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Nancy Johnson, past and present, at Brick House

Post by Rosemary Ponnekanti / The News Tribune on Jan. 25, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
January 25, 2010 9:17 pm
Nancy Johnson, "Artist Floating - McCall, Idaho." Photo courtesy Brick House gallery.

If you haven’t stopped into Brick House yet, that’s understandable. Tucked away on a rather abandoned section of South Fawcett Street, neither downtown nor Hilltop, this residence-cum-gallery looks just like the other old houses on the block. But inside it’s different, and totally worth a stop.

Peter MacDonald, along with his wife Sandy, is the man behind the living-room gallery. A painter in Tacoma for many years, he in fact used to live in the Brick House before renovating it. Now he’s turned the front two rooms (former living and dining) into gallery space, renting the upstairs to artist Zachary Marvick. Marvick and his partner share out their homey kitchen space when the gallery’s open during third Thursday ArtWalk, with snacks on the central table, and there’s a comfy old sofa in the front room. What with the big windows and soaring ceilings, it makes for excellent art space with a cosy warmth.

Get there this weekend (you’ll have to call for an appointment outside ArtWalk) and you’ll catch the last of a retrospective of Nancy Johnson. A respected Northwest painter who showed regularly at Foster/White gallery until recently, and made it into the Painting and Sculpture 85 show at Tacoma Art Museum, was also MacDonald’s teacher, and this is, he says, her first retrospective.

The reason for Johnson’s success, at least in the 1980s-1990s, is obvious, and a delight to look at: Her gorgeous water paintings, big and bold, carve tanned muscle and shimmering liquidity out of thickly swirled daubs of paint. In “Artist Floating,” the water goes from a green foreground through turquoise to aqua, the light blended in mesmerizing white curls.

Nancy Johnson, "Sonatina #6". Photo courtesy Brick House gallery.

There’s not a whole lot of 1990s work at Brick House, just a couple of beach scenes that could be anybody’s. But the front room is occupied by Johnson’s 2001-2002 “Sonatina” series, and things have radically changed. The landscapes are abstract, and formally interesting; but the light has dimmed, the colors muddied into gray-greens and browny pinks, and the paint strokes are flat, dull. Except for one or two (like “Sonatina 6, above” it’s a landscape where the sun never quite comes out. (Sound familiar around here?) The joy has gone.

But whatever Johnson is doing with her painting, it’ll be interesting to see what MacDonald does with this tiny, friendly gallery.

Brick House is located at 1123 S. Fawcett St., Tacoma. Open 5-9 p.m. third Thursdays, noon-5 p.m. this Saturday only, or by appointment. 253-627-0426, www.thebrickhousegallery.com

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