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 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.
These are some studies for decorative patterns based on carbon dioxide, top, and carbon monoxide, bottom. The idea was inspired by the Festival of Britain, mentioned in a previous post, where designers worked with chemists to create groovy patterns based on molecular structures. Carbon. It’s what’s for dinner.
Here is a small test piece, in process, with a different version of ethanol and a lady driving. The molecules and the people with their gorgeous vintage gas-guzzlers are finding their way toward new circular compositions. Stay tuned.
In 2015 Chatwin Books published Fabric of the American Dream, a combination monograph (of my Manet covers) and meditation on some of the recurring themes in my work. Chatwin co-founder Annie Brule, who had been a tenant of my ’57 Biscayne studios from its inception, and I had been wanted to collaborate for a long time, and this seemed like the perfect project. Annie is an illustrator, map-maker, and book designer who specializes in art books. She and Arundel Books owner Phil Bevis founded Chatwin a few years ago; Fabric of the American Dream was the first in their artist series.
On Phil’s advice, we produced the book in two editions: a clothbound limited edition, and an unlimited paperback edition. Both versions have identical content inside. I wanted the books to reflect my psychedelic homespun aesthetic in their form as well as their content. When I hear the word “clothbound”, I’m not picturing some tasteful, plain, dark, smoky, brown number. I’m thinking more along the lines of something I’d use in a painting. The problem with vintage fabric is the difficulty of finding a sufficient supply to do all fifty covers. (Besides, I need it to use in my paintings.) After some searching, I managed to find some brand new fabric that gave off the right mid-century vibe, so I snagged what was left of the bolt.
I consulted with some crotchetty old guys in the midwest who had been binding books for forty years and knew their stuff. They initially tried to scare me away from the idea of using just any old cotton cloth to bind my books, but after I badgered them a bit to tell me what exactly real bookcloth is, they relented and allowed that I could add a stabilizer to the back of the cloth and it would probably work just fine. They were a bit tight-lipped about what that stabilizer would be, so I badgered some crotchetty old ladies here in town who had been in the crafty-fabricky world for just as long, and they, along with some younger artist bookbinders on the internet, recommended an iron-on product called “heat-n-bond”.
Due to some delays and miscommunications at the bindery, we nearly didn’t have any books for our projected opening. The production binder who bound the softcovers and the innards of both editions was unable to add the cloth covers, let alone print titles on them. Some panic ensued, but we found a smaller house to do the binding, and I decided to tackle the titles myself.
I burned a screen in the same typeface that Annie used on the printed softcover. Screen-printing the front cover was easy enough, if a little nerve-wracking. I had exactly 50 of the cloth books to work with; I was committed to having 5o perfect (non inkstained) books when I was done.
To print the title on the spine, I came up with a little contraption on the fly, cutting a book-width slit in a board and adding some book-height legs to it.
Earlier in the process, when cutting out the bookcloths, I had been very, very careful to use every square inch as economically as possible so I’d have some cloth left over. I spent the day of the book release at home in my sewing room, being just as frugal with the remainder of the cloth, and I managed to squeeze out a dress. Because if it is at all possible to match your publication, why on earth wouldn’t you?
The hardcover edition is entirely sold out, but the delightful Brule-designed softcover is available through my brand-new store page.
Making Our Mark, which opens November 10 at the Bellevue Arts Museum, commemorates the 40th anniversary of Pratt Fine Arts Center, a mainstay and incubator of the visual arts in Seattle. It was named for slain civil rights leader Edwin T. Pratt.
I got my start as a teaching artist at Pratt Fine Arts Center, and taught there from 2006 until 2015. I met so many artists there, colleagues and students, who went to to become lifelong influences and friends. I also worked there as a model in the 1990’s, notably for Drake Deknatel, who became a professional mentor, studio-mate, and friend. (I made sure work from his estate was included in this show.)
At Pratt, I taught lots of beginning drawing and painting classes for adults, but I also learned to be a mentor myself, working with advanced painters who were on the verge of breaking out of the world of art classes and ready to start painting in their own language. Another perk was being able to use Pratt’s printmaking facilities, expanding my own practice to include screen-printing and etching.
There are 250 artists in the show; I will have a piece there from my Floor Plan for the American Dream series. The show runs through April 2018. There is a preview party on November 9 from 6:30-9:30 PM, free to members, $10 for non-members.
Above: a giant collaborative master copy (Honore Daumier) by one of my Pratt classes.