“Leaks” by Susan Christian Susan Christian Courtesy
“Leaks” by Susan Christian Susan Christian Courtesy

Arts & Culture

The owner of Salon Refu will display her own artwork before taking a 1-year hiatus

By Molly Gilmore

Contributing writer

March 09, 2017 7:15 AM

Since it opened five years ago, Salon Refu has become a beloved center for the arts — visual and beyond. The gallery has become known for showing work that is always thought-provoking and often not commercially successful.

Come June 1, Susan Christian’s gallery will close for a year so she can rest and focus on her own work.

Friday (March 10), a show of that work — “Paintings on Sticks,” made with humble hardware-store materials — will open at the gallery.

Both Christian’s paintings and her gallery itself began “by accident,” she said Monday, talking enthusiastically in a cozy corner of the gallery. The gallery’s hiatus is also serendipitous. She’s lending the space to another artist, who will use it as a studio. (The artist asked that Christian not reveal her name.)

When she bought it in 2011, Christian of Shelton intended to use the building at 114 N. Capitol Way as her own studio.

In 2012, she was persuaded to host two group shows of student work; meanwhile, she realized that the space was a bit too public to serve her well as a studio.

So she began to schedule shows and thus was born Salon Refu, a gallery whose mission is to serve artists — and art lovers, too.

“It became clear to me that people needed a place to have shows,” she said. “Maybe people don’t need to see shows, but people need to have shows.”

She paused. “I believe people need to see shows, too. I’m an artist myself, and I know that if we can’t show our work in a place where it can be seen well, the work suffers.”

The best way to see somebody’s vision is to see a bunch of that person’s work all together without the distraction of looking at four or five other people’s work at the same time.

Susan Christian, owner of Salon Refu

The gallery — which doesn’t make money and is staffed by volunteers — has hosted music, poetry readings and experimental events. But its mainstay has been solo shows of an eclectic range of work from Anne de Marcken’s deconstruction and reconstruction of a book she wrote to Kathy Gore-Fuss’s paintings of trees and the lumber they become setting off from the Port of Olympia.

“There are all these artists here with really interesting visions,” she said. “The best way to see somebody’s vision is to see a bunch of that person’s work all together without the distraction of looking at four or five other people’s work at the same time.

“I like the chance to look into somebody’s mind like that.”

She said that’s definitely true of her own work, paintings assembled from strips of lath glued together and painted with house paint, is itself eclectic. The works are abstract and yet they are also landscapes, with echoes of water, sky and land and the occasional mountain.

“If I show you one of those pieces, you’ll go ‘huh,’ but if I show you 22 of those pieces, you’ll go ‘Oh, I get it,’ ” she said. “It’s hard to put all your thinking into one piece of work. In fact, you can’t. If you could, people would just make one piece of work.”

The gallery is just another large extension of the art that Susan makes. It’s a living work in progress.

Olympia artist Kathy Gore-Fuss

Christian was a landscape painter until this new way of working came to her four years ago while she was attending a workshop at Gore-Fuss’ Olympia home.

“Everyone else was doing landscape painting, and I didn’t want to do it,” she said. Gore-Fuss handed her some wood and suggested she make stretchers for canvases.

“I didn’t want to make a stretcher,” she said. “I just went and painted the piece of wood itself. I loved painting on a stick instead of a flat canvas.”

“She was really ready to explore and experiment,” Gore-Fuss said in a phone interview Monday. “It seems to me that her work has expanded. Are they landscapes? Are they just a collection of abstract linear forms? There is more ambiguity for us as the viewers to interact with.”

The closing of the gallery will give Christian more time to explore and experiment in her home studio, as well as time to relax. She’s had two hip surgeries in the past year and a half and is still healing from the more recent one.

As Gore-Fuss sees it, though, Christian’s art for the past five years has been as much in creating a gallery and building community as in painting.

“The gallery is just another large extension of the art that Susan makes,” she said. “It’s a living work in progress. It’s a painting. It’s a reading. It’s a place for light. It’s a place for us all to gather and think. It’s a place for us to party, and it’s a place for us to be quiet and contemplative.

“It has given us a heartbeat for the arts in Olympia, and it will be greatly missed.”

Christian plans to reopen this home for the arts in the summer of 2018. “When I come back, I’ll reopen it as a gallery,” she said. “I like doing this work, and I think it’s needed.”

Paintings on Sticks

What: Susan Christian, owner of Salon Refu, showcases her own paintings, done on strips of wood.

When: Friday (March 10)-March 26, with an opening reception at 6 p.m. Friday. Gallery hours are 2-6 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays.

Where: Salon Refu, 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia.

Admission: Free.

Information: 360-280-3540, facebook.com/salonrefu.

Susan Christian talks in the gallery at Salon Refu. Salon Refu Courtesy

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