Chris Sheridan & The Great Wolfram Artist Exchange Caper

Sheridan jawbone, 1/27/14, 4:43 PM, 16C, 10648x14180 (0+32), 133%, Repro 2.2 v2,  1/40 s, R73.6, G50.7, B66.8

by Sarra Scherb

Published in WEAVE Magazine – Volume 2, May 2014.

Wolfram Productions’ Seattle / Vienna Artist Exchange residency program provides opportunities for artists to work and exhibit in new environments. Artists are given a place to stay, make a body of work, and exhibit it. (For more on Wolfram Productions, see the previous article in Volume 2: Siolo Thompson’s Wild City.)

Seattle-based Chris Sheridan will embark on his Vienna residency in October 2014. WEAVE spoke with Sheridan over the summer as he prepped for his stay in Austria.

WEAVE: Chris Sheridan is a painter who utilizes ancient symbolic language and references mythic characters in his sumptuous oil compositions. He’s lived in Seattle since 2006, and works out of Inscape Arts building in a shared atelier with his fiancee, painter Kate Protage. Is that a good summation, Chris?

Chris Sheridan: Sure. Except that by the time this prints, Kate will be my wife.

WEAVE: Oh, right, congratulations! What else should we mention to bring people up to speed?

CS: I know how to say, “You have a pretty cow” in German.

WEAVE: Because of your upcoming residency?

CS: Sure. We’ll go with that.

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Sheridan in his studio

WEAVE: How did you become the fourth American participant of the Wolfram Artist Residency?

CS: There’s no application process — I was approached by Siolo Thompson [of Wolfram Productions] when I went to Christian Hegemark-Bazant’s show at the end of his Seattle residency. She asked if I would be interested.

WEAVE: Why do you think she tapped you as a participant?

CS: I think she chose me to see what would happen if she put someone in the mix who doesn’t fit the current trends in Vienna. My process and the figuration in my work is fairly traditional, and based on conversations with Christian and Siolo, it sounds like traditional painting is not the mode of thinking in Vienna right now. They’ve moved away from the canonization of the figure and symbolism, and that’s the heart of what I currently do. This is going to be an interesting, engaging challenge all around. Perhaps rather than one party changing their mind, we can find ways to meet in the middle.

WEAVE: You’re required to produce and exhibit a body of work while you’re there. Have you planned what you’ll do, or will you allow the city to inspire you?

CS: I’ve had to plan it pretty carefully, because I only have 26 days to get there, paint like crazy, and put the show up. My usual process takes a while, so I’m creating charcoal sketches to work from before I leave, rolling them, shipping them over, and then finishing them while I’m there. The tricky thing is that I’m buying all my materials while I’m over there, which could seriously impact my color palette and paint application. And I’m usually a materials snob!

I look forward to seeing how my environment affects and inspires the way that I complete the paintings, though. Based on both the timeline and the art around me, it’s quite possible that I’ll change my style a bit to fit the environment. These paintings may be looser, sketchier, and less modeled…but still polished, of course. But, letting go and losing control is part of the challenge and the appeal: I’ve decided that you just have to smack the bull in the ass and hold on.

Chris Sheridan - Stabby Michelle, 7/26/13, 10:51 AM, 16C, 10000x13325 (0+0), 125%, Custom,  1/40 s, R59.5, G36.7, B53.2

WEAVE: What are the themes of the show, as far as you’ve planned them?

CS: Vienna’s a city that has historically been enthralled with symbolism, and symbols of death–statuary, churches, cemeteries–and I wanted to bring that sense into my works. Originally, I planned to photograph statues around the city as a reference, and morph them into the faces of people I know. But, there’s no way to do all that in three weeks, especially if I have delays with shipping, customs, jet-lag or buying materials.

Instead, I’ll be continuing a series I’ve been working on for a year with photographer/designer Amanda Paredes. We’ve been discussing Dante’s Inferno and creating a series of paintings and photographs exploring the psychological act of falling.

We did a photo shoot with a dressmaker and make-up artist that was based on that concept of falling away, moving downwards. I’ve already painted one piece based on it but it’ll take a while to exhaust this theme. It’s fascinating. What I see in Vienna is still going to influence my work down the line, I know, even if it doesn’t immediately inform this exhibit.

