Opening reception is Thursday February 7, 5-8pm at Atelier Drome, 112 Prefontaine Place South. After that, hours are M-F 8am-5pm (make eye contact with the front desk person to be let in). Show closes April 26, 2019.
I pilfer images from old magazines—feral children who are up to no good, beatific high-heeled homemakers, cigarette-smoking proto-hipsters, futuristic dream houses, gizmos tucked into tiny spot ads in the back pages—extract them, mix them up, put them back together into new configurations. Much like a recipe for twice-baked potatoes or some other mid-century labor-intensive foodery. These advertisements are the sacred texts of capitalism, and essential records of the history of our collective aspirations. Our aspirations seem to have changed very little since the advertisements were first concocted. We continue to lust after real estate, buy more stuff, and lovingly cradle electronic devices in the palms of our hands.
Next month, I’ll be showing some brand-new paintings that look at the golden age of the automobile (for which we are paying dearly), along with some paintings of the last few years that concern themselves with gloriously futuristic spaces of yore. Travel Brochures for a Past Future opens February 7 at Atelier Drome, 112 Prefontaine Place South, in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. There’s an opening reception from 5-8 PM on February 7 during the neighborhood’s first Thursday art walk. The show continues through April 26, and is viewable during business hours (8-5 weekdays) and by appointment.
Composing in a circle continues to challenge, inspire, and occasionally frustrate me. It’s damn harder than it looks. According to some theories, that is due to its gravitational pull being in the center, rather than at the bottom. A rectangular drawing or painting, by contrast, mimics the way we experience the world, a vertical orientation with gravity at the bottom, and a horizon line, real or implied, running across it horizontally. That center keeps exerting its influence, and you have to be careful what you put in there. You can’t hide anything in the corners, either. Which makes it difficult to fit a sprawling architectural space into it, let alone a road. Both of those things scream “horizontal! vertical!”
Here are some small sketches of my attempts at putting a freeway in a circle.
Why paint circles? Well, I have no idea why other artists do it, but I came to it arbitrarily. I had to ship a large, unstretched painting to Canada for my friend Lauren; she’d sold the work, by her late husband and my legendary studio-mate, Drake Deknatel. I rolled it up into a giant piece of cardboard tube, and then I needed end caps, i.e., circles. My handy partner and personal technical director Steve casually mentioned that I could cut them out of plywood by turning my router into a compass, using only a long, flat piece of plastic. Screw one end to the router base, and the other to the center of the plywood. The distance between the screws is your radius. Presto. Perfect circles in minutes.
I later exchanged the plastic for a fancier aluminum compass arm, to keep it from wobbling around on the bigger cuts:
That’s the entire reason I started painting on circles, because I leaned how to make them.
The first set of circular paintings, or tondos, I made were a bunch of single objects in people’s hands. I’ve since progressed to more complex spaces and perspectives, starting small and working my way up to larger pieces. The new auto-pia paintings that will be in the show are 42″ in diameter. Here’s one on the table with just the fabric:
And another on the wall, further along. Note how the one-point perspective of the car interior sucks your eye into the middle.
The themes of house, home, and the American Dream of owning one recur so often in my work, it seems natural that people in the businesses of building selling homes would gravitate to it. For example, one of my earliest collectors and supporters was the late real estate goddess Jan Sewell. Her niece now has possession of the appropriately-titled This is the House You Ordered:
This is the House You Ordered
Last year, while I was in the process of scanning old slides and organizing my archives, I posted some older work on Instagram, including this painting:
A Wonderful World of Your Own
My friends Kim and Chavi, the dynamos behind Team Diva Real Estate, saw it and wanted it to hang in their own wonderful world. Alas, the painting had been sold in 2009 by a California dealer. I suggested to the gals that they commission something.
Many artists don’t like commissions, but I love them. Maybe it’s because my collectors are such a self-selected group who share my sensibility, and we both understand from the start that it’s my vision they’re after. I’ve never once had someone try to micromanage me as I worked. What would be the fun in that?
What I did do is ask what it was they loved about Wonderful World. They said it was the feeling of abundance and hospitality; the anticipation of sharing one’s home and food with guests who are about to arrive. The fact that it is an abundance of weird, mid-century, overengineered food just makes the people more endearing (you almost forgive them for living in such a pornographically modernist palace.) Which all made sense, given that these gals, in addition to being residential real estate moguls. are enthusiastic and frequent hostesses.
