Nelson's work feels like the blues -- sinuous curves and velvety tones -- while Turner's improvisational color and angular juxtapositions play out like jazz. Their common ancestor: Big Mama Earth.
In "Palouse," both artists are inspired by pattern, color, light and what they see in this enigmatic Eastern Washington region. "The Palouse is an old memory for me, having attended undergraduate school at WSU," said Turner. "Those beautiful contours and rolling hills have lived in my imagination ever since."
His "Valley Series" of oil paintings offers planes of color in balanced arrangements and unexpected vantage-points. "Fly Over" is a bird's-eye view, slightly skewed, with only a sliver of robin's egg blue sky in the distance. Some fields appear charred, richly blackened against turquoise, peach, gold and sap green. Is our perception colored by experience? Where one viewer might see bare patches, another might see the potential for the chocolaty loam cropland after field burning.
Turner would likely shy away from such geographic specificity. His work is about an idea, he says, the connection to the Palouse being "the genuine aesthetic beauty resulting from man's collaboration with nature through agriculture."
Nelson is more specific about place. She works from direct experience, photos and videotapes, a process in use since her first exhibit at Coeur d'Alene's Art Spirit Gallery in 2003. The images are not intended as photorealism, emphasizing instead the compositional elements and ways of conveying the "theatrical, figural, mystical and magical" features that Nelson sees.
"I am enamored with the deeply patterned plowed earth, rows of wheat, scenic roadways, and idyllic hills," she said via e-mail from Belgium, where her husband is on work assignment. In "Bird in the Mist," Nelson translates familiar geography into nuances: sensuous undulating fields, vast panoramas, stark beauty.
Nelson's "The Circle in the Center and Beyond" series was inspired by her commute to the Mead/Green Bluff area. Describing the traffic roundabout in the drawing, Nelson says "the circle symbol speaks traditionally to the repetitive nature of life." While she finds its existence ambiguous, she also finds in it a metaphor -- i.e., about choices, about how drivers have to interact, and about how humans make their mark on the land.
Besides capturing the essence of the landscape, both artists are process-oriented. Turner is influenced by colorists Richard Diebenkorn and Matisse. Describing his process as "spontaneous image-making and invention," Turner said he follows "where the paint takes me but with a destination in mind -- the valley. The journey is one of discovery and problem solving and the end result is always a surprise."
Nelson makes a parallel between farming and drawing landscapes. "Farming, like drawing requires planning, patience, thought, a sheer physical strength, and an ability to deal with sometimes unpredictable results," she said. She uses charcoal for its versatility -- from velvety black shadows to soft swaths of sky to prickly detailed wheat stalks -- likening her process of erasing charcoal lines from the paper to plowing rows.
The connection between the two artists' work was an intuitive one that came about when the Spokane Arts Commission's Karen Mobley shared Turner's work with the Exhibiting Committee, which then decided to pair them up.
The artists were equally pleased with the pairing. "Both our works are expressive, full of rhythms and have a sensuous quality," says Turner.
Nelson agrees that she and Turner share a passion about the landscape. "I see a connection with our interest in abstraction and shifting the view on the landscape," she adds, noting that talking with Turner has also given her "a wonderful new 'look' into landscape imagery through the eyes of another artist on the same subject."
From the sound of it, the exhibit promises to be a harmonious duet.
"Palouse: Katherine Nelson and William Turner" runs through June 27 at the Chase Gallery inside City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. Open Monday from 8 am-9 pm and Tuesday-Friday from 8 am-5 pm. Free. Call 625-6050.