WHO: Puget Sound Sumi Artists
WHAT: 25th Anniversary (three exhibitions + four events)
WHEN/WHERE: Sept. 10-Oct. 21 – exhibit at the Handforth Gallery, Tacoma Public Library, 1102 South Tacoma Ave. Reception Sept. 10, 1-3p.m.
Sept. 16-Dec. 30 – exhibit at the Reference Library, University of Washington-Tacoma, 1900 South Commerce/South 19th and South Pacific Ave., Tacoma. Library hours: Daily 9a.m.-5p.m. Reception Sept. 29, 4:30-5:30p.m.
Oct. 8-Nov. 8 – exhibit at Mavi Contemporary Gallery, 502 Sixth Ave., Tacoma. Contact: email@example.com. Reception Oct. 20, 5-8p.m.
Oct. 21 – activities day at the Handforth Gallery, Tacoma Public Library, 1102 South Tacoma Ave. Demos and activities, 2-4p.m.
TRANSPORTATION: For Third Thursday only, Sept. 15, gallery goers can catch the Art Bus at the Tacoma Art Museum, for $10. Come early, bus leaves at 6p.m. sharp.
This fall, a trio of exhibitions will honor the Puget Sound Sumi Artists’ (PSSA) 25th anniversary. The first tribute opening Sept. 10 is a retrospective of over 70 paintings by 42 artists at the Handforth Gallery in the Tacoma Public Library. Exhibitions at the University of Washington-Tacoma (UWT) Reference Library and Mavi Contemporary Gallery will follow.
PSSA was founded in 1986 by Fumiko Kimura, Mary Bottomley and Ann Inouye, three local artists who had studied art in Japan. The women had diverse focuses in the beginning: Kimura was a sumi-e (wash and ink) painter, Inouye’s concentration was in ikebana (flower arranging) and Bottomley’s focus was shodo (calligraphy). They opened up all three arts to interested students in the Puget Sound area. They were virtually the only organization making such cultural offerings available in the region.
Today, PSSA membership stretches across Western Washington. As some of the earliest members have passed away, a new generation of artists has signed on, in some cases edging the form in new directions. The quarter-century of work in these exhibitions shows the evolution of traditional brush painting from classical to more experimental techniques, the latter in the work of artists such as Bill Colby, who combines sumi with other media. “I studied calligraphy with Mary Bottomley with the goal of simplicity in my many printmaking processes and techniques,” says the revered printmaker. “It has worked some, but I still like to fuss!”
Kimura says that it takes hundreds of hours of repetitive practice to attain the effortless flow of ink to paper that sumi is known for. Artist and PSSA President Selinda Sheridan explains, “There is a tension in how to make quality paintings as opposed to [the idea of] spontaneous zen. Quality of line depends on quite a bit of training.” In other words, it takes a firm grounding in technique in order to become spontaneous. Local artists have been fortunate to acquire learning through master sumi painters via PSSA, she says: “Old wise ones all in their 80s.”
When Kimura and Bottomley studied with a Zen master in Japan, he taught them silently, by example, hour upon hour: “Never verbally, no explanation,” she says. What is captured in the line of the ink-loaded brush is fluency, a quality that is “not simplistic, but simplicity [itself].” One change in sumi that has occurred over 25 years is in subject matter; today, if a student is making “a Chinese painting it’s going to be local; if it’s a mountain, it’s going to be Mt. Rainier,” she laughs.
In addition to the Sept. 10 opening reception at the Handforth Gallery, PSSA will have a day of demonstrations and activities at the library on Oct. 9, 2-4p.m. Refreshments and entertainment – including ukulele and koto music – will be featured.