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chris sheridan 32x40, 9/24/13, 2:31 PM, 16C, 10666x14213 (0+0), 133%, Custom,  1/40 s, R67.0, G42.9, B59.0

 

WEAVE: What excites you most about the residency?

CS: Honestly, the traveling. I’ve never been out North America, I’ve never really traveled at all. I can’t wait to take an international flight, to run around Europe, and to talk shop with people in a completely different atmosphere.

[Ed. note: At this point Sheridan is beaming like a kid on Christmas morning.]

I’ll also be presenting to a new audience, and actually be there on the ground to hear feedback. I’ve had shows in Europe before, but I’ve never been there to hear the reaction. The amount I can learn is endless, and I feel like I’ve already learned so much — without getting on the plane yet!

WEAVE: What worries you most?

CS: Delivering what’s expected of me. I need to create a show that’s representational of my name and the level of quality I expect of myself. It may not look exactly like my previous work, but it has to be worthy.

Money’s also a huge concern. I not only need to pay for plane tickets, but the cost of shipping the art back and forth, paying customs, and documenting the work. I’ve launched a Kickstarter to fund those costs, and I’m hoping to not have to max out three credit cards just to eat schnitzel.

WEAVE: Anything else?

CS: I also know how to say “Your wife likes everything,” and “He likes all the wives,” in German. I’m not sure what my German-language program thinks I’ll be doing over there.

Editor’s Note: Because we’re posting this article from The Future, you can now see the work that Sheridan created during his residency. Check out the paintings on his site here and here, and info on his collaborative exhibition The Fall with Amanda Paredes and Stone Crow Designs here.

Sheridan’s residency ran October 1-31, 2014. His exhibition at mo.ë art space in Vienna opened Oct. 26. More information at moe-vienna.org

All artwork is courtesy and copyright of Chris Sheridan. 

Spider, Wolf, Ram & Rogue: Siolo Thompson’s Wild City

 

by Sarra Scherb

Published in WEAVE Magazine – Volume 2, May 2014.

Siolo Thompson and I are supposed to be talking about her transmedia company, Wolfram Productions. I have a list of questions about past projects, a voice recorder on the table, a blank page for scribbling notes. But, try as we might to stay on topic, we can’t help but veer into other territory: science fiction, video games, comics. We quickly agree on the superiority of Marvel over DC superheroes, assert a mutual love of the novels of weird fantasist China Mieville, and prefer single-player video games like Dark Souls and Elder Scrolls.

“I always play a rogue character in video games—I like being stealthy, and quick, and having a lot of skills, like picking locks,” says Thompson as we sip wine on a long summer night in Pioneer Square. She speaks rapidly, using her hands and eyebrows to punctuate her sentences. “I try to make my characters look and act as close to my real self as possible. I want them to do the things I can do.”

Judging by the dizzying array of abilities and interests this 37-year-old curator, artist, writer, actress, chef, marketer, entrepreneur, model, coder, former Angiography Tech, and full-time mother can boast, a quick and improvisational rogue archetype is just about right. (I’m not sure about her ability to pick a lock, but nothing would surprise me.)

But stealthy?
No one would ever call what Siolo Thompson does ‘stealthy.’

Thompson is Executive Producer for Visual Arts at Wolfram Productions, a two-woman company that prides itself on taking on publishing, curatorial, or marketing projects and pushing them to all corners of media.

Thompson founded the company in 2012 with Charlotte Austin—the head of their literary projects side—when the two began making serious plans to publish a book. Needing a moniker under which to publish, they came up with Wolfram Productions, a gender neutral name that combined the most active and powerful parts of the women’s personalities, as well as nodding to the nerdcore legacy of Wolfram Alpha, a computational knowledge engine.

“Charlotte is a mountain climber, so she’s the “ram” in our equation,” Siolo explains.
“I used to be a professional fighter, so I’m the ‘wolf.’”

Put them together and you’ve got Wolfram.

