Monday, January 24, 2011

Conquest's Wake

A polaroid of marquee letters titled the window.

When Wall of Sound took over the whole space at 2nd Avenue and Bell Street from Art in Form in 1992, Mark Sullo offered me the opportunity to do the windows. Coincidentally, I had just been invited by photographer John Stamets to tour the remains of the Music Hall, Seattle's last grand theater to open before the crash of 1929. I proposed that I create an installation from the detritus that I was collecting from the old theater. In order to buy a little time to create the elaborate installation, I gathered the rusting roof-vents from the old theater and placed them in the window.

The window as it was first installed.

Wall of Sound's main window with Conquest's Wake installed

I had volunteered to assist John in his late night excursions to document the slow but sure demolition. We would meet at the Music Hall at around 10:00 PM when the destruction crew was leaving, and we had the entire space to ourselves. I would assist in the setting of lights so that John could take the very long exposure photos capturing the slow disappearance of the incredible ornate Spanish motif cast plaster-work of the theater's auditorium. Then while the photos were being exposed, I had free rein to wander, in boots and hard-hat with flashlight in hand, the catacombs of the seemingly haunted cavernous space. Down the stairs leading from back stage cascaded a waterfall from the leaking pipes and the entire basement was several inches under water. Wading through those dark dank halls, my flashlight's beam bouncing all about, I found the old marquee letters, lighting fixtures, exit lights and miscellaneous paraphernalia from the sad dressing rooms. The strangeness of it all was thrilling. This was backstage like none that I could have imagined. In the wee hours of the morning, I would load my car, assist John with his equipment and drive home with another trove of treasure.

Night after night I would return to find new areas of collapse, and soon I got to know the demolition crew. Some members of that crew began to take a little extra care to remove panels of the ornate plaster more or less in tact. One night, a giant plaster finial was lowered from the auditorium ceiling into a waiting pickup. It was over six feet tall. Some took interest in my project and even removed a few special pieces for me to use, among them a giant shell, a medallion and heraldic shields.

By the last night I visited the Music Hall, the auditorium was gone and only the lobby and the stairway to the projection room remained. I gathered a few last gems of the now fallen balcony's ceiling and made my retreat. By then I had gathered remnants from throughout the now ruined theater including fragments of the exterior stonework, concrete interior details, and pieces of the theater curtains. I had also built a papier maché replica of one of the galleons that had jutted from the auditorium wall, to which I added the fiddle head with tuning pegs and a couple of interpretations of figurative instruments of the world. I had also now completed the conception of the piece as a contemplation of conquest. With its baroque Spanish encrusting, the Music Hall gave me the perfect metaphor. The ruins became the sea upon which the galleon sailed, the marque letters a hurricane and the drapery placed it all on stage. This window was first a wake for the Music Hall. It was also as much about the wake of conquest as it was a wake for conquest.

A view from the doorway shows the giant paster clamshell and in it two small plaster "Indian" heads that I found in the ruins.

An exterior view of the hurricane of letters

The hurricane of letters from the interior

Interior view of the installation

In the adjacent front window I created three lit boxes draped with black drapery from the theater. In each I hung one of John's photos. In the first hung a photo of the grand exterior, in the second one of the ruined upstairs lobby, and in the third the wreckage of the auditorium with its galleon still intact. Below each photo I arranged broken pieces from the scenes depicted.

The three shadow boxes with photos by John Stamets

Conquest's Wake was by far my most ambitious window installation and I am glad that it served to launch the expanded enterprise of Wall of Sound, my favorite record store. If you haven't all ready, be sure to check it out at its current location on Capitol Hill.

All of the photos on this entry are by Mark Sullo.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"War in the Gulf, from the Artists Perspective"

"War Toy Bust" Mixed media: papier and fabric mache, collage, American flags and war toys

In 1991, Seattle's William Traver Gallery held an open invitational exhibition entitled "War in the Gulf, from the Artist's Perspective," in response to the Persian Gulf War, otherwise known as Operation Desert Storm. Many artists participated in this show.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bumbershoot 1990: Eden II

Eden II entry screen

Eden II: A Garden for the Post-Natural World was conceived by artist Lorna Jordan, performance artist Susy Schneider and myself for Bumbershoot, Seattle's arts festival, in 1990. We brought in Michael Ehle to paint backdrops, and I worked with my long time friend and artist Mike Freeman. This theatrical installation depicted a post natural garden made from recycled cast offs, and was a stage set for Susy to create a character who would bring it all to life for Bumbershoot audiences. Lorna created a computerized mechanical 'container garden' and Mike and I cobbled together a vast array of derelict materials that had been left behind by the former resident of his newly acquired property. The installation had interactive features where audience members could activate lights, sound and motion in the junk yard plants.

