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.
This Thursday, several shows I’ve organized for other artists are opening in my building (and environs). Next Saturday, September 9, another artist is presenting my work at her gallery. Let’s hear it for artists helping artists.
Thursday, September 7, from 5-9 PM at 110 Cherry Street, ’57 Biscayne will hold our fourth annual 100 under $100 show, featuring lots of take-home-able work by dozens of artists. Dara Solliday & I curate this event every year, and I do believe that overall quality of the work this year is the best ever. Stuff will be flying off the walls.
As a bonus, we’ll be serenaded by the always-fabulous Victor Janusz on the piano while people snatch up lots of fun and unexpected art.
Elsewhere in the Good Arts Building, the shiny new Cherry Street Coffee House in-house gallery will have its soft debut, with C.Y., a show I’ve curated of abstract works by ’57 Biscayne artists. The gallery will feature bimonthly shows, and I’m lining up some exciting guest curators to partner with me in the venture. NOT your average coffee house art, let’s just say.
Downstairs in the new Arcade, guest artist Fernando Sancho is installing a pop-up show of his photographs, African Dream Academy, while new resident artists Gina Grey and Ieva Ansaberger will be showing paintings, photographs, and mixed media works in their studios–in-progress and in the hallway gallery.
Down the street at Arundel Books, Original Hits by Original Artists, fake album covers by approximately 33-1/3 real artists, is being remounted, will be open for First Thursday, and viewable throughout the month of September.
Saturday in Georgetown, artist Tammy Spears, who has been for several years hosting really cool, once top-secret, art shows in a gallery carved out of her charming Georgetown home, will be featuring my work along with that of Tia Matthies. That is at:
My great-grandmother, Mary Gulish, immigrated from Slovakia to Youngstown, Ohio early in the last century. She’d heard some rumors that prospects were better in Cleveland. After first sending her eleven-year-old daughter on a scouting mission, she showed up in Cleveland one day with eleven kids in tow, knowing not a soul and very little English. The family got off the interurban train in a mixed immigrant neighborhood on the West Side and walked up to a random house. Mary knocked on the door. It was answered by a lady who spoke Slovak. The lady took in this stranger and her eleven children (and presumably my great-grandfather, but he’s never made it into any of the versions of this story that I’ve heard). She encouraged Mary to buy a house, advice she followed, eventually housing a rotating cast of generations of relatives and getting the family through the Depression. Hence my obsession with the American Dream.
A few months ago, a young artist from Prague, Edita Pattova, found me on the internet and sent me an email asking if I might have space to host her traveling exhibit. With much of Good Arts Building in flux, I didn’t know where we’d put her but I figured we could come up with something. Edita showed up on my doorstep last week and, while I was lacking in the traditional gigantic plate of cold cuts with which my people traditionally welcome their guests, I did welcome her and her art into my building. Naturally, she turned out to be Slovak. Her mother is from the same region as my mother’s family. It was as if Mary Gulish herself had sent her. As Edita is only traveling and not immigrating, I haven’t badgered her about buying a house yet, but there is still time.
This Thursday, the Good Arts Building welcomes Czech artist Edita Pattova, presenting Neon Dreamer, an interactive painting and video installation, on the first stop of its West Coast tour. Neon Dreamer will be up for one night only, Thursday, August 3, from 5-9 PM in the under-construction Good Arts Arcade at 108 Cherry Street.
Inspired by the neon lights of Times Square on a visit to New York, Edita created a grid of nine oil paintings depicting an imaginary American city. On it, she projects an original video game, inspired by Pac-man, which visitors can play singly or competitively, becoming the dreamers chasing their dreams, beer, money, and each other through the neon-lit painted city streets, while dodging the authorities and other hazards. I intend to play, even though I’m pretty lousy at PacMan. Please stop by if you are out for First Thursday and Seattle Art Fair.
Time to fess up: I became a painter partly to escape the clutches of an anarchistic theatre collective which had come to resemble the authoritarian structures that it mocked. The idea of spending hours and hours alone in a studio mixing paint seemed preferable to spending hours and hours in meetings arguing about who resembled which authoritarian structure. That was thirty years ago, and I still prefer the alone-in-the-studio scenario. About twenty years after parting ways with the theatre and a cross-country move, I started teaching life drawing to set and costume design students. Neither they nor my colleagues were aware of my shady thespian past (until now!). What makes this teaching gig a delightful one, among other things, is that I get to escape the visual art world, which I find a bit stuffy and to which I’ve never really acclimated. The irony of course is that I’m now hiding out in the theatre department, bringing my creative life, and my habitual contrariness, full circle.