Wolfram only takes on assignments that speak to them on a personal or artistic level, and their project list clearly reflects their feminist bent. They recently published an illustrated non-fiction novella about Congolese survivors of abuse, titled The Survival Girls, which received praise from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Two marketing events/exhibits have also highlighted video game companies with women in high positions: Meteor Entertainment and Bungie. And unafraid to tackle thorny subjects, they curated an art exhibition on guns — 2013’s 2nd Amendment at Bherd Studios Gallery.

The two producers and their cadre of consultants carefully select their clients, and then turn up the volume on their project til the windows rattle.

But before any of the receptions and red carpets could happen, Austin and Thompson first needed to tackle the reason for Wolfram’s founding: their publishing project. Austin and Thompson had long felt frustration with the lack of positive, multidimensional female role models in media, and–along with designer Amanda Paredes–had sat down over drinks to blue sky their vision for a book that would tackle that frustration head-on: The Better Bombshell.

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Thompson and Wolfram co-founder Charlotte Austin.

Bombshell paired a wide range of artists and writers into teams to answer the question: who is the better bombshell? Poetry, essays, and short stories from writers of different backgrounds, genders and sexualities played off artwork from visual artists around the globe, as they considered ways of responding to the query.

“We had shared long discussions about the value of collaboration between the artistic and the literary communities,’ wrote Austin in Lost & Found Mega*zine in 2013.

“The act of collaboration provides a unique opportunity for writers and artists to engage in the time-tested tradition of letting words and images work together to push both further into the void than either could reach alone.”

“It spiraled out of control pretty quickly,” says Thompson with a rueful laugh.

“We thought it was going to be the kind of thing we stapled together in the kitchen, but instead…”

Instead, the book took off in a big way, receiving mentions on The Huffington Post, the Stranger, CityArts, and Polish publication Lost & Found.

They brought Bombshell—a glossy, behemoth of a book—on a tour to the AWP conference in Boston, and on the way found ways to engage their audience with thoughtful blog posts, a book-specific website, and small launches across the country. Proceeds from the sales were—and continue to be—donated to the Washington Education Access Fund.

“When we came up with the idea we had no idea how difficult it is to publish. It’s not an easy thing. We’re proud of the work we did with it, and it was our launch-pad.”

Things seem to get launched around Thompson, often at the speed of thought. She warns me early on that it’s not safe to mention any of my ambitions around her.

“If you tell me you’re interested starting some project, I’ll have marketing ideas for you the next day. I’ll build your website, file your business license, and draw up your four point plan within the week.”

She grins.

“I’m such a pusher.”

She’s not entirely sure where her energy comes from to juggle new Wolfram projects, paint contributions for shows around town, curate exhibits, attend art openings, perform culinary experiments, create illustrations for an upcoming graphic novel, pick up her son from wrestling practice, and improve on her distance running.

“I live in a state of pretty high stress,’ she admits.

“You put a seed out into the world, and it grows—it’s a Cthulhu, a dark lord that runs your life for the next 6 months. And then, as soon as it’s done, I start wondering how I can top it.”

Seattle is Thompson’s adopted home, and she considers it a remarkably easy place to get such things done. Something about the city and its arts community enables her to fire all her engines and complete things at whiplash speed. I wonder if it’s because notoriously laid-back Seattleites are floored by her sheer dynamism and energy. She politely disagrees.

“Everything I do is collaborative. I end up sucking people into the vortex, and we all generate momentum together. People want to help, they want to show up and be a part of things. Enthusiasm is infectious.”

I compare Thompson and Austin to spiders in the center of a web: connecting disparate parts of their networks, feeling the pulses from across their web and pinging back, and busily bringing new people into their purview.

She laughs, “I love it—spiders are my spirit animal!”

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On a mild evening earlier in the year, Thompson showed just how far—and how high—her web of connections could take her. Wolfram presented “Floating City”, an intimate dinner and art exhibition in the 1900s penthouse apartment at the tippy top of Smith Tower in downtown Seattle.

After watching a flurry of Seattle gallery closures in 2013-14, Thompson wondered: How do we develop a culture of arts patronage? Where and how do people spend money, buy art, and invest objects with meaning?

Floating City was first in a series of events that seek to provide answers. The event brought together a small gathering of unusual suspects—artists, collectors, writers, scientists, designers, musicians, techies, and more—to celebrate the artwork created by visiting Austrian artists Christian Bazant-Hegemark and Simone Fuchs during their Wolfram Artist Residency program.