Installation views

"Flower Bed"

Susy entertains visiters.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mia Gallery: 1990

Still Life


Martyr (shrouded)


Patriot: Bust of the Americas






Feast or Famine


Listen to the Land


Little Multitude

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

SMOOL T-Shirts

This logo-label was printed on the back of each shirt

In 1988 I traveled to L.A., New York and San Francisco with samples of T-shirts that I had developed with Fine Print Studios (later called Post Industrial Press), a Tacoma screen printing company that had printed some of my posters. In each city I found a rep and we launched the Smool T-shirt line. The timing was good as artist designed t-shirts had become popular. Much of my t-shirt work was inspired by "El Dia de los Muertos", Mexico's Day of the Dead. Here are some of the designs.

No Evil

Skeleton World

Three Pigs

A number of people have suggested that I re-release the Three Pigs design for its recent decadent relevance.

The Corporate Heads design was later used to advertise a concert by the Grateful Dead.

Skeleton Band

Dancing Skeletons

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Monday, January 10, 2011

Art to Sea: Floating Seattle

"Floating Seattle" installed before sailing

In early 1988 Seattle art patron Max Gurvich launched the idea for "Art to Sea" when he hosted a group of local artists at the Seattle Yacht Club. Max proposed that artists create works to be installed on boats participating in "Opening Day" of Seattle's boating season, which happens in May. At the end of the evening each artist submitted an idea sketched on a cocktail napkin for which Max would seek funding. I quickly drew a Seattle skyline on a sailing boat and turned it in. It took another year for adequate funding to be found, during which time I developed the idea into an elaborate 18-color serigraph and poster for the Seattle Art Expo. I also created the Wind Puppet installation for Bumbershoot to explore structural ideas and dying and printing on nylon.

Henry Kotkins on his yacht, Diamond Head

When the news came that "Art to Sea" would happen in May of 1989, I was delighted to hear that Ackerley Communications, Seattle's billboard company, had chosen to fund my project and wanted to install it on a billboard... the irony made it even more delightful.

Henry Kotkins, the Seattle Skyway Luggage tycoon, volunteered the use of his 72' classic yawl, Diamond Head, for the display, and on Saturday May 6th, "Floating Seattle was launched to much delight.

Floating Seattle sails through the Montlake Cut.

The morning Seattle Times featured a photo of the Diamond Head ready to sail.

The painted billboard backdrop

Afterward I supplied Ackerley with a section of the sky from my Art Expo "Seattle" print which was painted as a background and my 3D cityscape was installed on the billboard at the south end of Lake Union, where it was so popular that I got my first fan mail. It later moved to two other locations, in Fremont and Kenmore.

"Floating Seattle" takes flight.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Wind Puppets

In 1988, I proposed an installation for Bumbershoot (Seattle's Arts Festival) to be sited at the Seattle Center Flag Plaza, a leftover from the 1962 Seattle Worlds Fair where the 50 State Flags were flown. The Flag Plaza and Pavilion have since been replaced. For this installation I created 50 "Wind Puppets" from dyed nylon which I printed using paper stencils allowing quick manipulation and making each piece unique. The graphics were based on a previous exhibit of building forms, but here I made them figurative with crazy heads and male genitalia. For me they had become corporate high rise monsters... a whole flock of them. For the revelers at Bumbershoot they were an amusing colorful wind-animated display.

After Bumbershoot, the Wind Puppets were exhibited at The Bellevue Art Museum, the Spokane Art School, the Mercer Island High School Gallery and at ReBar (where I frequently made creative appearances).

Wind Puppets were animated with fans at the Mercer Island High School Gallery