So the food was a given (and I LOVE painting food) but I also intuited that the structure of the piece, which pops the table and the food into the space you’re standing, was also integral to the draw of the piece. I’d made Wonderful World on two attached panels: I covered the top one in a striped fabric and formed the couple’s outfits out if it. The bottom panel I cut by hand to match the curve of a round tablecloth, which as a bonus was trimmed in classic dingleballs. I covered the bottom panel with a piece of the tablecloth, lining up the bottom with the bottom of the panel. The shadow that curves across it is translucent paint, which gives the illusion of the table jutting into the room. The top half of the table is painted to match the tablecloth. This whole construction was an idea I’d been wanting to revisit anyway, so I decided to try something similar for the commission.
I started, as usual, with the house.
I based it loosely on a photo from a Better Homes and Gardens decorating book from the 1960’s, much edited and simplified. (I really just liked the staircase.) Then I had to go looking for the right characters. The short list of potential co-hostesses is on either side of the drawing below. As you can see, I made reversed versions of each gal in order to try them out on both sides.
I drew a couple of them in the right scale and pinned them to the drawing. The one on the left was a keeper, the one on the right not so much. Her bending down so steeply seemed a little weird, and the hand going missing behind the table makes her look like she’s going to lift it with one hand.
The next one worked much better, but the hair was going to have to go. Too dowdy.
The fabric is usually kind of an agonizing choice, especially when I need to choose two of them. I was fairly certain I wanted to use this odd, scallopy Finnish tablecloth I had for the table, but getting them into the right outfits and somehow tying it all together chromatically would be a challenge. I ended up using a piece of the same striped fabric that I had left over from the painting of ten years ago, turned horizontally this time.
Here is the bottom panel turned on its back on the work table. Ten years ago, I’d cut the curve with a small Japanese handsaw, but this time around I used the whole thing as an excuse to buy a jigsaw. (Who knows what other wacky shapes I might want to paint in when I finally move on from circles?)
Here it is a few stages in, when I was ready to start blocking in the food. The final piece can be seen on my commissions page.
Update: Join me for Industry Night on Wednesday, October 24, 5-7 PM. There’s still some great work left in the show, and I’m also offering a rare sneak peek at the Salon Rue de Cerise, a creative project I’ve been working on that supports artists in Pioneer Square.
For the fifth year in a row, Dara Solliday and I are presenting “100 under $100” at ’57 Biscayne Studios. Each year, we gather work from numerous artists of our acquaintance and curate a show of 100 pieces of art that go for less than $100 a pop. Some of the artists work here in the building; others show with us frequently; some are established in their careers; others are just starting out. This year they range in age from 9 to 94. It’s a great community event and despite being a lot of work, one of the highlights of my year. I love seeing people become collectors for the first time, and empower themselves to like something, acquire it, and support (and usually meet) the person who made it. And they can take it home that night.
It’s happening this Thursday, October 4, from 5:30-9 PM at ’57 Biscayne Studios, 110 Cherry Street in Pioneer Square.
It’s also a chance for artists to clean out their closets, and show work that doesn’t fit in anywhere else: I’ll have some weird demonstration paintings from classes I’ve taught, some old pattern experiments, an artists’ proof from an etching series (above), and other odd bits. In my studio, I’ll have more recent smaller paintings, watercolor sketches, and some studies that may offer a sneak peak at future paintings.
I talked with New Day Northwest host Margaret Larson on KING 5 television, about You Are Here Too, the map show I co-curated with Annie Brule at the Good Arts Gallery. In a strange twist of meta-mapitude, the KING 5 studios, where the show is taped, happen to be located on the exact spot where I had a studio in the 1990’s. The Atlantic Street Studios were in a tiny two-story 1920’s building attached to a loading dock that took up the entire block and overlooked the Kingdome. Our building has been long wiped from the landscape, and unlike the Kingdome probably forgotten by most people. Atlantic Street is now known as Edgar Martinez Drive, all of which plays nicely into one of the show’s themes: how ephemeral and slippery are the names, mental constructs, and visual representations of places.
I have just finished curating, organizing, and hanging a new show with Annie Brule, artist, book designer, and cartographer extraordinaire. Artists love maps. We invited a bunch of them to create artwork using maps & mapping as a jumping-off point, and they jumped. The result is You Are Here Too, a wide-ranging and totally fun exhibit of paintings, works on paper, assemblage, ceramic bowls, crochet, and embroidery.
It starts at the Good Arts Gallery, inside Cherry Street Coffee House (my downstairs neighbor in the Good Arts Building), and winds upstairs to ’57 Biscayne Studios at 110 Cherry Street on the second and third floors. The show, and the studios, open Thursday May 3, with a big, building-wide open house during Pioneer Square Artwalk. The fun starts at 5 PM; perennial favorite Victor Janusz will serenade us on the piano from 7-9 in the second floor lobby.