The Residency invited the two Viennese painters to Seattle for a month to engage with the art scene and produce a body of work. It culminated with the Floating City reception, an event far beyond what an art gallery could produce.

“It wasn’t a staid gallery art experience, or a night out at a restaurant,” explains Thompson.

“Floating City was a dinner party that brought together the worlds of art, food, and conversation in a new paradigm.”

Thompson dreamt up a sophisticated tasting menu with young chef Mike Stamey based on the textures and colors of the artists’ work. Mezzo-soprano Roxanna Walitzki performed an Austrian aria that brought many to tears. And arts patron and penthouse owner Petra Franklin granted guests a new perspective on the city: they shed shoes and jackets, shimmied up a cramped chimney, and beheld the vertiginous view from inside the tiny glass dome atop of Smith Tower.

In the days following the event, the guests took to social media to record their experiences, posting photos of skyscraper fairy lights from the dome, or soft-focus food-porn shots from the tasting menu.

A guest who bought a painting that night wrote: “It is not only a beautiful painting, but a talisman: imbued with the magic and memory of last Thursday evening’s Floating City.”

Another posted: “Loving living in a city where people have a cultural vision. This felt like Paris.”

 

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Photos from Floating City by Braden Duncan.

 

Thompson sips the dregs of her wine and levels a serious look at me over the rim of her chunky black glasses.

“My best piece of advice to anyone with a goal is this: formalize the process. Put whatever it is you want to do down in formal language; make it a proposal, a contract. It will make you accountable to yourself.”

Wolfram Productions itself is a function of this ethos, created out of thin air to serve as a publishing vehicle for The Better Bombshell. The Wolfram Artist Residency program, too, originated this way: Bazant-Hegemark made an idle comment that he wanted to visit Seattle and paint a bit. He must not have gotten the warning Thompson gave me about sharing ambitions within a mile radius: she gave it a title, and mission statement, and now the Residency is in full swing, with Seattleites Garek Druss and Chris Sheridan leaving for Vienna in coming months.

The sun is setting across the brick square, and our wine glass hold only traces of our lipstick. As we wrap up our conversation, she speaks candidly about the rhythm of her life as a human catalyst.

“I run one project to pay for the next. It’s like you are the trapeze, and the net. The trick is to make it seem seamless.”

After all our digressions to sci-fi and fantasy realms, I can’t help but reflect that although Thompson is very like the jack-of-all-trades rogue characters she prefers to play in video games, she might also have analogues in the world of comics. Maybe she’s Spider-Woman, spinning her webs all over town. But I’d like to think that she could just as easily be the next iteration of Daredevil.

Just call her Siolo: The Woman Without Fear.

 

Editor’s Note: While the partners at Wolfram Productions have gone their separate ways since this issue was published, you can find more artwork and new projects by Siolo Thompson at her website.

Artwork courtesy and copyright of by Siolo Thompson.

Art For Your Ass: Bombsheller Isn’t Wearing Any Pants

Written Exclusively For and Published By WEAVE Magazine – Volume 2, May 2014.

by Sarra Scherb

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A dramatic metal staircase sweeps down through the center of the Bombshelter, mirrored in the high gloss of the dark concrete floors. A parade of ankle-breaking high heels and spiked wedges marches down the steps, glittering wickedly in the overhead lights. Down one side of the ground floor space are spartan standing desks studded with shiny swivel monitors, all powered down for the moment, but brimming with potential energy. Sharp corners, hard surfaces, high shine, and that waterfall of killer neon shoes: it looks like the lair of a chic and deadly supervillainess.

I’m met by Pablos Holman, CEO of Bombsheller, who—despite his glasses that look cobbled together from chrome robot bones—is no villain. But he’s certainly as diabolically clever and ambitious as one. His plan? To get you, and everyone you know, in a pair of custom-fit, artist-designed, one-of-a-kind, sustainably and locally produced leggings. All while changing the way that clothing is conceived, ordered and produced.

