Okada, Slater & Jonsson

Frank Okada Sumi Ink Drawing #30 – 1965

Rarely does the gallery represent artists from outside Skagit Valley, since there are so many local works worthy of sharing. But recently the gallery acquired this painting by legendary painter Frank Okada, whose career illuminates the path of a master. Many artists become proficient at technique. It is something else again to seek something more ethereal, and to use whatever means at one’s disposal to explore that calling. Frank Okada is such an artist.

Okada immigrated to Seattle with his family from Japan and settled in the International district, where his parents operated several hotels. As a young man in the early sixties he joined the Abstract Expressionist movement in NYC while it was creating a sensation. Action painting in particular seemed to foreshadow a cultural shift that would fully blossom in the Counter-Culture, as it was called, which valued process over product. Okada became recognized in NYC, and established relationships with the other Ab-X painters, but perhaps because Okada’s sensibilities were not so brazen as the Cedar Bar bunch, he eventually returned home to the Pacific Northwest to practice here.

Indeed, while Abstract Expressionism was raging on the East Coast, another less flashy revolution was unfolding on the left coast, particularly in Seattle and Skagit Valley. Morris Graves, Guy Anderson, Richard Gilkey and Helmi Juvonen were making work that seemed like a quiet celebration of spirit, rather than ego. While personal style might emerge, a “brand” was never the point. They were free to follow where seeking itself led them.

Like the other two artists included in this webshow, Frank Okada was proficient in many mediums. Gallery Cygnus is pleased to offer this Sumi ink painting from the collection of Herb and Lucy Pruzan. Okada went on to make paintings that were so very different: oil on canvas, hard edged geometries with mostly primary colors, with the only nuance a frenzied working of surface. But both his Sumi paintings and the later oil work explored the world of energy.

Theodora Jonsson also works in many mediums to reveal energetic nature behind appearances. In the case of her geologically inspired paintings, like Didactic Arroyo One 2020, above, she manages to simulate the forces that created rock formations and water channels in the vigorous way she applies oil color to canvas. In what might appear to be a different endeavor in the Stratigraphy Peak Series of monoprints, she is also recording the energy of geology. Her work is not so much a depiction, as an attunement to Gaia in her many forms. Her prints, paintings, sculpture and videography all reach to the limits of sensory ability to know our environment, and they all work beautifully.

William Slater had an abiding interest in boating, landscape and the female figure. Though he created works of beauty inspired by all three, it seems it had less to do with appearances and more to do with something more subtle. He often said, “I cannot remember what things look like. But I do remember what they felt like.” Slater, like Okada, had also made companions of some NYC Ab-X painters, and continued throughout his life to enjoyed waving his brush in a movement directed by his whole body in what he called “dancing with paint.” Here is a late work which has been called Raven and Sun, but you can see that it’s suggestive of fugitive light, life and atmosphere, a possible imprinting of a moment in time.

The work of these three artists do not match up, not even within their own oeuvre, unless you understand their life quest. It might be tempting to say a later phase surpassed the earlier ones, but with Okada, Jonsson and Slater, I believe each method, medium and approach served an over-arching need and each is as worthy as the ones that followed. Branding has become an oppressive market influence in art, one that has not served its original purpose, and these artists managed to escape!

We hope you enjoy these works. For sales information please email the gallery at gallerycygnus@gmail.com, or call 360 708 4787.  You might also enjoy the new paintings by Maggie Wilder. See her work under the menu Sales Gallery.