Into the Woods

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Hwy. 11, Exit 244

Wooded by Karen Klee-Atlin
At Shift Gallery through June 25

By Cynthia Hibbard

Karen Klee-Atlin’s show “Wooded” moves from a popular Ballard park to remote areas in Ontario, Canada, to express the allure,  mystery and lifecycle of trees.

Or, as she succinctly puts it: “Trees, trees, trees, trees, trees.  Standing. Burning. Flooded.  Loaded on a truck.”

Appropriately, her imagery is predominantly carved in wood. Her materials vary according to her needs—from serviceable but splintery artist’s grade birch, Home Depot’s cheap and challenging plywood for kitchen cabinets to the satiny and elegant Japanese plywood Shina.  Klee-Atlin carves it all and thoroughly enjoys the process.

Initially and still a painter, Klee-Atlin has found her métier in wood block printing.

“I find it very satisfying and I find printmaking on its own very satisfying,” she said.  “I like almost everything about the process.  The product is a gift.  I just love the physicality of it.  I like the smell of the wood.  I like the sound of the wood when I’m carving it.  I just really have an affinity for it.”

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And she has matched that affinity well and efficiently with her natural attraction to trees.  Every series  in her show is derived from only a few impromptu photographs snapped from her phone.

The first is her five-piece “Golden Gardens” series entitled “Black,” “Cream,” “Blue”, “Green” and “Rust.”

She walks her dog in Golden Gardens, which hangs over Puget Sound.  She noticed a particular stand of deciduous trees, partly because the shimmering light of the background beamed through their branches. “Every time I see it I kind of stop and I take a picture with my phone because it’s just lovely,” she said.

The resulting, multi-plate prints dense with exuberant color reflect that light back at the viewer.

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Selecting exploded segments from the same stand of trees, Klee-Atlin moved on to three more series.  In both a triptych, “Blue Forest,” and in “Hanging Forest” (Green, Red and Blue), Klee-Atlin mixed color with negative and positive spaces to create hanging pieces on Japanese paper that read like scrolls of Asian silk.

In a black and white “Golden Gardens” triptych she developed a striking, atmospheric background by altering her normal printing method of carefully inking positive spaces and printing on dry paper.  Because her Stonehenge sheets were too large to handle dry, she dampened them so that they picked up negative space textures.

The remainder of the show moves on to Temagami, Ontario, where Klee-Atlin and her husband keep a getaway lakeside cabin that’s accessible only by boat.  From a bonfire they started there one evening, Klee-Atlin snapped a series of pictures that she translated into what she calls the “visual joke” of the series “Campfire” (1,2,3 and 4).  They are at first deceptively similar and still-looking reductive woodprints but they collectively tell the story of crackling flames shooting back and forth.

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In two shellac plate monotypes, Klee Atlin captures the feel of a canoe trip across a fog-shrouded lake in which ghostly, drowned trees are revealed though the mist.

Finally, a in series of four acrylic paintings, “Hwy. 11, Exit 244” Klee-Atlin offers varied colored views of a logging truck rolling down a highway as a glimpse into her reductive woodcutting  process–as she often starts with a painting to map out color sequencing.

“This will eventually be a woodcut,” she said. “Printmaking frees me up.  With painting you have so many balls in the air. With wood you either cut or you don’t.  It’s one or zero.”