“Bombsheller is renegade fashion. We’re going to get in, throw our bombs into the industry, and it won’t be long before everyone gets to wear whatever they really, truly want.” -Holman

The fashion industry won’t know what hit it.

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This pop-punk edgy fashion company is headed up by co-founders Holman, Marissa Monteiro and Nick Vu. It moved into its lair in January of 2014, and turns a year old this summer. Bombsheller’s ethic revolves around collaboration and customization. Artists from around the world are encouraged to virtually submit designs to be made into leggings, and they set their own royalties to receive for each online sale. Customers order their favorite shells (the preferred term for leggings), and their choice is printed, cut, sewn, and shipped from the Seattle headquarters within 24 hours. The print-on-demand model saves the company the cost and waste of making five hundred pairs of S, M and L of each design, keeping them in inventory, and then dumping them in a landfill when they don’t sell. This streamlined approach means Bombsheller can accept hundreds—even thousands—of designs to add to their catalogue, which grows every day.

Bombsheller_2014_Solstice_00587Bombsheller prides itself on being a fully Seattle-based company. That means that its marketing, production, printing, and shipping all happen under the same roof, with employees paid in USD. The only part of creating their shells that’s outsourced is the design itself: the patterns are submitted by artists using Bombsheller’s tech specs on their website. Traditional media artists, graphic designers, or photographers can save their images in Illustrator, upload their designs to a template, and Bombsheller staff either approve the design or work with them to improve it.
As Bombsheller began to prototype their shells, they reached out to Boom aka taskboom, an arts director with ties to the local artistic community. She contacted Seattle artist John Osgood, muralist Jonathan Wakuda Fischer, and the female graffiti collective Few&Far to be early contributors.

Would it have been quicker and easier to hire an in-house team to design the shells? Sure. But Bombsheller isn’t interested in easy; they’re committed to involving people who wouldn’t normally be able to bring their work to the fashion world. They’re also artist advocates: along with being able to set their own royalties for shells sold, the artists retain all rights to their images.

“As an artist, being able to say that your art was used for fashion is huge. normally, they’d need to devote themselves 1000% to make a line happen.” – Holman

“We intentionally engaged with a variety of artists with varying skill sets,’ says Boom. “Some had fashion experience, and they were familiar with designing for the body and vector design. Others were stepping into the fashion industry for the first time. We want artists from all levels to feel empowered to invent their own fashion.”

Though the learning curve was steep for some, the outcome was knock-out: the scanning and printing are of such high quality that every crackle of paint and whisper of charcoal comes through. Even the texture of the canvas or panel can be seen.

Boom also spearheaded inaugural public art events geared to showcase Bombsheller to the wider community, including curating the Bombsheller Art Labs, a temporary maker gallery that hosts performances, exhibits and installations right in the Bombshelter itself.

“Pablos is a hacker-inventor-futurist, always asking the question, what can I make this do?’ says Boom. “I stem from the arts and non-profit sector, so the question on my mind when Bombsheller moved into the headquarters on Queen Anne was, what can we make this space do?”

The hacks come in the form of community-focused projects, roping in local talent and sponsors. Eleven local businesses sponsored graffiti artists Osgood, Wakuda Fischer and Few&Far members to paint the mural Piece of the Sky (below) during the Uptown ArtWalk, while non-profit The Vera Project presented art activities, and Skate Like A Girl! did a skate demo-clinic.

An exhibit of Few&Far’s work also debuted at the UptownArtwalk, with an art review party featuring hip-hop vocalist MADLines. The next hack is a glam “rockway” with School of Rock’s “Best of Bowie” tribute concert at Hale’s Palladium (September 27th), and an intergalactic exhibit Alliance = Rebellion takes off October 15th.

 

Few&Far members and friend at Bombsheller Art Labs for the reception of Hi-Technique : beyond the glass wall art show. Dime, Marry, 179, Claire (a friend), and Deity.
Few&Far members at Bombsheller Art Labs for the reception of Hi-Technique: beyond the glass wall. (L to r: Dime, Marry, 179, Claire (a friend), and Deity.)

 

Holman is a veteran of 2000s era Silicon Valley and the modern tech sector, where flexibility, feedback and DIY is the order of the day. Inventor, hacker, TED Talker, and omni-curious problem-solver, he’s used to looking at clunky systems and making them beautiful. The fashion industry should quake: it’s square in his sights.

