by Carrie Scozzaro & r & "Something in between music and painting" -- that's how Marek Zaranski describes his recent photographs. It's an unexpected description for the vibrant 22-inch-by-30-inch Cibachrome abstractions, which at first blush are formal explorations of color, light, shape and even motion. Look deeper, however, and you find a narrative fragment of some vaguely familiar place or time, like a tune whose name you forget even as you hum it. "Gestural photographs" is how Whitworth College's Koehler Gallery Director Scott Kolbo describes the work of Zaranski, whose influences include not so much photographers, but painters: Kandinsky, Pollack, Miro and Cezanne.

"Daydream #13," for example, is dominated by a sphere, like a disco ball's reflected and refracted colors. The feeling is of a child's spinning wildly, then looking up, the image frozen in time then softened by reminiscence. Other works suggest the frenetic motion of the city, neon lights, an illuminated building glimpsed from a passing car at night. A tropical drift through bubbles and parrot fish. The whisper of candles in a darkened room.

At least to me. Your experience of the photographs will be different, thus Zaranski declined to include titles because he wants viewers to have an unencumbered visceral response. "I didn't want to lead the viewer," he says. "They're about emotions for me."

For Zaranski, who shot photos for The Inlander for several years, the emotional imperative of what he does in his artwork is related to why and how he does it. Although his commercial photography is well-known, both locally and nationally, "Daydreams" is Zaranski's first major exhibition in many years. Making a living commercially, he explained, "can drain your creativity." It wasn't until he began teaching, first at Spokane Art School and later at Whitworth and Gonzaga, that Zaranski felt the excitement and freedom of creating art return. "Teaching," he says, "keeps you sharp, connected. I need the interaction of human beings."

To his students, Zaranski tries to impart a sense of passion, not just about art and photography, but about life. "That's what makes us human," he says. "Our passion." In addition, Zaranski tries to balance technical proficiency with experimentation and experience. "The history of art and of mankind shows there's always change, something new, or something old that can be done differently."

Zaranski's desire for innovation is a driving factor in the exhibition's development process. "I wanted to be completely original," he says. Zaranski does not manipulate the work digitally or in the darkroom. Rather, the layered effect he achieves is a combination of the color-infused surface of Cibachrome prints, which require no internegative transfer, and his thoughtful approach to content and expression. And after much trial and error, says Zaranski, "one day I just woke up and had dreamt about it." He knew, he says, that he had finally captured the elusive quality he was seeking.

The mystery that permeates "Daydreams" seems evident in other avenues of Zaranski's life. Teaching at Spokane Art School, for example, originated as a cold-call. How he came to Spokane is similarly serendipitous. In 1987, Zaranski immigrated to Philadelphia from Poland; he was enervated by city life and enraptured with a community college photography program. He won a contest, which enabled him to go to Rochester Institute of Technology on scholarship. San Francisco beckoned the young photojournalist and designer but was not a promising place to start a family. An article touting Boise impressed Zaranski enough to drive there. "Some pictures," he grins, referring to the article, "do not tell the whole truth." Next stop, Missoula --beautiful but too small -- then east to Coeur d'Alene and finally Spokane. Just outside the city, he met a truck driver whose comments about low wages didn't discourage Zaranski. His first stop in Spokane was the picturesque Manito Park. "I could see my kids playing there," he said, envisioning his future family. And so he stayed.

Sounds like a modern fairly tale and, if so, it's a generally happy one. He is fortunate, he says, to have a good circle of friends and family and to have been embraced by a community supportive of his work, such as the Floyd and Shirley Daniel Photography Fund, which is co-sponsoring the exhibition.

Next up are the festivities and a short lecture he plans to give at the opening reception. Beyond that, Zaranski isn't saying. He's just pleased -- and he seems a bit surprised -- that what he so long envisioned has finally come to pass. To that I offer the Polish toast I remember from childhood, Na Zdrowe: To your health.

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 13
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