One thing I’ve learned from all this genre-hopping is that visual storytelling is visual storytelling. Sometimes it’s on a stage, and sometimes it’s on a canvas (or maybe just on a napkin in a bar). In both the visual artifact and the live performance you have, basically, characters in some kind of a setting. How they are arranged and posed in their places tells you some, most, or perhaps all, of their story. Playwrights and novelists will undoubtedly quibble, but even words are just a version of a canvas, leaving spaces in between the words for you to fill in from your own imagination.
Every year my drawing class spends most of our first quarter learning how the character, the person part of the story is constructed, how to separate what we think we know about people from how they actually look, studying human anatomy, learning to discern the shapes and forms and lights and darks. After about ten weeks of this we begin to venture out of the studio, plop a person in a setting, and see what stories arise from the collision and collaboration of model, place, artists, and even passersby.
What I’ve also learned from years of teaching this class (and other plein air classes), is how many fabulous underutilized spaces there are in a city, open to the public, with unexpected views and sometimes even tables and chairs. At the Washington State Convention & Trade Center, we had most of two food courts to ourselves, ensconced in majestic corporate modern architecture and interior landscaping, and overlooking freeway interchanges, parks, and city streets. Most people didn’t even notice the model posing perfectly still across the room from us.
Just outside the capitalist Convention Center is a socialist-brutalist-style wonder, the pragmatically-named Freeway Park. A person dwarfed by the massive gray geometry evokes a narrative of isolation, of a cog in the bureaucratic machine, or perhaps a defector.
A few weeks later, it was onward to the toxic monument to Seattle’s industrial past and hippie present, Gasworks Park. Our lovely model chose a floor-length gown for the occasion.
The passersby who do notice that someone in their path is holding perfectly still perhaps ask themselves the same questions we ask as we compose our drawings: Why is this person in a long black dress standing on yonder green hill? Did she walk out of a formal occasion that went bad? Is she coming, going, lost? From the future, from the past?
The colors and compositional and material choices all put different spins on the answer.
Not all of our model/actors are human. We spent one morning among the creatures of the Woodland Park Zoo, some of whom obliged us by posing out in the open where we could draw them; others lolled like lumps in trees or ponds.
At the Olympic Sculpture Park, Richard Serra’s Wake is more like an opera set. The rusty undulating behemoths dwarf the human subject but also lend her a bit of their monumentality. One could squeeze more narrative out of the situation if the model were able to interact more closely with the piece, i.e., touch it, but the Seattle Art Museum frowns on that. I have it on good authority that the artist would disagree with that policy.
The format, the cropping, the scale, the feeling of air or claustrophobia, even the shade of red can be interpreted in wildly different ways.
Of course, no tour of Seattle is complete without the Jetsonian kitsch of the Space Needle. Being just downhill from it, most of us were able to fit the whole thing into our drawings from the low angle. It is itself a character, giving the human character someone to play off of.
After six weeks of figure drawing in a very crowded studio, my University of Washington Drama grads were finally able to spread out a bit. We were lucky enough to score a field trip to the Millworks building in Seattle’s SODO Industrial district, and had the entire two-story vacant former sawmill to ourselves.
The building is mostly empty, its gorgeous beams and planks exposed, but the few items that remain are intriguing. They lent themselves to oblique narratives once model Amanda got hold of them: several potbellied stoves, wall-mounted phones, a traffic light, a piano. The last one particularly piqued our curiosity about the former occupants: Did the mill provide live music for its employees while they toiled? Or perhaps they just had really good Christmas parties, a la Mr. Fezziwig? There is certainly enough room in there to dance a reel or two.
Natural light pours in from huge windows on either end of the long second floor, and from a giant skylight overhead. The whole building is one solid block of wood, the fir planks aged into different shades that create random stripes along the walls.
I encouraged the students to look for oblique points of view and dramatic scale shifts when they chose their compositions. It’s not very often one gets to draw so much empty space, with no distracting trees or furniture.
The highlight for many of these theatrical types was the creepy basement, where “low clearance” signs in a passageway were a bit of an understatement. We stayed for just one drawing down there in the mustiness, in an Escheresque forest of lumber racks.
Big thanks to Urban Visions for making this possible!
This spring my University of Washington drama grads and I went on a whopping five field trips around town. Seattle abounds in outrageously draw-able scenery, even more so if you explore past the typical tourist sites and find those gems that are hidden in plain sight. Since this is a life drawing class, we are always accompanied by one of our fantastic models, who enjoy showing up in outfits apropos of the location. Drawing the model on location puts the life back into life drawing. Advanced students need the additional challenge of spatial relationships, scale, and changing lighting, but beginners respond well to the change of scene, too.
