by-six feet. The big swimmer, Up at the River, reminds me of Alex Katz. It is a Pop-style figure with flat planes and little detail. The main figure, severely cropped at the bottom right of the canvas, leans at an odd angle. The triangular cut of her bathing suit top mirrors the shape of the mountains in the background. A second figure, a small blonde standing farther out in the river, serves as a visual connecting device tying together the top and bottom halves of the painting by the way the light on her hair and the position of her shoulders lined up with elements of the background. The multiple yellow-green and blue-green tones of the water and trees on the far shore of a river are bright and exciting in contrast to the more muted tones of the figures. The color of the trees and water is not unlike the green of Barnav’s Mayan Green.

There is a little nude in oil on paper by Nicholas  that I found to be interesting in that I first saw it as a simplified landscape and did not even see the nude standing in the middle until after looking at it for almost a full minute. The nude melts into the landscape. Nichols is also showing a dramatic interior scene of a trapezoidal window in a dark room looking out on a fenced yard. There is orange light on the windowsill upon which sits a blue bottle. On the fence outside is an odd shape like a keyhole. I like the mysterious feel of this one and the strong contrasts of light and dark and complementary colors.

For a change of pace from these paintings, there are funky and fun ceramics by Toni Lawrence. One called Dancing Hydra Donkeys is a platter with a couple of cartoon donkeys painted on its surface, and chickens and a church house with a black cat on the roof. Engelstad said it reminds her of paintings by Chagall, which I can clearly see. Also by Lawrence are a couple of oddly shaped mirrors with funky frames and strange cartoon animals. Her ceramics are fun and lighthearted and would make great gifts.

I also saw two black and white abstracts by Witherow that were being framed. I look forward to seeing them framed and on the wall. And I saw one of Palminteri’s vibrant landscape paintings and was told there are more Palminteri  paintings coming — good reasons to visit Art House Designs again.

This review appears courtesy The Weekly Volcano.



 Rose Nicholas, Carlos Barnav, Toni Lawrence


10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, through August


420 Frankin St. SE. Olympia


free, artwork for sale