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Originally published Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 5:01 AM

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Royal Nebeker: paintings explore the pull of Norway

Astoria artist Royal Nebeker’s new paintings in ‘Recollections and Dreamscapes’ explore pivotal long-ago life moments that are still yielding meanings and mysteries decades later. At Lisa Harris Gallery through March 31, 2013.

Seattle Times arts writer

Exhibition review

Royal Nebeker: ‘Recollections and Dreamscapes’

10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays through March 31, Lisa Harris Gallery, 1922 Pike Place, Seattle; free (206-443-3315 or www.lisaharrisgallery.com)

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Artist Royal Nebeker was born in San Francisco in 1945, got his MFA at Brigham Young University in Utah in 1971, and now lives in Astoria, Ore.

But the place that dominates “Recollections and Dreamscapes,” his new show of paintings and monotypes at Lisa Harris Gallery, is Norway. That’s where he continued his art studies in 1972. To this day, apparently, his time there exerts a strong hold on his painterly imagination.

“Loss and Revelation (Til Østban) ,” for instance, alludes to a specific moment in Nebeker’s Norwegian past (“Østban” is the name of an old Oslo train station). But you don’t need to know the details to register the painting’s mystery and drama.

Its foreground figure, on the left, is both a dark weighty presence and a slippery ghost (you can see some landscape details through him). As he shies away from two male figures slouching against tree-trunks at the upper right, a film-noir scenario seems to be unfolding. The colors — purple, pink, black — have the artifice of a dream or stage-set. The loose, smeared brush strokes make it clear that photorealistic detail is the last thing Nebeker is after.

Some items in the show are still bolder in both their color schemes and their deliberate distortions of space and scale. “Loss and Revelation (The Blue Bike) ,” an oil on canvas, positions two shadowy figures in a limbo between a luminous sky and a reflective pond. “He and We” is a monotype featuring three black silhouettes against a lurid red backdrop.

Both pictures depict ambiguous transactions — maybe collusions, maybe confrontations. Nebeker’s deliberate avoidance of facial detail keeps the focus on the images’ charged atmospheres rather than the characters involved.

His artist’s statement cites words from C.S. Lewis: “When the most important things in our life happen, we quite often do not know at the moment, what is going on.”

“Recollections and Dreamscapes” suggests Nebeker has a keen sense that something was happening all those years ago. But the mysteries surrounding it, far from explaining themselves away, keep on deepening from painting to painting.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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