A day intended to be spent in Freeway Park was too chilly and rainy to hang around outside, so we moved indoors to the nearby Washington State Convention Center. It’s a public facility with lots of tables and chairs, very convenient for drawing, looking (to me at least) as if it were intended for that purpose. Suspended above the freeway on the third floor, surrounded by skyscrapers, the model seemed to be in an abstract environment that isn’t immediately discernible in the drawings. It’s a little disconcerting how outdoor space bumps up visually against indoor space, with unexpected vertiginous elevation changes. Kind of like an avant-garde stage set.
The concrete forms (which abound in the park next door) have a sort of soviet-union feel to them, something the workers might spend their allotted leisure time picnicking on. Present-day capitalist workers enjoy a smoke beneath us.
The weather was more cooperative a few weeks later for our trip to Seattle Center. Home of the iconic Space Needle, it also has lots of interesting courtyards tucked away on its mid-century futuristic grounds. The International Fountain is a favorite hangout of locals, but we got there in the morning before it was overrun by children (or even water).
A much smaller fountain and wading pool is hidden around the corner, surrounded by Flintstonesque walls and dotted with big flat rocks. As with the other fountain, one should get there before the kids for ideal (and dry) drawing conditions.
A few weeks later, we were back to shivering again, downtown at the Harbor Steps, another great public space and exercise in three-point perspective. When we got too cold, we ducked into the Seattle Art Museum for warmth, where we drew, and even painted, unmolested in the lobby.
But wait! What’s that bright yellow thing outside the window? The sun! Time to go back outside . . . to a top-secret location on the scenic and underused roof of a nearby office building, where it is also apparently acceptable to draw and paint.
The following week it was unambiguously sunny for our final class, which was spent at the Center for Wooden Boats in South Lake Union Park. The setting is almost like a mini-landscape lesson, with the horizon line conveniently delineated along the other side of Lake Union, nearby large ships looming red in the foreground, and distant trees receding into handy bluish atmospheric perspective. Flat lawns, water reflections, even a shady side of the building for when it gets too hot. Amanda looked so authoritative in her nautical garb, some tourists asked for information while she modeled.
My University of Washington Drama students and I went on a little drawing excursion this month to a train station that isn’t really a train station, with stone walls that aren’t really stone. No passengers have embarked upon their adventures from Seattle’s Union Station since 1971 when the last train stopped here. This 1911 beauty had stood vacant and unloved for thirty years until a local developer restored it to its former glory. But you still can’t get on a train; you have to walk across the street to King Street Station to do that. I brought along a suitcase anyway, for our model to use as a prop.
On previous drawing visits, I had struggled a bit with the color of the stone walls in the Great Hall. They were kind of creamy, kind of yellowy, not quite sandstone; and several different variations of this non-color in a random pattern of big blocks. As it turns out, I might have just consulted Sherwin-Williams for the color numbers.
On this day, a tall scissor lift was set up in the corner, with a couple of men doing some kind of work on the walls. I assumed they were masons making repairs to the stone.
When I got closer, I saw that they were actually just painting.
Well then. I touched the lower part of the wall and finally figured out that the large blocks stone were actually textured plaster. The “grout” lines between the blocks had been carefully taped off, rendered smooth, and painted yet another shade of off-white.
I’ve done some faux painting in my time and this looked like the job from hell: a boring palette, a labor-intensive-yet-subtle finish that barely registers to the casual observer, a confusing rotation of annoyingly similar colors, ceilings and arches guaranteed to permanently disable one’s neck, and, of course, the absurd sisyphean nature of the task.
The irony that I had taken a bunch of scenic and costume designers to draw a giant room full of scenery was lost on no one.
Our next drawing destination of the day was a little-known historical site neither ironic nor fake. Yes, I’m talking about the Birthplace of United Parcel Service. The 1967 plaque on the sidewalk outside is delightfully cold-warry and totally unironic:
In August 1907, in a 6 by 17 foot office under the original sidewalk here, a few messenger boys began the business which their many thousand successors extended throughout the vast regions of our country covered by United Parcel Service today. Exemplifying the opportunities open to private citizens under the Constitution of the United States of America, this plaque was placed in January 1967, with the cooperation and appreciation of the Seattle Historical Society.
Take that, Commies, with your inferior state-run parcel services. As if you could order any stuff in the first place.
Inside the imposing gate is a lovely and very loud courtyard enclosure, a private park open to the workers during workdays, filled with blooming plants, waterfalls, and, on this day, a horde of children who, like us, were out on a field trip.