It’s been hard keeping a dedicated private art gallery going in Tacoma over the last few years. Traditional galleries like Traver and Sandpiper have closed and hipster venues like Fulcrum have become sporadic, leaving the scene largely comprised of temporary Spaceworks sites, corporate-gallery-cum-frame shops and artist cooperatives, with a few businesses squeezing in art on the side.
Enter B2 Fine Art Gallery, which opened five years ago and has managed to rotate a stable of around 45 national and international artists in six or seven regular shows per year while working to integrate Tacoma’s gallery scene. It’s partly the high-quality art that has helped B2 thrive — like this month’s anniversary show of three regional abstract artists, “Driven to Abstraction.” But it helps to have a few other things on your side, said co-owner Gary Boone.
“This space is great for viewing art,” Boone said, who along with his wife Deborah overhauled the former condominium display office five years ago. At 4,200 square feet, with home-like rooms and hallways, the gallery isn’t a conventional shape, which Boone said gives viewers more “personal time” with the art. It also has its disadvantages, however, like two walls of windows — not ideal for hanging the two-dimensional work B2 usually displays.
But the part of B2 you can’t see — seven adjoining rooms which artists lease for studios — is the part that brings in extra money to support the gallery, along with its framing service.
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And B2’s other secret for a successful Tacoma gallery is that most of its patrons don’t actually come from Tacoma.
“(Our clients) are largely middle-aged homeowners that have a good eye for art, with some corporate (buyers),” Boone said. “They live in Gig Harbor, Olympia, Puyallup, Seattle, the Eastside and (national cities). We’d like to see more collectors and viewers from Tacoma. We seem to attract them from elsewhere. Part of the challenge is getting Tacoma to interact with the art scene.”
Last weekend’s anniversary celebrations, however, were busy enough, Boone said, and the three artists in the show offer a wide range of styles and moods within the abstract genre.
Olympia artist Becky Knold explores a very Northwest merging of land, water and sky with a quiet, meditative style and a gray-green-yellow palette. “Confluence” is a beautiful aerial view of converging water flows in a spectrum of gray-blue, while her landscape triptych (confusingly hung separately, with two paintings squashed into a corner and the third paired with another work on the opposite wall) layers buttery prairie with gray-green water and sky. “Yellow Chasm” gets a more vertical angle, peering down into a cleft from a dizzying height and using wide brush texture for direction and depth; a similar brush stroke splashes light onto a deep black in “Night.” Other works play with shimmering metallic paint and vertical drips, or the dialogue between cream and indigo and maroon, everything hushed and calm.
Seattle’s Elmore Williams Jr. takes a semi-Cubist approach which feels a little studied and simplistic; but in the back of the gallery are some more complex portraits whose thick impasto and smudgy color boundaries go deeper into their subjects.
Tacoma artist Vic Wade, meanwhile, uses a variety of textures and palettes but the same clean geometric line and fluid color fields to explore both human and cosmic subjects. “Your Average Saturn Saturday” puts swirls of ice cream orange, blue and pink over a lime-apple sky, with just a hint of a sun and concentric yellow rings that wobble in an orbit all their own. “Origins of the Universe” is less humorous and more introspective: a blurry planet with a red eye hovering over a night-blue space textured with thick drips and shadow squares. “The Nigerian Fisherman,” however, gets more sophisticated with a rich pumpkin and cream palette applied thickly in a paint landscape that creates the depth of man and water in its brush swathes.
IF YOU GO
What: “Driven to Abstraction” (Becky Knold, Vic Wade, Elmore Williams Jr.).
Where: B2 Fine Art Gallery, 711 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma.
When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. third Thursdays through Aug. 15.
Information: 253-238-5065, b2finearts.com.