“Pictures from 97010,” by Andrea Schwarz-Feit at the Butters Gallery (520 N.W. Davis St.), is a quiet show. There are several exhibitions that scream, “Look at me,” and demand our attention by pure circumstance or by “concept.” This group of works is good — deep, dark and well executed.
The artist combines a love of geometry with a skill for representation while exploring a subject matter we can almost take for granted: the Columbia Gorge. The 97010 zip code belongs to an area that was once a boom town called Bridal Veil, but is now no more than a post office. How the easterner Schwarz-Feit landed in Bridal Veil is not of great importance, but she has taken her sophisticated techniques — laborious at best –and applied them to the landscape around her.
Schwarz-Feit generally starts with a dark layer of wax and then applies layers of pigment on top. Her process, she says, is almost like Zen; she arrives at a full situation and empties out from there, streamlining the many layers of colors and form. She claims she has no precise end in mind and also no idea how long any particular piece takes. As she applies colored wax she takes a regular iron and seals the pigments to the wooden ground.
The forms themselves, often suggestive of rivers, falls and trails, all achieved in a variety of ways. One of the most curious is her use of the checkerboard: hundreds of squares, expanding and contracting to create larger recognizable images. This technique is rooted in cubism, Gustav Klimt and, more recently, in Hundertwasser, but Schwarz-Feit has her own things to say with it. You can become absorbed in the details or the bigger picture and often they are one and the same.
The black ground makes the overlying colors pop. It is also how things are seen at the Gorge anyway, and so technique and reality marry well in this case. Under the canopy of trees, we remain in the darkness and, as our eyes adjust, the colors change from subtle to very present. Schwarz-Feit communicates this phenomenon successfully, as our eyes adjust to the pictures not that differently from how they adjust to nature. The idea that a place is a whole in identity while made of tiny, fascinating parts is also translated in these works.
Nature can often have very robust color complexions and this is an area I wouldn’t mind Schwarz-Feit further exploring. The mistiness makes for a subtlety one tends to associate with Pacific Northwest art and, in that respect, a little more experimentation in the palette would not be a bad move. The final result is snug and comfortable, but there is wickedness to nature that Schwarz-Feit could probably capture if she cared to.