When she fell in love with painting outdoors, Kathy Gore-Fuss found herself part of a new community — a community of trees.
“Trees are living creatures,” said the Olympia artist, whose paintings and drawings are on view at Salon Refu through Oct. 30. She’ll speak about her work at 4 p.m. Saturday. “The forest is not a static environment. It’s alive and ever-changing.
“I’m painting forest energy,” she said. “It’s amazing how much activity transpires in the course of my standing in the forest for six hours. There’s a seedling growing next to a gigantic cedar. There’s a stump that’s decomposing. A breath of wind comes through, and the leaves start moving, and leaves are falling to the ground.”
Her show, “We Call This Home,” includes paintings and drawings of trees growing in Olympia’s parks, trees being loaded onto ships at the Port of Olympia and even the ghosts of trees at a clear-cut site near Shelton.
“I was witnessing their journey from the interior of my forest to the water’s edge, where the logs embark on the next leg of their journey,” she wrote in an artist’s statement.
Her intense study and observation of trees began seven years ago, when she took a workshop on plein air painting. She’d previously painted what she refers to as “dreamscapes.”
I was witnessing their journey from the interior of my forest to the water’s edge, where the logs embark on the next leg of their journey.
Artist Kathy Gore-Fuss
Spending time in the woods was nothing new for Gore-Fuss, yet like many people, she hadn’t seen the full picture of Priest Point and other parks till she began to work in them on a daily basis.
“Many people think of our parks as preserved forest,” she said. “When I worked there, I saw a lot of old-growth stumps. I learned that most of our city parks had been logged once, if not twice, prior to the city of Olympia designating them as parks.
“There’s a big disconnect for many of us.”
The first year she worked outdoors, Gore-Fuss stopped when the winter rains came.
“I got intimidated,” she said. “The following year, I realized that if I wanted to keep painting, I had to figure out how to work around the weather. I started painting outdoors full time.”
“She was heroic,” said Susan Christian, owner of Salon Refu. “She would go every single day no matter what the weather.”
Seeing the cut-down trees that roll through downtown on log trucks, Gore-Fuss began to think about where the trees were going.
She asked officials at the Port of Olympia if she could work as an artist in residence there.
“The longshore (workers) were really supportive of what she was doing,” said Kim Kawada-Schauer, the port’s terminal services coordinator. “Loading the logs is one of our main staple operations. They were really interested and excited about the work being memorialized in this way.”
“They’ve accepted me into their family,” Gore-Fuss said. “They’re really curious about what I’m doing.”
In the course of her work, she’s also made connections with captains and crews, many from Japan, China and Korea.
I’m letting how I see things help me figure out the totality of my world rather than the separation. I’m looking for connection.
She sees continuity in her work in the forest, at the port and even at the clear-cut site she visited.
“There’s an element of beauty in all three of those environments,” she said, pointing out the visual similarity between bare branches in winter and the cranes and cables at the port.
“I’m letting how I see things help me figure out the totality of my world rather than the separation,” she said. “I’m looking for connection.”
She’s also looking at the bigger questions. Trees are living creatures. They’re also a valuable natural resource that has created livelihoods for generations of families. How do we find a balance?”
“There are different ways each one of these locations affects me,” she said. “In a forest, I feel nurtured. At the port, I feel scared and exhilarated. At the clear-cut, I feel sad.
“But the fact remains that my house is built out of wood. The bulk of the houses in our community have been constructed with wood. One question I’m looking at is how much do we need?”
In search of answers, she wants to follow the trees around the world.
“I hope the next phase of my research and painting will take me to one of the larger mills in Japan,” she said. “Where do the trees go next, and what are they becoming?”
We Call This Home
What: Kathy Gore-Fuss’ paintings and drawings depict the journeys of Olympia’s trees from the forest to what she calls “the industrial forest” as they leave the Port of Olympia en route to foreign shores.
When: Artist talk from 4-5 p.m. Saturday. Exhibit on view through Oct. 30. The gallery is open from 2-6 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays and by appointment.
Where: Salon Refu, 114 Capitol Way N., Olympia.