Watercolorist Noel Thomas and RiverSea Gallery have brought residents of the North Coast many wonderful gifts in the way of thought provoking art work, and that relationship continues to break new ground with Thomas' latest exhibit, "Noel Thomas ... and some nudes."

The show opens with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24 and runs through Sept. 30.

Basically, it's a smorgasbord of Noel Thomas, says gallery owner Jeannine Grafton, who mentions that Thomas' artful eye and playful brush will present a world of new works offering his interpretation of life on the North Coast. The venerated member of the American Watercolor Society will also be presenting some nudes.

"The nude series is very different from his previous work," says Grafton. "They're very intriguing, and have a very strong presence," she says. "Anyone who enjoys his painting techniques will really appreciate this series."

Thomas says that about half of the paintings in the show reflect his fascination with the beauty of the area. "Yes, I love boats and reflections," says Thomas, so a host of seascapes will be included in the show, along with street scenes, landscapes and vignettes of everyday life in the region. "Cash Crop" is one such work. "It's a close-up of some of the sardines we're catching and processing," he says.

In the other half of the show, Thomas breaks loose with his watercolors of large, nude women. Many will remember his series of conte sketches of nudes which were included in his last show, but these are different says the artist.

These are overweight women, says Thomas, "No excuses." To understand the why of the series, one should know that it was during an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that Thomas faced another demon that has haunted him. "I've had a stereotypical prejudice against obese women all my life," he says, quickly adding that, "I'm not proud of this."

He said that during the meeting a very large woman stood up and said that she also had a disorder, not with alcohol, but with food. "She said, 'Not to put you down, but all you have to do is stop drinking alcohol. I have to deal with food every day. Imagine if you had to have three alcoholic drinks a day.'"

It was a profound statement, and he knew it was time to face his groundless bias.

Thomas says he wanted to find the "niceness in the body" as a way of dealing with his prejudice. "I thought, being an artist, what if I were to paint heavy-weight nudes? How would I react to that?"

But the thought of dealing with an overweight model intimidated him. "So I just started from my imagination."

The result is a series of paintings that once again shows the continually progressive side of the Astoria-based artist.

"It was a conscious effort, since they were out of my imagination, for the paintings to be muted in color," says Thomas about his nude series.

Flooding the paper with masses of paint, Thomas removed color to reveal his imaginary subjects. "I picked out color for the highlights, the cheek, eyes, the calf. It's not a total drawing," he says, "it's an impression. They are limited in color, but there are flesh tones involved."

Thomas says he plans to continue his study of portly women along with his other interests.

"I'd like to pursue it until I really feel comfortable with it," he says. "From the work I've done, I see them as regular people now, so I've already helped myself by doing what I've done." He adds, "I've enjoyed working on my problem."

Located at 1160 Commercial Street in Astoria, RiverSea Gallery showcases the work of local and Northwest artists in a variety of forms, including paintings, prints, photography, sculpture glass, clay, wood and jewelry. Regular business hours are 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

"Noel Thomas ... and some nudes" This exhibit will be at RiverSea Gallery, Aug. 24 through Sept. 30. Meet Noel Thomas at the opening reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24. RiverSea Gallery is located at 1160 Commercial Street in downtown

Astoria. For more information call, (503) 325-1270.