“We’re not going to be welcome in the fashion world. The industry as it is now is not for common people, it’s for designers to push their own agendas and visions on you. We’re flipping that. You’re making the decisions.”
-Holman

He sees the current mode as wasteful, inaccessible and rigid.

“I’m used to dreaming up an app, writing the code over breakfast, launching version 1.0 by lunch, receiving bug reports before dinner, and releasing 2.0 at midnight.”

By that standard, every industry is rigid. But modern computing and networking have begun to level the playing field, allowing newcomers and the rise of rapid iteration, customization and personal choice. Holman sees other industries where it’s already under way.

“Want to be a musician? Get a Mac with GarageBand—you’re a musician. You don’t have to have six years of training, or a recording contract. This kind of revolution has yet to happen in the realm of physical objects, but it’s going to. We’re going to be there first.”

Holman’s original idea for the shells was that each pattern would be completely unique, and only printed once. One concept was to have customers send in their Pinterest boards, which would be fed into an algorithm that would produce a one-of-a-kind design based on its shapes and colors. A crowd-source of one.

We’re standing by a rack of shells in bewildering patterns and colors: there are mermaid-tail fish scales, harlequin primary colors, unicorn princess pastels, old maps of Brooklyn and Chicago, spinning fractals, and photographs of crystalline structures. I leaf through them, the sleek—yet thick—material sliding through my fingers. Each is printed on Fabric Fatale, a close-woven stretch polyester/spandex blend. On the waistbands are the titles of the artwork, the artist’s name, and the name of the designer. I ask Holman who their fashion expert on staff is. How do they know what colors are in this year? Which designs make the cut, and which ones are just too weird or ugly?

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“We try to get out of the way and let the artists decide what they think is cool. We’re not fashion designers: I wouldn’t hire anyone from the fashion world. They’d have a list of a million things we’re not supposed to do, or shouldn’t be able to do.”

“Doesn’t that lack quality control?” I wonder. Holman seems unconcerned; unless it’s blatantly offensive, or a copyright infringement, someone will like it and decide to print themselves a pair. And if it doesn’t look quite right, a staff-member can point out ways to better flatter the body and make seams match up.

Donna-Prima-Imam-Mosque-Isfahan-Prayer-Room-v2mosque-back-662x1024That part is harder than you might think. Holman shows me a few images and asks how I think they’ll look wrapped around butt, thighs and hips—then he displays the results. It’s
not easy: a texture of rough wooden slats looks elegant when printed horizontally, but flip it vertically and it’s nearly pornographic. A photo of the interior of a tiled mosque (left) looks gorgeous when rendered up the side of the legs, but somehow connives to create a granny-panty white void right across the butt.

And then there are the crotch explosions. (Don’t ask.)

I select a shell that looks like an ice cream cone exploded across it, and check the waistband for the artist name. Artwork by NASA, #OrionGalaxy. I shimmy into them. They fit so tightly and constrictively to my skin that I immediately want to peel them off — but, I take them for a spin out in the offices.

“Awesome, I’ve never seen those before,’ says Holman. “There are so many designs coming in that I can’t even keep track.”
“NASA?” I ask.
“Public domain. We can use anything on their website.”

Friends in very high places.

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If you visit Bombsheller’s website you’ll be confronted by a veritable wall of butts. Their primary models (one of whom is company co-founder Marissa Monteiro) assume yoga poses, Rockette high-kicks, fighting stances, and come-hither looks to demonstrate the variety and adaptability of the shells. But though the models on the site don’t conform to the outlandish standards of the fashion industry, they are nonetheless homogeneously slender and toned as they preen on sky-high wedges. Are their shells only for certain bodies?

“It’s Bombsheller’s intention to represent a diversity of body types,’ says Boom, “so everyone knows they can design and wear shells.” She stresses that they want to show a range of body types in addition to the ones in their online catalog, and that other venues–such as a spread in ShockValue magazine and their Facebook albums–feature the shells on men, transgender models, and larger bodies.

