by Alec Clayton
Rene Westbrook is an artist — a highly prolific artist in many media whose work is constantly surprising, colorful, and often painfully sensitive to the good and bad of the world we live in. She has enjoyed many years of artistic success. Since moving to Olympia from San Francisco in 1993 after completing a three-year artist in residency for the California Arts Council, she has experienced an explosion of exhibitions and honors including the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation award in 2020, being chosen as the cover artist for Olympia’s Arts Walk 2022, two Artist Trust awards; a GAP (Grants for Artists’ Progress) award 2022 and the SOLA (Support Old Lady Artists) award 2023. She was selected for a public art traffic box this year (installed this month at the corner of Pacific and Lily Road in Olympia).
As an eclectic artist, Westbrook engages the viewer as a visual oracle of creative ideas that can stimulate the senses and become the vehicle for hidden mysteries she wants to explore. To this end, painting, collage and photography work as a catalyst for her latest direction of inquiry, digital compilations. She skillfully reinvents her original works and redefines them through a rupture of color and content.
“And it’s true that when l was a wee girl of 8, l discovered imagination was my superpower!”
“I know l am blessed,” she exclaims. “I have consistently received good feedback, acknowledgments, exhibitions and awards over my 50-year history of making art. The SOLA was like a mini lifetime achievement award, and it was remarked that older artists might want to read about a fellow artist reviewed in such favorable light!”
The 2023 SOLA Awards is open to female-identified visual artists living in Washington age 60 or older who have dedicated 25 years or more to creating art. The SOLA website, https://artisttrust.org/2023-tha-sola-recipients/, said, “René has worked as a multimedia artist for five decades. A graduate of Boston’s Massachusetts College of Art, René has gone on to become an award-winning recipient in sculpture, painting and photography.”
She has previously been selected as an artist in residence at several notable art centers, including AAMARP (African American Master Artist in Residence Program) at Northeastern University in Boston, and Artists in Residence for California Council of Arts. Her artwork has been in the permanent collection at The Museum of the National Center of Afro American Artists (NCAAA) , Boston, where she has been in group and solo shows. Her work has been shown in Massachusetts Masters at Boston Museum of Fine Arts and more recently at Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art WSU, Pullman, 2021. Her work is in public institutions including Kaiser Permanente California and Seattle Children’s Hospital-Brown Clinic in Seattle.
Most recently, Westbrook was accepted into the Washington Public Art Roster for the years 2023-2025.
Local artist and arts writer Lynette Charters Serembe said of Westbrook, “I have great admiration for Rene’s dedication in her work practice and her ability to so skillfully channel her passions into imagery, she employs a diverse range of media and styles. Her voice is loud, clear, unwavering, and never dull; we all appreciate her voice in her art.”
Leonor R. Fuller Gallery at The Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the ArtsGallery Director Sean Barnes said, “Rene Westbrook has a lifelong career as an artist and community arts leader. I have had the rewarding opportunity to work with Rene on several significant collective exhibitions. The breadth of Rene’s experience brings vibrant energy to arts programming at the Leo Fuller Gallery and the Olympia community at South Puget Sound Community College.”
Through August 17, her work can be seen in the Southwest Washington Juried Art Exhibition at SPSCC.
“As a young woman studying abroad, I was exposed to different forms of creative expression and sought to incorporate these various elements in my own style,” Westbrook says. “I seek to engage the viewer with visual ideas that stimulate the senses with a range of techniques, elemental forms, and bold visual interpretations.”
She recognizes the turbulent times she lives in and yet, she says “There is so much beauty and profound grace that it is difficult to ignore as an oracle of creative ideas that is focused on women, race and identity.”
In a statement from her most recent exhibition, the SPSCC 2023 Southwest WA Regional Juried Art Exhibition, she wrote: “My new exploration into the digital world begins and ends with how to enhance the color/form/content of work l have already created. I discovered that l could digitally overlay a photograph with a collage or painting and create a completely new image. …
“Once l digitize them, l boost the color saturation or experiment with negative effects to highlight the mystery being brought forth by this new technique. Once l have an image I feel is successfully rendered, l have it reproduced on canvas or vinyl, which further gives the work added authenticity.
“I am very happy with the direction of these amalgamations of existing art that then create completely new images.”
Rene Westbrook, Southwest WA Regional Juried Art Exhibition
Through Aug. 17
The Leonor R. Fuller Gallery, South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia
Traffic box wrap
Now on display
Corner of Pacific and Lily Road, Olympia