The stories they tell – abstract paintings at SJIMA

Submitted by the San Juan Islands Museum of Art.

When we think of abstract art, we tend to think of the unfettered and often chaotic paintings of iconic painters such as Jackson Pollack or Wassily Kandinsky. Since the arrival of abstract art in the early 20th century, this genre has captured the imagination and respect of artists and art lovers. Although this form is generally considered a vividly colored and unruly expression of the individual artist, it often represents more than colors, lines and shapes. This art almost always tells a story and inspires the involvement and imagination of those who look at it. The term Abstract Art is defined as art that does not attempt to represent an accurate representation of a visual reality, but rather uses shapes, colors, forms, and gestural marks to achieve its effect.

The current Artists Registry exhibit at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art features several abstract paintings that invite the viewer to step back, look longer, and explore the artist’s shared history.

Winnie Brumsickle, an artist from San Juan Island, exhibits her painting titled, We Can Breathe, a large acrylic painting, on natural linen. Her work juxtaposes shapes and colors in an attractive way, using shapes and lines as the artist’s expression unfolds. Brumsickle says: “Scent and abstraction are my bridges to others, with which I aim to induce a sense of freedom from time, from anxiety, from ambition – and from the ever-changing landscape of our ideas about humanity.

Waldron Island artist Pamela Mills followed the impulse of recycling an old landscape painting by covering it with a large portion in white, an experience that greatly influenced the painting she chose to exhibit, generation (3). Of his process, Mills says, “I start by brushing bands and paths of white into older or incomplete landscape work. This process of improvisation gradually reveals abstract shapes and symbols that stand out against the white background, while the old painting undergoes a dramatic metamorphosis. Generation (3) refers to the beginnings. Viewers will bring their own stories and ideas to the work, as a small inanimate painted tableau comes to life.

Many islanders know Gretchen Allison as the longtime chef and owner of Duck Soup Inn, San Juan Island’s iconic and popular restaurant. After selling the restaurant, in addition to teaching cooking classes, Gretchen embarked on what became a successful artistic career. His painting, Goodbye Kiss, which is part of the current Artists’ Registry exhibition, is a departure from his previous figurative paintings and is a stunning example of abstract art. Acrylic paint on linen canvas, her creation resonates with energy and evokes feelings of adventure and movement. Allison says, “As this work took shape, I saw shapes like planets, faces and animals appear and then change with the next coat of paint. The rust color of the paint resembled age and decay, the change from one substance to another and the processes of destruction and recomposition. So the title, Goodbye Kiss, reminds me to love what’s in the moment, to mourn for what’s lost, and to look forward to what’s next.

The artists exhibiting abstract paintings in the exhibition are Laura Bauer, Yvonne Buijs-Mancuso, Pamela Coffey, Melinda Dryer, Alison Engle, Alayne Goodheart, Lisa Lamoreaux, Marsha McAllister, Joe Miller, Dana Roberts and Rudi Ann Weissinger.

Whichever way you encounter abstract paintings, you’re sure to appreciate the many examples of this dynamic art form at the SJIMA Artist Registry Exhibition, on display until February 21, 2022.

Located in Friday Harbor at 540 Spring Street, admission to the museum is $10. SJIMA members and those 18 and under are admitted free. Museum hours are Friday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays are Pay as You Can Days. For more information, visit

The Artist Registry Show is brought to us by the Honeywell Charitable Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington State Arts Commission, San Juan Island Community Foundation, City of Friday Harbor, Anonymous, Printonyx, Browne’s Home Center and Harbor Rentals.

Photo added “Goodbye Kiss” by Gretchen Allison.

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