‘Dharmic Engineers’ torn apart by Nisqually ‘quake reunite on Whidbey Island

In its native Sanskrit, the word “Dharma” is literally translated as that which holds up or supports. In the world of eastern philosophy, Dharma as a central concept is meant to guide a person to do the right thing; to accept a higher truth that is revealed in the laws of the universe. The “Dharmic Engineers” were a group of Northwest artists who met to find not only the spiritual truth in their painting, but combined it with the practical supportive side of collaboration that helped to “hold each other up” in the true sense of what engineers are meant to do.

Ray Pelley’s “Renewal” is a reflection of the painter’s experiences exploring the Li River in the Guilin province of China.

Ray Pelley’s “Renewal” is a reflection of the painter’s experiences exploring the Li River in the Guilin province of China.

In its native Sanskrit, the word “Dharma” is literally translated as that which holds up or supports.

In the world of eastern philosophy, Dharma as a central concept is meant to guide a person to do the right thing; to accept a higher truth that is revealed in the laws of the universe.

The “Dharmic Engineers” were a group of Northwest artists who met to find not only the spiritual truth in their painting, but combined it with the practical supportive side of collaboration that helped to “hold each other up” in the true sense of what engineers are meant to do.

Aside from their personal work, the group spent one day a week working together to create works of collaborative art.

They worked together from 1983 until 2000, when, in a bit of cruel irony, the earthquake that rocked Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle tore apart the studio they had rented. The engineers grabbed their tools and went their separate ways.

The Rob Schouten Gallery at Greenbank Farm continues to blaze the path toward true enlightenment and welcomes back artists Milo Duke, Ray Pelley and Jim Papp to join their fellow artist Rob Schouten once again for the “Reunion” exhibit of the “Dharmic Engineers.”

The exhibition will reflect each artist’s individual development in the eight years since they were together.

“Reunion” opens with a reception for the artists from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, July 4 and will run through July 30.

It’s a bit of East meets West.

So said Schouten when explaining the ideas that brought the “Dharmic Engineers” together in the first place.

“One is a more right-brained approach, the other more rational; left-brained,” Schouten said.

“In our art, this was expressed by using realism as the principle vehicle, with elements of the irrational, dream-like, symbolic content juxtaposing the realism to engage both the mind and the senses of the viewer. While we each expressed this in different ways in our work, when exhibited together this common element would complement and amplify each of our paintings.”

In the collaborations each artist participated equally in the conception and execution of each piece of artwork.

“Working together on the same piece at the same time posed numerous challenges, both in terms of physical space and communication between the artists,” Schouten said.

“This resulted in a rich flow of dialogue on a philosophical, as well as an art technical level.”

Their principal collaboration became a work entitled “Doorgan” which consisted of seven freestanding doors representing the seven chakras of yogic meditation. This interactive installation wove together symbols of Western and Mayan art and culture, the mythologies of Orpheus and of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, as well as modern iconic imagery.

The framework for each door contained a loop tape player, which added the element of sound when a door was opened. This enabled “Doorgan” to be used collaboratively with artists in other disciplines, such as music, poetry and dance.

The installation was exhibited seven times in the Seattle area, including a well-received appearance at waterfront park in Langley during Choochokam 1997, the same year a documentary film on the making of “Doorgan” was made by Satchi Royers.

“Doorgan” will make a return appearance at the Loganberry Festival, Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27 at Greenbank Farm.

All of the “Dharmic Engineers” have been busy since their last collaboration.

Duke is currently a well-respected instructor at the Gage Academy of Realist Art in Seattle. His series of paintings will show his love affair with fruit and other edible plants.

“When I do plant-life portraiture I like to make my subjects comfortable: a nice chair, tasteful music and relaxed conversation. All to help get to know each other,” Duke said.

“As Leonardo said, ‘To paint something is to know it.’ I get to know my subjects; we become friends. When their portrait is finished, I invite them to dinner.”

Pelley has gone on to become one of the top-selling artists at Gunner Nordstrom Gallery in Kirkland, and has numerous prints in the national art print and poster market through Larry Winn Company.

Pelley will be showing oil paintings after his travels to Guilin, China and his “Bubble Series,” which was inspired by a bottle of bubbles brought on a family outing in the North Cascades.

“A few years ago my family traveled in China seeing many fascinating places and sites. I was particularly drawn to the Li River in Guilin,” Pelley said.

“We spent a day on the river and for me it was like traveling in a living painting. In this series, the juxtapositions of momentos of our trip with scenes from the Li River provided me with rich memories of our travels as well as providing the surreal imagery I enjoy using in my paintings.”

The acrylic paintings of Papp highlight his transition from musician to painter.

Inspired by his travels to southern Mexico, and his work as a daykeeper of the Mayan sacred calendar, the Tzolkin, Papp’s intimate works have been described as at once mysterious and familiar.

“My art is about aloneness and being in a place of mystery and awe and wonder, beyond the ordinary world,” he said.

“In these timeless places, stones and planets inscribed with ancient symbols arrive like ancestral messengers from across the ages. Feelings of return and recognition, reawakening and remembrance are revealed. These are healing places for me and, hopefully, also for the viewer.”

Schouten will be showing new oil paintings and selections from his recently released line of giclée reproductions.

“It is a great pleasure for me to be able to facilitate this reunion of old friends and long-time creative collaborators,” Schouten said.

“To see the distance traveled artistically by each of us since we disbanded the “Dharmic Engineers” eight years ago is inspiring and gratifying.”

Included at the opening night reception on Friday is the music of “Vieux est Nouveau,” gypsy jazz and swing with Keith Allen Bowers on guitar and Kristi O’Donnell on double bass.

Refreshments will be served during the evening.

Regular gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information, call the Rob Schouten Gallery at 222-3070 or e-mail info@robschoutengallery.com.

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