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Exhibit review: ‘The Artist Within: A Different View of Dementia’ – The Daily of the University of Washington: Arts

Here is a great new article about The Artist Within in the UW Daily. Totally got it!


Exhibit review: ‘The Artist Within: A Different View of Dementia’ – The Daily of the University of Washington: Arts


Exhibit review: ‘The Artist Within: A Different View of Dementia’

Posted: Sunday, January 31, 2016 8:41 pm | Updated: 9:56 am, Tue Feb 2, 2016.

The exhibited art at “The Artist Within: A Different View of Dementia” isn’t on display to make a profit or to receive nods from art critics. It’s there to prove a point.

Curator Marilyn Raichle was raised with Alzheimer’s as a looming presence in her life, hiding dormant and eventually surfacing in both of her parents. She was taught to believe the arrival of dementia was a death sentence, and a miserable one. She was taught to believe it was a disease of sadness, loss, and pain.

She bought that story until her mother started to paint at a creative outreach class at Elderwise, an adult day center. There, Raichle began to see her mother’s illness in a new light. Her mom — who had never once picked up a paintbrush — was producing abstract watercolors, full of light and mystery. Her mother wasn’t suffering from Alzheimer’s, she was merely living with it. It was through her mother’s creative expression that Raichle began to see the difference in the two.

“The Artist Within” hopes to tell a different story of Alzheimer’s: one of happiness and living, not suffering. The 51 paintings by 43 artists, aging from 60 to 101, are playful and beautiful. Some are more abstract, like the works created at the Frye Art Museum Bridges program at Buchanan Place, another arts-engagement program. Other notable works include Keith Kelly’s geometric watercolor “Untitled,” and Shirley Coulson’s metallic paint blots “Out for All.” Others, like Lenny Larsen’s watercolor “Memories of a Boy,” are literal and show the artist’s finesse with a paintbrush and color. Works like these are in the minority, though, as most artists have no artistic background.

This lack of experience acts more as an advantage for the exhibit. It’s the abstract works that are particularly evocative and mysterious. Where there’s ambiguity in form, there’s mystery in what the artist was seeing or experiencing at the time. That ambiguity is frustrating, but also interesting.

The highlight of the exhibit is the work created at Elderwise, where individuals were given models to paint. No artist’s iteration is quite like the other: When given a model of a plastic fish against a blue curtain, Jane Eggers drew a series of alternating blunt blue and red lines, while another artist rendered a rich composition of blues.

Least common — and most perplexing — are the self-portraits. Terrie Natsuhara captured herself in light and ethereal watercolors, smiling with closed eyes. Diane Lamb Wanucha depicted herself in vibrant and thick coats of red and yellow acrylic. Infrequent but deeply fascinating, these self-portraits capture the crux of the exhibit.

For the past year, Raichle has been collecting submissions from senior programs and individual artists. Her work culminated Jan. 7, when the exhibit was unveiled in the Seattle City Hall Lobby galleries to over 200 people. Aside from the exhibit, City Hall has hosted weekly events that include tours given by neuroscientists, discussions from individuals living with dementia, and documentary screenings about music and Alzheimer’s.

The exhibit is on display at Seattle City Hall from now until Feb. 26. Raichle hopes the exhibit will foster dialogue about memory loss and allow visitors to rethink their perception of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The exhibit is dedicated to her mother.

 Reach writer Laura Mishkin at arts@dailyuw.comTwitter: @lauramishkin