Originally published Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 7:08 PM

Art review

'Synthetic' a colorful show at Winston Wächter

Unlikely combinations of style within the same painting mark Shane McAdams' "Synthetic Landscapes," the highlight of "Synthetic," a group show at Seattle's Winston Wächter Fine Art.

Seattle Times arts writer

exhibition review


10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays through Sept. 2, Winston Wächter Fine Art, 203 Dexter Ave. N., Seattle; free (206-652-5855 or


"Synthetic," the name of the new group show at Winston Wächter Fine Art, suggests either something artificial or some twining synthesis of disparate materials.

What it doesn't indicate is the conflict in painting styles — you might even call it a "war" — that goes on in the four "Synthetic Landscapes" of Shane McAdams, the most striking artist on display in the exhibit.

McAdams, a New Yorker originally from the American Southwest, could clearly get by as a landscape painter pure and simple. The figurative portions of his paintings have a glossy photorealistic detail to them as they portray a mountain, a lake or even Niagara Falls. The twist: These sights are set among — or squeezed between — eye-grabbing abstractions.

In "Synthetic Landscape 26 (Cyan Symmetry)," riverside greenery, reflective water surfaces and a backdrop of arid mountains float narrowly between vertical cyan stripes of an almost neon intensity. What we have here is two entirely different kinds of art battling it out on the same canvas, with the jagged borders so dense in color that they appear to be swollen or infected. The same is even more true of "Synthetic Landscape 27 (Magenta Symmetry)."

Something different goes on in "Synthetic Landscape 22 (Sturm and Durango)," in which a pointy mountain, whose flanks follow the laws of drapery as much as those of geology, is encroached upon by a lichen-spotted pattern. This highly irregular "frame" around the peak seems as though it might wipe it entirely from view. Niagara Falls is given the same treatment, with some trompe l'oeil ambiguities thrown in, in "Synthetic Landscape 16 (Niagara)."

The cheeky 3-D lenticular photographs of Seattle-born artist Margeaux Walter, who now lives in New York, chronicle disruptions of a different sort. Walter is a storyteller whose narratives unfold as you walk past them.

Her bathroom-set "iPhone Accident" is a cautionary tale in four stages, suggesting that chatting and wiping are a dangerous mix. "Vacay" portrays four swimsuit-clad women (all Walter, who serves as her own model) happy to yak on their cellphones in a Jacuzzi until a serious distraction comes along: a buff, shirtless dude with a margarita to offer. Humor dominates Walter's trick photography, but there's some sharp post-feminist satire here as well.

Photographic tricks of another kind mark the work of San Francisco artist Liz Hickok, who gives the phrase "jello shot" a whole new meaning. She literally photographs Jell-O: buildings, monuments and even whole city skylines made of the stuff, as in "View from Alcatraz," where San Francisco's Coit Tower and Transamerica Pyramid become wobbly visions on wobbly ground.

Hickok, on her website, declares she's after "something unexpected and ephemeral," and she's found it here with her photographic record of jewel-colored Jell-O cities that can't hold their shape for long ... perhaps in homage to Hickok's seismically shaky hometown.

The other three artists in "Synthetic" aren't quite as striking, although Seattle painter Elizabeth Gahan does do curious things with watercolor, oil and acrylic on canvas over panel. Her urban scenes have the character of architectural renderings set oddly afloat — viewed through airy bubbles and adorned with bright plastic, thick foliage.

Still, McAdams, Walter and Hickok are the biggest news here.

Michael Upchurch: