The storefronts on Central Avenue's 'gallery row' seem to change as quickly as the seasons. According to one of the veterans of the Kirkland gallery scene, however, there is an upside to the transformations over the last several years.
"Kirkland was established as an art destination many years ago, and it goes through peaks and valleys," says Patricia Rovzar, owner of Patricia Rovzar gallery.
"Sadly, we've recently lost a lot of really good galleries because of the downturn in the economy. But we've been lucky here, because we have also seen new galleries come to take their places."
Kirkland art explosion
The Kirkland art scene has exploded since 1992, when Rovzar opened her gallery on Central Avenue. "Foster White had just opened when we started, and Howard Mandeville and several others had been here for about a year. Many of the rest of the galleries at that time were smaller operations and frame shops," Rovzar says.
"Now we have a very wide range of art in Kirkland. Foster White opened up people's awareness to the potential for buying good artwork on the east side."
The basic premise of Patricia Rovzar Gallery, and ongoing mission, is to show representational works in all media. The focus is on bringing good art to the Northwest, and that includes representing artists from the Northwest and beyond.
"We've had tremendous success both in this Kirkland community and throughout the Northwest, but with the internet we've seen a huge increase in the gallery's presence nationally," says Rovzar.
Talented stable of artists
Despite the struggling economy, Rovzar has enjoyed 12 years of great success with her gallery. She credits her longevity to a talented stable of artists and a strong collector base.
"Fortunately for us, having been here for 12 years and being a fairly established gallery, we did not feel more than a blip in terms of the economic downturn over the past few years. I can thank both the collector base and the abilities of the stable of artists that the gallery represents."
That talented stable of artists includes Trudi Cedar West, Rovzar's featured artist in January. An up-and-coming new talent, Rovzar describes West as having a unique twist with her artwork in that she does a lot of what Rovzar calls "canvas to canvas work." West will often apply one canvas to another, or incorporate a series of canvases as a single image.
This multi-layering technique creates a three dimensional format to what is commonly a one dimensional media. "Both her material use and the composition play a duality in the build-up of the canvas and the perspective," says Rovzar. "For example, she uses gesso, a compound applied to pre-treat the painting surface, in a unique way, and it plays a major role in her work."
West treats her canvas or wood with a larger quantity of gesso than many artists do in order to create a texture in the painting. Then she paints on top of the texture created by the gesso. In West's case, gesso is used very heavily as a medium in and of itself.
West's subject matter typically explores identity through the use of common icons and objects, such a flowers, fruit and hands.
"She often employs a simplistic subject matter, but the heart and soul of her paintings is not simplistic at all. It's very intense," Rovzar explains.
Many of West's paintings use images of flowers, or rocks and leaves. But while you may be looking at a simple form like that, West will title her paintings in such a way that they indicate there is a deeper meaning behind it.
Anne Martin McCool
After West's show Rovzar will feature Anne Martin McCool, a popular artist from Anacortes. McCool's new show, "Promise: Paintings for a New Season," will be shown in conjunction with Karla Lieberman's "Tower Series" from March 14 to April 7.
The show includes a collection of McCool's new work, intended to reflect the artist's desire for renewal and new beginnings. McCool is well known in the community, having done shows throughout Washington, including Seattle, Bellingham and Port Townsend. In terms of subject matter and composition, McCool's pieces are highly varied, but they all carry influences from Japanese or Eastern culture.
She goes in and out of using soft, almost monochromatic colors to a bold palette. "It's both her strength and the bane of her artistry that she goes back and forth," says Rovzar. "You can get stuck sometimes.
But she really has captured a wide audience for her work and enjoys a large collector base, mostly in the Northwest. "I'm really proud of what she's achieved. She's a lifelong career artist. It shows in the complexity of her abilities and her work," Rovzar says.
Inspired by landscape
McCool traces her painting roots to the landscape, a theme prevalent throughout most of her work. She has gleaned inspiration from the natural landscape of the Pacific Northwest, most notably the varied and changing light.
Presented in an abstract format, McCool's compositions portray the landscape through her use of recognizable symbols and themes. "She often uses doorways and windows in her paintings as a symbol of hope and paths that move forward," says Rovzar. The earth and the seasons play an important role in her subject matter, as well.
Every month Rovzar focuses on a single artist, or the gallery launches a show, but neither precludes her from showing the rest of the gallery's artists, for whom she acts as both an agent and a dealer.
"We have a couple of photographers and some glass and ceramic sculpture, though at this time I am mostly showing paintings," says Rovzar. Paintings have been a focus of her gallery, but she doesn't want to limit herself to them. Instead, Rovzar is dedicated to changing her focus in the future.
Rovzar, who has a degree in art from San Diego State University, has not done any painting herself since she opened the gallery.
"I'm of the ilk that there needs to be a separation between the artist and the agent/dealer. It's very difficult for an artist representing their own work to faithfully represent the work of the artists in their gallery. It's such a conflict of interest. My expertise is really in marketing and being an art dealer, and not in being an artist. I learned early on where my talents lay. I am very artistic, but that doesn't mean I am an artist."
Still, Rovzar's longevity in Kirkland indicates that she has her finger on the pulse of the Northwest art scene.
Northwest art scene
"When it comes to artwork in general, the Northwest is a little more conservative than not," she says. "Although there is great success with contemporary artwork here, there are more and more collectors that want artwork that is more accessible."
Not everybody wants to be completely and overwhelmingly challenged with everything they are looking at, according to Rovzar. But at the same time, those who appreciate art in the Northwest don't want artwork that can be handed to them either, says Rovzar.
"They aren't looking for artwork where they can say, 'Oh, this is pretty,' and that's enough for them. I think a lot of the collectors in this area are looking for art that will challenge them."
Rovzar walks a very a very fine line at her gallery. Although her gallery is primarily composed of representational work, it's on the contemporary side. "There is an edginess to some of it. There are certain characteristics that I look for in the artists that make it not just mainstream or pedestrian," she says.