Spirited away: Brackenwood exhibit reflects on booze

This series of oil paintings of drinks by Jason Waskey will be featured in Brackenwood Fine Arts Gallery’s new exhibit

There is only a little to see and much to experience in Brackenwood Fine Arts Gallery’s new exhibit, “Spirits,” launching today through February.

The paintings themselves are sparse: A single high curved glass of wine, a rocks glass with three fingers of whiskey, or a crystal-clear martini, olives properly speared. Maybe there is a glass and a partly empty bottle. For most of the 22 paintings that will be shown, that’s it.

“It’s the celebration of libations,” said gallery co-owner and artist Jason Waskey.

“My interest is in the soul and the spirit of the drink itself,” he added.

Then there’s the star of the show. “The Old Dog” by Ryan Grossman shows the partly rusted metal sign of the Dog House Tavern, which is mere steps away from the gallery’s door on First Street in Langley. Hung prominently in direct eyesight from the door, the oil painting doesn’t feature a single drop of booze, though its subject certainly saw uncounted gallons move through its taps and spouts.

Anyone wanting to make a bid on the $1,200 painting is out of luck. It sold before the gallery even opened its exhibit after an unidentified woman saw it from the sidewalk, walked in while the gallery was technically closed and made an offer to buy it.

“Literally, the person who bought it would not be denied,” Waskey said.

All of the works, though simple in their visual offering, are evocative. The Dog House Tavern is iconic, and is a symbol of the spirit of Langley and a time gone by now that the old watering hole has been closed for years. Waskey’s paintings of single glasses, most of which are on a black-field background, pull viewers into wondering and considering the person who ordered the vodka martini with two olives — not three — or who poured themselves a few fingers of scotch and sat by the windowsill that is the backdrop of the piece.


“They are little, tiny portraits of what we’ve all come to think of,” Waskey said.

Waskey, Grossman, Sandy Byers and Cary Jurriaans are the artists whose works are on display in the featured exhibit this coming month. Jurriaans created a pair of Waskey’s favorite pieces in the exhibit, one featuring several corks, and another of a glass of whiskey next to a bottle of Clinton-based Cadée Distillery’s finest. Waskey praised the story, colors and composition.

But just like the woman who was drawn to “The Old Dog,” so too was Waskey. It was his favorite piece in the exhibit because of how it departed from the theme in a clever and relevant way, telling a story with a simple image, looking up at the overhanging metal sign that welcomed thousands of thirsty patrons.

The perspective of the painting makes sense for Grossman. His mother, Kären Grossman, once owned the tavern before it was sold in 1985 to Pete Jacobs. At the time, Kären Grossman said her son was about 5 years old. The Dog House stuck with him into adulthood.

“The first thing he did after he turned 21 was go inside and buy a beer,” she laughed.

“Ryan captured the spirit of the place he grew up that is so iconic,” she added.

The opening coincides with the city’s biggest opening at Museo, just a block away, and its exhibit theme of Mardi Gras, the Carnival celebration leading up to Ash Wednesday. The holiday was made famous in the United States by the riotous celebrations in New Orleans.

Hosting a celebration of libation, as Waskey said, was a way to have an opening “worthy” of Museo. The schedule also made sense because it came on the heels of the holiday season, a popular time for spirits both liquid and ethereal.

“It seems like a good time, before Lent hits — it’s the last days of the dark,” Waskey said.

“Winters on South Whidbey can be a little wet, a little gray, a little dreary,” he added.

The “Spirits” opening will be accompanied by a departure from Brackenwood’s normal fare. Instead of offerings from Whidbey’s wineries, the gallery will feature tastings by Brownrigg Hard Cider out of West Seattle and Cadée Distillery.