Cole turns to contemporary | Art & Appetite

By James Spangler | Nov 13, 2017
Courtesy of: Mariam Antemie Cole Gallery’s contemporary team, from left: Tracy Felix, Cheryl Waale, Scott Burnett, Denise Cole, C A Pierce, Joe Mac Kechnie, Sue Robertson, Ellen Busteed, David Owen Hastings and Jonlee Nunn.

If you were one of 100-plus art lovers who wandered into Cole Gallery Nov. 4, you saw something unusual. In its 11 years, Cole has been primarily associated with more traditional, realistic and impressionistic art.

But now, and for the next month or so, nine local and regional contemporary artists are featured at Cole.

Over 70 new pieces of contemporary art from purely abstract, to figurative and vaguely representative line the walls. The exhibition is timed to coincide with the inauguration of a new online contemporary gallery – ColeContemporary (

It’s a bold move for gallery owner Denise Cole.

“People think I don’t like contemporary art, but I do! I love it! Years ago, when I met (local artist) Tracy Felix, she introduced me to contemporary art, particularly with the classes she taught here. Then, 2016, when I attended the Seattle Exhibition of Contemporary Art. I was introduced to the work of Brian Rutledge, and I was blown away. I decided right then I wanted to do a contemporary show.“

Cole drew up a wish list of artists that she wanted to show, tendered invitations and set about convincing them to produce new work. A burst of productivity by the artists was followed by clearing the gallery and setting up the new show.

“The biggest challenge we had was the challenge that we always have when we hang a show – continuity,” longtime associate Monette King said. “Take Joe Mac Kechnie and Cheryl Waale’s pieces for instance: Despite their quite different styles, we found a way to hang them relatively seamlessly.“

In the room that contains the work of Felix and Sue Robertson, the seam is truly nonexistent.

In a coincidence straight out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, unbeknownst to each other, the two artists each produced a painting that is virtually indistinguishable from the other.

It’s as if the same muse was sneaking back and forth from one studio to the other.

Robertson is a figurative and nonobjective abstract painter whose work is – ordinarily – easily identifiable to local art fans. She experienced a 10-month creative dearth which can be traced back to events of last November.

But fortunately for us, she’s painting again, producing some exquisitely crafted, dazzling new work. An overarching theme of several of her pieces is transformation. Objects of focus in these pieces are reminiscent of a chrysalis about to explode with life.

David Owen Hastings was one of the first artist Cole and Felix thought of when Cole began putting a contemporary show together.

As I look at his work I am particularly impressed with the composition and three-dimensionality of “Ido Suru (Migrate).” A meticulous craftsman, working primarily with monotype prints, some of Hastings pieces have a dozen layers. I asked Hastings to describe his process.

“For me, it’s very organic,” he said. “I have a strong sense of the color concept I want, and I often start with a rudimentary thumbnail, but my pieces rarely turn out as I had originally planned.”

Ellen Busteed also credits Felix for contributing to her passion for abstract painting. Her process begins at a purely emotional level. The canvas becomes a reflection of what she is feeling. Busteed then steps back and evaluates. “I step back and take an objective look at the composition – that’s when I get cerebral about it.”

Jonlee Nunn’s “Welcome to the Neighborhood” is an expression of alienation. Windows without doors suggest to the viewer that they may look into the brightly lit, idyllic home, but never enter there.

Scott Burnett‘s pieces are a remarkable synthesis of geometric and organic constructs imbued with fabulous color. You may remember that Burnett managed ArtSpot in Edmonds for a couple of years before returning to ministry and focusing on painting. He was enjoying the opening spectacle.

“Art-speak” is an artform in itself, and when I asked for a comment, Burnett responded with a twinkle in his eye “Denise Cole brings the same intentionality to this contemporary show that she’s always brought to her earlier depictive exhibits,“ he said.

Joking aside, this is a gamble for Cole. Will collectors of more traditional descriptive art respond to a contemporary art show?

If early results are any indication, the answer is a resounding yes. By the end of the evening Saturday, Cole had customers for five works, all of whom had purchased from Cole in the past. In fact, if things go well, look for a separate Cole Contemporary Gallery to open in downtown Edmonds.


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