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Originally published December 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 14, 2007 at 12:25 AM

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Visual arts

Taking the season to the outer limits

It's a crazy time of year no matter how you slice it, whichever holidays you choose to celebrate and whatever beliefs you may (or may not...

Seattle Times art critic

Exhibition reviews

"Xmas on Mars" and "New Work," prints by David C. Kane and recent paintings by T. Michael Gardiner, through Dec. 29, Gallery 110, 110 S. Washington St., Seattle (206-624-9336 or www.gallery110.com).

"Personal Narratives," paintings by David C. Kane, Kate Samsworth, T. Michael Gardiner, Lisa Sweet, Rich Lehl, David Stein and Milo Duke, through Feb. 2, Davidson Contemporary, 310 S. Washington St., Seattle (206-624-7684 orwww.davidsoncontemporary.net).

It's a crazy time of year no matter how you slice it, whichever holidays you choose to celebrate and whatever beliefs you may (or may not) hold. That's why I recommend some new shows that, like the season, go a little over the edge: "Xmas on Mars" and "New Work" at Gallery 110 and "Personal Narratives" at Davidson Contemporary. And should it surprise us that they spotlight the work of two of this city's most adorably eccentric artists?

That would be T. Michael Gardiner and David C. Kane. Kane, of course, is fresh from his triumphant retrospective at the Frye and ready to do business. Gardiner is a bit more enigmatic, but old-timers of the Seattle art scene and devotees of The New Yorker magazine (where he has contributed illustrations over the years) are probably already fans.

I like both artists for the same reasons: They each drop us into scenes where something strange but deeply intriguing is going on, making it easy to get sucked into the content side of the paintings. And they both make dynamic compositions using mouthwatering colors, so the beauty factor is usually irresistible, too.

My first stop was "Xmas on Mars" at Gallery 110, Kane's year-end stab at shameless commercialism. Here's the deal: He is offering made-to-order color prints from his series "Holidays in Space," "Instances of Spanish Somnambulism" "Garden of Cyrus" and "Phenomena," with — as his advertising points out, "various sizes and models to choose from" — all signed by the artist himself. Priced to sell at $200, these make a snazzy gift for those on your list inclined toward UFOs and the otherwise unearthly. (I count myself among them — at least when it comes to art.)

With not enough time left on my parking meter, I got hung up on the particulars of so many of Kane's little pictures (arranged and numbered on big poster-sized displays) that I had to drag myself away prematurely to peruse Gardiner's sweetly subversive little acrylic-on-paper paintings in the next room.

Here's a secret: Even though the Gardiner pictures you'll see over at Davidson Contemporary are bigger and more "important," these recent paintings in his "early" style are like the ones that I first fell for and still like the best — with defined scenarios, saturated colors and surreal overtones. The ones at Davidson have a more folk art feel, kind of jumbled up all-over compositions that are a step or two further down the road to abstraction. I'm fond of these, as well, but you know how it is: a matter of taste.

Davidson Contemporary owner Sam Davidson has taken over selecting the shows again (since former gallery manager Mike Sweney left for a job at the Washington State Arts Commission last summer), and he happily categorized the surreal imagery in "Personal Narratives" as crazy stuff.

Here you will find Kane's large-scale original paintings, and they are beauties. My absolute favorite is the ingeniously composed "Strange Cargo," a looming hull of a ship settled into a sea of tight little black waves like squid-ink tinted meringue (please credit me if that becomes a new food fad). What thrills me about this picture is the way the sky looks like a runny version of that choppy surf, moonlight wafting through black; and how the pinkish hull of the ship splits abruptly into red and looks like some kind of featureless alien creature.

Then there's the way the shadow of the ship hides a couple shady little humans, up to some kind of no-good on the dock, and how insignificant they are in the grand scheme of the composition. Besides, the whole hulking image reminds me of standing next to Richard Serra's "Wake."

There are many more fun-to-look-at paintings in the show, including Rich Lehl's floating sushi picture called "Insurgence" and the serious camp of Lisa Sweet's Catholic reveries, but I will leave the thrill of discovery to you.

Sheila Farr: sfarr@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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