The Bainbridge Island Museum of Art’s new headline exhibit is not one that sits quietly and politely requests your contemplation. Island artist Gayle Bard’s giant oil landscapes, most barely contained by thick black frames, fly open like windows on sweeping vistas and blast a breeze in your face.
The exhibit occupies the entire main Rachel Feferman Gallery. After you get a glimpse of what is to come in the top-of-the-stairs Cynthia Sears gallery, you enter through the double glass doors into a transformed space. BIMA staff and volunteers have completely altered the museum landscape, moving and repainting walls and adjusting lighting to make space for and to best display Bard’s work. They have relied on as much natural lighting as possible—too much bulb light would have reflected unnaturally off the canvases and diminished the ability of the paintings to “absorb” viewers.
In much of Bard’s work there is the merest thumbprint of human activity but without the human presence, which creates a haunting effect. Farm- and rangeland are unoccupied. A painting named after a road doesn’t show the road. Trimmed hedges and lone deciduous trees mark an otherwise empty landscape. A suitcase sits open on a bed. A Mexican mountain range is viewed only through a grate covering a window. Two paintings targeting the war in Afghanistan are stone windows framing darkness.
Bard’s intricate and impossible structure-sculptures offer small lens 3-D views of an unoccupied nursery or a sunlit house with no one home, dotted with vestiges of the people, the baby, the family who were once there, including a drawer containing a baby shoe and black and white photo, a Christening dress, and a mirror reflecting only the viewer.
The mirror is a playful nod to Velázquez and his Las Meninas. Connecting Bard’s work with that of Velázquez and other Spanish masters is entirely appropriate. Like Velázquez or Zurbarán, Bard is a master of the interplay between light and dark. Just as a bit of light will reflect off a pewter tankard in a Zurbarán painting, in one of Bard’s landscapes eerie light touches on the surface of water or a storm cloud is beautifully backlit. Just as the dark borders of a Velázquez or El Greco painting are as carefully painted as the light center, Bard takes as much time on the shadows of trees, a cloud-shaded mountainside, a storm sky.
Her resume is as long as her paintings are large. She has been included in a wide list of exhibits. She has created public art for a vast array of entities including the Washington State Arts Commission, Bainbridge Island City Hall, the King County Arts Commission, the Capitol Terrace in Olympia, the Bainbridge Island Public Library, and Virginia Mason Hospital. She is represented in numerous public collections including Microsoft, the City of Seattle Northwest Special Collection, the City of Seattle Water Department Collection, and the City of Seattle City Light Portable Works.
After you can shake yourself away from Bard’s paintings, visit the gift shop to peruse the full-color artbook created specially by BIMA for the occasion of the exhibit and the archival quality giclée prints of two of the artist’s landscapes.
Also opening at BIMA is the Richard Jesse Watson exhibit in the ground floor gallery. Port Townsend-based illustrator Watson is prolific—he’s illustrated more than a dozen children’s books— and versatile, hard to pin down in terms of style. Part Jan Brett, part Norman Rockwell, part N. C. Wyeth, and part Rube Goldberg, Watson can capture a rabbit’s curiosity, explore a forest through a child’s eye, send a flying machine skyward, and spook with a firelit storyteller. He has an easel on display too and kids can look through the books he has illustrated.
Don’t miss the new exhibit in the Sherry Grover Gallery of Cynthia Sears’s private collection of artists’ books. I spent a good twenty minutes marveling at the myriad ways artists have interpreted the concept of “book.” Don’t miss Barbara Helen Berger’s two book creations hanging on the wall.
And when you’re done with all that, stop at the newly “soft-opened” BIMA Bistro and enjoy its light, contemporary design. True to the Northwest focus of the museum, the bistro emphasizes regional suppliers, locally grown foods, and local beer, wine, and coffee, including a special BIMA blend made by Grounds for Change. Starting next week, the Bistro will be offering French press pots of coffee as well. Can’t decide what to have? Staff will make a “curated sampling flight” for you so you can taste a variety of offerings. The Bistro has been designed so that the facilities can be used for catered parties and events.
Admission, as always, is free, and the museum is open seven days a week. It’s located at the corner of Winslow Way and 305.
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Photos by Sarah Lane. Featured photo shows East Endicott Road, Adams County, by Gayle Bard.