Arts and Entertainment

Hassrick: Rob Schouten Gallery presents ‘The Body Electric’

Ken Hassrick left a prolific collection of paintings and drawings behind when he died. His son, Matt Hassrick, has donated a number of them to the Whidbey Island Arts Council, as his father had requested. - Photo courtesy of Rob Schouten Gallery
Ken Hassrick left a prolific collection of paintings and drawings behind when he died. His son, Matt Hassrick, has donated a number of them to the Whidbey Island Arts Council, as his father had requested.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Rob Schouten Gallery

What an artist leaves behind, besides his family, is the work that becomes his legacy.

Longtime South Whidbey resident Ken Hassrick was an accomplished and prolific painter and sculptor. When he died in 2004, he left behind a large body of work that spanned more than 30 years, mainly paintings and drawings of the female form.

In 2002, Hassrick was seriously stricken with a neurological disease which prevented him from producing more work. At that time, he told his family and friends that he wanted the proceeds from his work to benefit the art community on Whidbey Island after his death.

In keeping with his father’s request, islander Matt Hassrick and his wife, Vicky, have generously donated many of Ken Hassrick’s paintings to the Whidbey Island Arts Council.

Now, a show of the artist’s work is revealed in the spirit of giving back to all of the island’s artists.

“The Body Electric, Ken Hassrick: A Retrospective” will open at Rob Schouten Gallery at Greenbank Farm on Friday, Feb. 5.

“My father lived and breathed doing his art,” Matt Hassrick said.

“For my entire life with him, his main focus was his art. But he was very interested in other people, too, and what they were doing,” the artist’s son said. “His door was always open for people to come over and visit, have a martini and talk about the meaning of life.”

That interest in others spilled over into Ken Hassrick’s interest in art.

When he moved to the island in 1978, Hassrick, along with his wife Doll, plunged into a life of art and support of the arts on Whidbey. Doll Hassrick served as president of what was then the Island Arts Council for three years. In lieu of the artist’s wishes, proceeds from this retrospective will go to the Whidbey Island Arts Council and will be used for its various supportive programs including artists’ scholarships, grants and the development of arts education in island schools.

In addition to satisfying his intent to support other artists, Hassrick probably would have appreciated the title of the show.

The paintings celebrate the beauty of what the 19th century American poet Walt Whitman called “The Body Electric,” the vessel through which one’s spirit experiences the world.

“I have chosen at this time in my life to express my ideas by means of the female figure,” Hassrick said when interviewed during his career.

“It is without doubt one of the most complicated and ever-variable subjects. I hope you will find some of the excitement and enjoyment that I found in creating them.”

Hassrick would spend almost half a lifetime exploring the evocative nature of the figure.

The female body has long been one of the classic subjects for artists, and is both luminous and illuminating when it is mastered by a skilled artist. This retrospective of his work features figurative compositions that range from realism to the abstract.

Hassrick developed a distinctive technique using layers of acrylic paint and charcoal that resulted in a unique quality of diffused light and depth of color. Strong compositions and a keen eye for cropping out unnecessary elements give the paintings a sensitivity of form.

But his technique didn’t come without hard work.

In the course of his career, Hassrick studied with several renowned artists, including Joseph Presser, Richard Lehey, Hobson Pitman and Fernand Legar. He also traveled extensively in Europe, Mexico, Central America and New Zealand, where he sought out other artists and cultures, and tried to absorb different techniques.

His work has been presented in solo exhibitions at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Foster White Gallery and the Davidson Gallery in Seattle, the Cammara Gallery in Los Angeles and the Childers Proctor Gallery in Langley.

“Ken was not only a very fine artist, but he and his wife Doll generously served the community through countless events and activities that supported the arts on Whidbey,” said gallery owner Rob Schouten.

“We are honored to host this retrospective of his paintings and to help in raising funds for the WIAC,” Schouten said.

The opening on Feb. 5 will find First Fridays at the Farm in full swing. The Whidbey Pies Café, the Greenbank Cheese Shop and all three of the art galleries at Greenbank will be collaborating with the Greenbank Wine Shop for the Wine and Art Walk from 5 to 8 p.m.

Winter hours at Rob Schouten Gallery are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. Tuesdays are by chance or appointment. For more information, call 222-3070 or e-mail info@robschoutengallery.com.

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