Best in Show: Painting Highlights from Seattle’s Affordable Art Fair

In Seattle, you may need something stronger than a Miami mojito to get through the shortest, darkest days of the year that surround our single, Affordable Art Fair, which inhabited the Seattle Center this past weekend. In a city where questions of whether enough people collect work by local artists to sustain the community and keep them from fleeing towards Los Angeles, Chicago and New York routinely float back into conversations, a fair that aims towards friendliness (pink knit graffiti shrouded the trees at the exhibition entrance) and transparency (all art had to be $10,000 or less, with the prices labeled) over exclusivity seems ripe with possibility.  Back for its second run in the city, and more robust in both scale and attendance, one highlight of last year remained consistent: despite its international roster, Seattle artists and galleries comprised the strongest moments of the fair’s fifty booths. Work that many of the area’s strongest painters created in the past year made appearances, creating a well-timed, “best of 2013” Seattle painting compilation, the highlights of which are after the jump. - Erin Langner, Seattle Contributor

Affordable Art Fair Seattle installation view. Image courtesy of the Affordable Art Fair.  Photo credit: Julia Bruk.

Modesty, at least in terms of scale, tends to characterize paintings at the Affordable Art Fair, which made happening upon Kimberly Trowbridge’s Tantrum so surprising.  The centerpiece of the artist’s immersive installation Story Tell Her at Blindfold Gallery in September this year, Tantrum is a memorably brazen force of aggressive figures and composition. Grandly gesturing towards the drama characteristic of European painting’s historical pinnacles, the sense of inherent contradiction flashes beneath this work’s forwardness, in the briefest of warm hues and the denied irrationality implicit in the emotional outbreak of any tantrum.

Kimberly Trowbridge | Tantrum, oil on Canvas, 64 x 60", 2013. Image courtesy of the artist and Blindfold Gallery.

Affordable Art Fair Seattle installation view. Image courtesy of the Affordable Art Fair.  Photo credit: Julia Bruk.

Seattle tended to erupt in paintings at various moments throughout 2013. Two shows that fell within the peak moments but stand out most in hindsight were those by Eric Elliott and Patrick Driscoll, both at James Harris Gallery. Seeing works from each artist, across from one another at the fair emphasized a sense of the inverse behaviors between the two. Elliott’s meditative, traditionally rooted still life, Saturday: Before Dusk, is interrupted by the surreal inclusion of a miniature train and cookie monster, adding a pleasantly unexpected air of humor, while black and white washes flank the Warhol screen print-like contrasts of Driscoll’s unstretched canvas-within-a-canvas, all merging together into a mélange of modern painting traditions being mostly disdained but also slightly revered.

Patrick Driscoll | Untitled, 2012, from the series Pictures, Oil on canvas, staples. 47 x 34", 2012. James Harris Gallery.

Eric Elliott | Saturday: Before Dusk, oil on canvas, 36 x 30", 2013. Image courtesy of the artist.

Not everything was so serious; some painters took us places with a lighter touch. Jennifer Beedon Snow’s swimming pools, which were shown at Linda Hodges Gallery earlier this year, infused a strong sense of suburban melancholia into their deeply saturated, blue subjects; the seduction of their scenes’ quietness has stayed with me ever since. While Sue Danielson’s Pool maintains a distance that makes it less penetrating than Beedon Snow’s, the intrigue of the fleeting images suppressed by Danielson’s characteristically dense textures gives promise for her show that opens at Blindfold Gallery this week.

Jennifer Beedon Snow | Poolside Chairs. 2013. Oil on board.  Linda Hodges Gallery.

Sue Danielson | Pool, 18 x 24", Mixed-media, 2013. Blindfold Gallery.

For all the opportunities the Affordable Art Fair provided to revisit the paintings 2013 brought to light, somehow one of its most memorable works took the form of what one would most expect to find at a fair specifically aimed at affordability—smaller, lesser known objects that ordinarily wouldn’t even come out for a show.  Jeffry Mitchell’s soft and simple watercolor Puppy with Ball was precisely this object. Known best for his whimsically ornate, humorous, yet emotionally wrought ceramics, the artist has also worked in prints throughout much of his career. The softness of this sad dog is simple and elegant, squinting with its homemade, uneven eyes, and wearing its heart on its sleeve with the bare genuineness that runs consistently across the artist’s best work, making it the perfect, small embodiment of one of Seattle’s greats.   Like an actual puppy, it is not hard to love or understand this one—or maybe even to get carried away and take it home with you, if all goes according to plan.


Jeffry Mitchell | Puppy with Ball, watercolor, 2004. James Harris Gallery.

Affordable Art Fair Seattle installation view. Image courtesy of the Affordable Art Fair.  Photo credit: Julia Bruk.


The Affordable Art Fair took place at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall from November 7-10, 2013.

Erin Langner is a writer and museum professional based in Seattle, WA.



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