Above: Detail, Les Demoiselles d’Illinois (in progress), maps, ink, glue, paper
I’ve recently had reason to go digging into the hundreds of old slides of my work that have accumulated over the years. It used to be, kids, that when you wanted to document a work of art, you had to take a photograph on actual film. You would take several photographs of each one, so you’d have lots of copies, some of which would inevitably be over- or underexposed, because you were hedging your bets and couldn’t preview them. You’d have to wait for them to return from the “film place” to find out if they were any good. Since you were shooting on positive film, the piece of film in the camera was the actual product you had to live with, no post-production edits possible.
For what purpose this insane ritual? To send away for rejection letters, of course. The more of these labor-intensive, little white plastic-framed squares of film you sent out, the more letters you could collect. I sent away for lots of them, so I have quite a collection.
Every foundation, arts commission, granting agency, juried show, commercial gallery or other rejection-letter producing facility would have its own precise requirements for how these things should be labeled, and no two sets of requirements were alike. Place a red dot in the upper left corner of the image. Place a red dot in the lower left corner of the image. Affix a typed label with the title of the piece, dimensions, artist’s name, date of work, medium, birthdate, methods, influences, previous grants applied for, brief description of the process. Place absolutely no labels or tape of any kind on the slide.
This, of course, meant that you had to remove all of your carefully typed or handwritten labels every time you got the slides mailed back to you (in the self-addressed-stamped-envelope, or SASE, that you also provided), and start all over again for the next application. It’s kind of remarkable that any painting got done at all. And even more remarkable is that I managed to eke out a few successful applications, occasionally collecting a check or two rather than the customary rejection letter. (Note: Never, EVER, count up the hours spent preparing the application and subtract that time from the amount of the grant. Just don’t.)
Recently, to complete a modern, electronic–yet still rather labor intensive–application to one of the rejection-letter facilities, I dug up twenty-odd years’ worth of slides and had them scanned to digital files. The accompanying narrative required me to recap my entire artistic history, along with concurrent personal and professional history and other influences, from horse-drawing times to the present, thus provoking a full-blown midlife crisis.
These slides below are from the mid-nineties. I was still learning to paint, still learning how I paint, and, obviously from the subject matter, I was also an angry young feminist eager to slash some taboos. The fact that there are labels on them means I actually sent these babies out to someone in the stuffy art world. The thought of that initially made me cringe, but upon reflection, I gave my younger self a little credit for sheer cheekiness.
The one on the lower left calls to mind Frank Lloyd Wright’s quip about planting vines to hide one’s early efforts.
The egg phase came about in my early- to mid- thirties (when many of my peers were busily reproducing). I had surrounded myself with magazines from the nineteen fifties filled with little else except happy middle class housewives flanked by cherubic broods. The ads tout the wonders of consumer choice: look how many choices these ladies have! They have hundreds of choices of pastel shades of formica countertop. What they apparently didn’t have was the choice not to reproduce.
My ladies, appropriated from those ads and bent to my own purposes, spent a lot of time contemplating their eggs. Gazing at eggs, being vaguely threatened by eggs, fluffing eggs up into pretty deviled creations and displaying them for guests on the coffee table.
“When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss Art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss Money.”
You can’t get through an art opening without having some version of this conversation: Rents are going through the roof as the tech bros take over “our” city, displacing the artists who made it cool in the first place. In this telling, we artists are the inevitable victims of–and bait for–gentrification, unless someone else comes to our rescue. We can’t rescue ourselves because that wouldn’t be very artistic of us.
The romantic stock character of the impractical starving has persisted in the popular consciousness since the Renaissance. It really found its legs in the nineteenth century, with the publication of Henri Murger’s Scenes from the Life of Bohemia, a tale about artists and their struggle to pay the rent, since reprised in many familiar incarnations. Artists themselves internalize the stereotype, however silly, as if we have an investment in being marginal and easily displaced. We’re often rewarded for it, too: The most press I ever received was for being evicted; the amount of ink devoted to art itself is paltry in comparison.
Once you let go of this colorful yet ultimately defeating story of the artist as a victim, it becomes possible to write alternative endings to the gentrification narrative. Artists are actually rich–in educational privilege, political cache and creativity– and could use that wealth to find ways to stay, instead of finding yet another marginal neighborhood to move into. I did. With some of my neighbors from the former 619 Western building, I started ’57 Biscayne studios, and a few years later partnered with a developer to make them a permanent fixture. I’m going to be talking about all of it this Friday at the Bainbridge Art Museum.
I’ll unpack the myth of the “Tortured Artist” as it manifested in the twenty-first-century media coverage of my own studio eviction, tell how some of us wrote a different story, followed by a discussion of what that might mean to the numerous cities and towns facing growth and the displacement of culture. The program is free and open to the public, as part of Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau.