It was Erik himself who first introduced me to the idea that the development of working Northwest industrial communities – woodsmen, fishermen and others going about the business of creating a life for themselves in the Pacific Northwest – could be seen as living examples of the mythic behavior of Raven himself – the singular and single-minded Raven known as a trickster in the most ancient and universal of native myths from the Northwest.


That Raven, THE RAVEN, assumes his place and does as he pleases, when and where he pleases. In so doing this mythical being behaves as the natural entity he is. He develops and evolves as a creative being because, in a world of less potent beings, he CAN. Criticism is useless, futile; it means nothing, is toothless. As the popular saying goes, he is what he is…and Raven is sovereign.


Thus the people, the tough human communities of men and women who have forged the modern world – here in the Northwest as elsewhere – have done likewise. Like Raven and all the creatures of nature, they have made their rookeries, industries, beds and working fields of survival unopposed in the obvious places. The Raven was as important to his Scandinavian forbearers as it is to Native American myth. Sandgren’s work interprets Grays Harbor as one such intersection of the historic and the mythic.

As artist and teacher, Erik Sandgren, (in the third generation of artisans and second generation of distinguished artists), records and accepts all of this. He wisely accepts and thoughtfully records, it is important to say. His works address the hard facts of a landscape of labor. They are not a critical complaint of environmental degradation. Rather they are of a species one might rightly call “looking more deeply”. He observes the universe as it is while knowing and showing how much more it is than it may appear to be.

“And for all of this, nature is never spent, there lives the dearest freshness deep down things…” This is how the much admired English poet, Gerard Manly Hopkins, put it and it is this deeper truth that Sandgren manifests in paint on canvas. His paintings assert that Hopkins’ “dearest freshness deep down things” are in reality still there – and remain before us most of the time.


Observe, as Sandgren does, the gill-netters out on a chilly river in the misty early morning of a summer day: the quiet motoring, the covering rain gear, the solemn pleasure of expectation. River and estuary still hold the poet’s “freshness” to be harvested.

But Sandgren also shows us something else in yet another work which speaks, myth like, of the nature that is “never spent”. His gigantic salmon, grandfather to a primal form of life, rises unseen beneath a fragile skiff as if gently nursing or nudging a fisherman along with its own calm and conscious knowing. The Millennial Fish is of the sustaining mystery which ever and softly remains hidden.


However, that work, like a pause of profound and thoughtful serenity is almost singularly unlike the other paintings in this show. More typical is the rollicking inner energy that sports and spirals in an all-but-musical allegro that rises in a boil of salmon up and up into a river fishermen’s boat. The whole scene in The Work of Fishermen is brilliantly alive with painterly vibration, as if the artist knows something more than what we see in front us: inner energy conveyed by a striking display of expressive paint handled with surety.


Like the inner aspect of any scene anywhere, if we could see the whole truth as Sandgren sees it, we would discover movement and structure as amazing as the skein of live musculature beneath the movements of an athlete. In this way Sandgren’s world is almost all movement: alive with electrical shudders, coursing veins, pulsing ligaments and crossing synapses.

It is this intuition which puts Sandgren in the company of Van Gogh who showed the world the truth of hidden dimensions, a lesson he has taken to heart with conviction and, I think, real genius. This is surely nowhere more apparent than in his tour de force entitled “Northwest Starry Night” which he claims as a direct effort to emulate the master’s rightly famous and luminously influential “Starry Night.” Those who have been out on a northwestern night, clear or clouded, with a glowing campfire know the charm (and intensity) of rising smoky aureoles with fire sparks, seen in this painting as elliptical ornaments of form and color. It is a vision, like Van Gogh’s, by which reality is illumined.

Again and again we see this radiant and radiating influence: tall derricks spear the foreground of Grays Harbor with a clouded sky where the smoking stacks of industry sweep and coil about in a massive display of exuberant milky forms. It is easy-to-miss subtle faces and eyes of storied theatrical bird figures from the myths of the Northwest Coast. See them in the spiky remains of a clear cut, in the shards of color and domestic forms of dock, boat and house, and in the leap of a turquoise bow, with faceted sky above, of a boat in dry dock. Look often for faces and forms in the work of Erik Sandgren. Like Raven, he is a trickster of hidden dimensions.


See it all again in his black and white linocut print of roiling sky and water. “Coming Into Being” depicts a riverside town in the background rising like some medieval mound of pinnacles and roofs. Discover the beaks, the eyes, the Asian water dragon, the bodies and forms spilling pell-mell across the sky…the trickster at work.


Note Sandgren’s accomplished techniques with glazes, scumbling, palette knife and brush – the scrapings and overlaying of paint, the worked surfaces everywhere giving substance, density and depth to his imagery. His work and re-working turns a story line of commonplace events, such as fishing, or the sight of a logged forest landscape, into instruction as well as inspiration. Beyond all of the satisfying richness of his surfaces, this is a vision you can learn from, all the images deeply written in the language of paint. One can lose oneself in how it is applied, combined, mixed and re-presented in brilliant works of sharp observation with the visible depth and effort that only a “worked” surface can reveal. This artist knows how to lay it on.


Lastly, it should be appreciated that Sandgren’s work is both a reflection and an extension of his revered and accomplished late father who, as the son is doing, spent his life recording unique and personal visions of the changing Pacific Northwest.


In this show the younger Sandgren’s works are visions of a landscape in transformation. The static object and status quo are alike enhanced by restless movement and change. The central theme in all myth is that nothing stays the same, no moment is repeated or truly identical, all creatures and scenes are also other creatures and scenes, endlessly mixed. Sandgren presents a part of it, a glint or a shard of it, which will also change and take on added meanings over time as memories and visions do: like the purple sheen hidden in the black fact of a raven’s wing