Paul Havas, Red Alder, 2006/07, oil on canvas, 63 x 73 in.

Paul Havas was an old-fashioned artist who loved the smell of oil and turpentine and the tradition of painting landscapes. He’d trek out in the fields with an easel and brushes to paint from life or remain in the studio to reinvent rural scenes or city skylines from photographs and memory. He was the kind of guy you might actually see wearing a smock while he worked.

Havas died last year of pancreatic cancer at 72 and Woodside/Braseth Gallery honors him this month with a show of paintings from recent years. It’s a reminder of the remarkable facility and dedication to his craft that Havas maintained throughout his career, as well as of the luminous beauty he often captured in his work. It’s ironic, but maybe not so unusual, that Havas, a native of New Jersey, built his career on paintings of the Skagit Valley, while Alden Mason, a Northwest painter who grew up in the Skagit, became best known for his dramatic abstractions. A tribute to Mason (1919–2013), an art faculty member at UW while Havas was a grad student there, is currently showing at the Wright Exhibition Space.  

Paul Havas, Arch Cape, Oregon Coast, 2011, oil on canvas. Courtesy Woodside/Braseth.

Landscape paintings are about place, certainly, but also the mutability of place: the light waxing and shifting throughout each day, turbulent clouds on the horizon, occasional drifts of snow or rain squalls, and the way the shimmery palette of springtime eases into dry flat summer hues, and so forth. In a painting like the 2006/7 Red Alder, all the sweetness of the Skagit bursts forth and you can feel the softness in the air. It’s hard to know if Havas viewed the natural world as an ever-inspiring model and muse to be faithfully reproduced, or if it served sometimes as an expansive palette of shapes and colors, building blocks for compositions that had personal symbolic meanings. The spareness and isolation of Arch Cape, Oregon Coast, painted in Havas’s final year, suggests the latter. One thing’s certain: Havas was prolific, and this show would have benefited by more judicious editing with a lot more space around each painting, room for contemplation.

Havas had his first show at what was then the Gordon Woodside Gallery in 1970, around the time I first met him, living across the street on Capitol Hill. At that time, Havas was painting trucks: Big, striking, utterly unexpected compositions—very powerful. Very gutsy and New Jersey. They probably weren’t the type of pictures most people would want hanging over the sofa and Havas soon moved on and made his mark as painter of beauty. The landscapes are easy to love. But I’ve always remembered those trucks and wondered, what if…

A Tribute to Paul Havas (1940–2012)
Thru June 1, Woodside/Braseth Gallery

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