Telluride Inside… and Out: An afternoon date in downtown Seattle

Telluride Inside… and Out: An afternoon date in downtown Seattle

Z. Z. Wei Painter Z.Z. Wei sees his little corner of the Big Blue Marble like nobody else sees it. And once you see it, ahem, his "way," you can't help but view the Northwestern landscapes of the Puget Sound or the Palouse of Eastern, Washington without seeing his work in those vistas. Just ask Clint Viebrock, who was born in Eastern Washington. That's why every Fall without fail Telluride Inside… and Out makes a pilgrimage to Patricia Rovzar's gallery at 1225 Second Avenue in downtown Seattle to check out her annual blockbuster show of the artist's work. It's Clint's way of going home again –  with the added perk of not having to pay for gas for the three-hour trip across the mountains.

On this perfect fall afternoon, Seattle, washed cleaned from the constant wet, sparkled under a bright yellow sun, which baked Wei's muscular forms and energized his undulating lines. The images were mostly all new, but they felt old and familiar and that was a very good thing: fields of wheat, lonely barns or silos, and bridges, a stone wall, the long shadows of late afternoon. Wei's subject matter hardly ever changes, but his perspective apparently has. According to Rovzar, and others familiar with his work,  (Wei was of the first artists in the gallery's stable when it opened in 1992) over the years, as the emigrant from Beijing grew more comfortable in his adopted country his geometry softened and vistas opened up. Then there is the little car, Wei's surrogate, which we see meandering down otherwise unpopulated roads that seem to be going nowhere. Rovzar likes to think the metaphor is all about heading home. That's another thing about Wei: his work feels like home no matter where you are from, or rather an idealized version of same, a refuge and place of beauty where order and calm prevails. Palliatives in these troubled times. No wonder Wei's shows sell out.

At first glance, Z.Z. Wei appears to be influenced by Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton. And yes, like Benton, the artist depicts rural, quotidian subject matter. And yes, Wei's brushwork, like Benton's  has a nervous intensity (In fact, Benton's undulations tightened and spread out to become his student,Jackson Pollack's, all-over skeins of paint.) But I venture to guess, Wei's soulmate is really Edward Hopper. The two artists may play on different stages, one urban, one rural, but both men are splendid painters of life's dramas, isolation and moments frozen in time.

Wei's show runs through October 3.

Lunch, at son-in-law Michael Nesteroff's recommendation, was a few blocks away from Rovzar, 1433 4th Avenue at Pike Street. RN74 is an urban wine bar and eatery designed by the concept firm, AvroKO on the bones of an old drugstore. The restaurant  features an approachable, creative, seasonable menu of taste treats and a regional and international wine list that showcases the great wineries and winemakers of Washington and Oregon. The meal, which Clint and I shared, included oysters (from a small cove in south Puget Sound) as sweet as the day, a tomato soup fondue seasoned just right so as not to compete with the freshness and delicate home-made agnolloti served with kale, ricotta, shitake mushrooms and shaved parmesan. We washed it all down with a few glasses of a crisp St Michelle Riesling. Despite a contemporary look, RN74 is comfortable and conducive to lingering conversations. The service is ingratiating without being cloying.

The art. The lunch. As good as it gets.

(photo courtesy of Z. Z. Wei)

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