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Originally published Friday, January 24, 2014 at 6:15 AM

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Ed Kamuda, Dion Zwirner: Nature rules in Lisa Harris show

Bellingham artist Ed Kamuda and Bainbridge Island painter Dion Zwirner draw on nature for inspiration that they push toward simplicity, abstraction and fanciful color in their new shows at Lisa Harris Gallery, running through Feb. 2, 2014.

Seattle Times arts writer

Exhibition review

‘Ed Kamuda: Autumn Gleaning’ and ‘Dion Zwirner: From the Garden’s Edge’

10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays, through Sunday, Feb. 2, Lisa Harris Gallery, 1922 Pike Place, Seattle (206-443-3315 or

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If monochrome winter skies have you hungry for a dose of color, look no further than Bellingham artist Ed Kamuda’s painting, “Cabin at the Base of a Tree.”

“Cabin” — which is part of Kamuda’s “Autumn Gleaning” show at Lisa Harris Gallery — depicts the simplest of huts dwarfed by organic curves and paisleys of red, green, yellow and brown. It’s a dinky human construct overwhelmed by color-intense stylizations of tree-trunks, sunlight and sky.

Its vivid, animistic energy couldn’t be more seductive.

Kamuda brings a touch of Fauvism, along with a Paul Klee playfulness, to all his paintings. (His preferred medium: oil with wax varnish on board.) Some pieces lean more toward autumnal hues than the primary colors of “Cabin.” But almost all of them distill Skagit Valley and Chuckanut Mountain landscapes to their purest, liveliest essence.

“Skagit Autumn” is a stark meditation on crisscrossing branches that manages to be oddly ethereal thanks to the way its sticklike traceries seem to be afloat in the air. “Cabin at Bow Hill” offers sliding tumbles of shape and color — yellow, russet, green, blue — with the cabin of the title balanced at a tilt in the middle of them.

“Chuckanut Trees” is dominated by the swelling, sinuous trunks of madronas in various shades of red and brown rising from a yellow knoll. (Here and elsewhere, Kamuda’s color schemes have a Van Gogh or Gauguin flavor.) “Songs of the North” shows a simple gray cabin with a “thought balloon” rising from it, enclosing cabins and suns suggestive of warm indoor activities and memories ... a musical evening among them, perhaps.

In a few of Kamuda’s works, simple is merely simple. But in most of them, it’s surprising how much atmosphere and feeling he’s able to suggest with the most rudimentary of brush strokes. And “rudimentary” really only applies to Kamuda’s foreground trees, bluffs and buildings. Often his backdrops are complexly textured, lending a sort of crosshatch richness to the paintings’ under-layers.

Kamuda’s show is paired with “From the Garden’s Edge,” nine works by Bainbridge Island artist Dion Zwirner. Most are large-scale oils on canvas, including one huge painting, “Things Remembered,” which parlays nature-derived imagery — waterfalls, rock formations, woodland glades — into semi-abstraction. Looking at it is like viewing a series of landscape memories rolled into a single vision.

Other oil paintings declare their subject matter in their titles — “Thicket,” “Cascading Forest Grass” — though the imagery itself pushes all naturalistic detail to the farthest edge of the impressionist spectrum.

Two gorgeous mixed media on paper pieces are also part of the show: “Morning Sunrise” and “The Blue Sea.” Rather than precise renderings, they’re like suffusions of color extracted from sea and sunrise: luminous layers and washes that beguile the eye.

Different though they are in feel and texture, Zwirner and Kamuda both have a similar dynamic at play in their work, using nature as their springboard toward painterly shorthand and freedom.

Michael Upchurch:

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