Tyree Callahan is probably best known worldwide for his conceptual art piece Chromatic Typewriter, a 1937 Underwood typewriter that has color keys rather than letters. Small paint-laden sponges sit poised to create one of Tyree’s landscapes, a canvas of which is unscrolling from the carriage as if typed into being. Chromatic Typewriter won international acclaim and was the runner-up in the speculative category of the Core77 design awards in 2012. Photos of it exploded across social media sites as it became a sensation. Though it doesn’t actually type paintings, he has typed a few sentences with his creation.
Though probably best known outside the area for Chromatic Typewriter, Callahan has been working in landscapes. His series “Salish Atlas” was recently on display in a show called “Atmospheres” at Smith and Vallee Gallery in Edison. These landscapes are evocative, capturing the filtered light of our foggy mornings. Mysterious paths through wetlands, cut banks emerging next to slow-moving water, Callahan’s landscapes are soft, quiet, semi-abstract and luminous. Viewed in just the right light, his paintings appear to glow with the very light they are meant to capture.
Callahan draws inspiration from the great impressionists as well as J.H.W. Turner. The influence is certainly there in the soft brushstrokes and gentle compositions. He describes Turner’s paintings, particularly his later work, as a “sun-dappled soup of magic.” That can be said of Callahan’s as well, but there is a certain tension of color and light in Callahan’s landscapes that makes his landscapes uniquely his. He begins with sketches in the form of small watercolors, which he then translates into bigger paintings. “Much is lost in each subsequent translation, because so much of the information is memory-based (and I’m not getting any younger) but I think that at the same time even more is added: The things that are left unsaid, as it were, are the details a viewer alone creates in her own mind.” He also finds inspiration in things he reads. “I have an anthropologist friend who introduced me to the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. I dove head first into their work A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia after she read me just a few lines. I had no idea what to expect or what I was getting into. Maybe I still don’t: it blew my mind and gave me ideas for a few entire series of paintings. I found it to be weird, imaginative, and deeply interesting writing, even if I didn’t understand what the hell was going on most of the time. I look forward to reading the other volume when the time is right.”
Callahan has been painting since the late 1980s, studying as much as he could afford at Whatcom Community College. He says of his work, “To me, real beauty happens when an artist and a viewer secretly and unknowingly conspire together to create something unique, something that only exists in the mind of the viewer. The current paintings are all of this region, but what I like is when someone says that a painting reminds them of a place they go to (or used to go to), whether it is here in the Fourth Corner. Or Kansas, Florida, or Spain….”
A favorite host during Bellingham’s downtown Art Walk and a regular participant in the Whatcom Studio Tour, Callahan is well worth a visit. He’s a member of the Waterfront Arts Studio Collective, where he keeps his door open to the public. He has work showing in “Atmospheres” running at Smith and Vallee Gallery in Edison until Mar. 30. He will have a painting in the Museum of Northwest Art’s annual auction on Jun. 21, and will be in a show called “Sky” at Smith and Vallee Gallery also in June.