Holman replies that because the company has only been up and running formally since January 2014 they are focusing on perfecting their mid-range sizing before expanding to larger sizes. But they’ve recently held their first round of fitting parties for people in the XXL range, so it’s on the radar.

Holman wraps up the tour of the Bombshelter, and I begin to gather my things. I’m heading for the door when I realize: I’m still wearing the Orion shell from the dressing room. That sensation of the material being too tight and too close to my body has transformed into some serious comfort, a feeling of having a durable second skin. Unlike the other leggings in my closet, the waistband hasn’t moved a millimeter in all the walking around, and the ankles haven’t ridden up. I want to wear them to the rock climbing gym, a cocktail party, and to bed, simultaneously. I give my galactic gams a last longing look in the mirror, which Holman catches.
He laughs.

“They’re yours.”

Now, twenty four hours later, I’m wearing them in a cafe as I write this article. A man at the next table has just leaned over:

“My daughters would love your tights. Where did you get them?”

Local. Sustainable. Unique. Artist-supportive. Ground-breaking. Bombsheller.

I give him the scoop, and another shell has just been fired at the fashion industry.

 

All photography courtesy and copyright of Bombsheller. 

Electric Coffin: It’s Not Going to Make Itself

by Sarra Scherb

Published By WEAVE Magazine – Volume 2, May 2014.

On the back wall of the Westward bar is a very unusual ship.

It’s not a seaworthy vessel by anyone’s standards; the planks are distressed and seem a hundred years old, and the metal weeps rust from every bolt. No one’s sailing this thing anywhere, since half the hull is peeled away to reveal tiny dioramas set into dollhouse-like rooms, like hidden cells in a hive. In one compartment, a miniature Abominable Snowman stalks through an icy cave; in another is a cozy gamehunters’ trophy room; in the next, an oceanographer gets menaced by tentacles bursting through a vent in a deep sea lab. Bottles of gin, vodka and whiskey set into the hull make it the opposite of watertight.

But while it might not be the best vessel for sailing out onto Lake Union, the execution and impeccable workmanship in the Westward’s iconic back bar is so outstanding that it helped garner the restaurant a James Beard nomination in 2014 for excellence. The hands on deck behind this ambitious design? Seattle-based trio Electric Coffin.

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Westward’s bar, designed by Electric Coffin.

Otherwise known as Patrick “Duffy” de Armas, Justin Kane Elder, and Stefan Hofmann, Electric Coffin specializes in fabricating wild installations, creating antique-looking signage, and installing dioramas, murals, and hand-pulled screenprinted wallpaper. Each of the three contributes something different to the mix, making the partnership able to realize projects far beyond the scope of what one alone could do. Their unwritten motto could be: well, it’s not going to make itself.

Duffy—the youngest in the group in his late 20s—hails from the land of custom cars and hot rods, and carries a degree in sculpture under his belt from the UW. Elder, in his 30s, brings carpentry expertise and creates kaleidoscopic paintings of animals and celebrities on the side. Hoffman, the senior member, spent a decade as a high-end graphic designer. Together, they’re the hands and minds behind the patchwork mural at the Hollywood Tavern, the aerosol panels at the Via 6 building, the faux-distressed neon chandelier at Joule Restaurant, and the ice cream truck embedded into Trove on Capitol Hill.

“We do a lot of things just to prove that we can. We have no fear. we feel like we can fabricate anything.”

 

Joule_20130922_096
The interior of Joule restaurant.

 

The trio began as just Duffy on his own, as he created artwork and worked in a metal shop under the moniker of Electric Coffin. “The name was supposed to sound like a custom shop,’ he says, “where old stuff was given new life. That’s where a lot of my personal artwork comes from: collaging found material, making furniture and sculpture from scrap.” In 2011 Duffy received a project that was beyond his scope to fabricate solo, and he pulled in Elder—with whom he’d exhibited in the past—for assistance. After a number of successful projects, Hofmann was brought on board as well, rounding out their skill-set with a designer’s critical eye.
Duffy is quick to stress what makes Electric Coffin unique: they aren’t an artist collective, and they’re not a design firm. “Because we’re artists first and designers second, we’re conceptual, but we work to find the best way to get the narrative across. Every project has an interesting story, a core concept, and we’re always trying to bring that to light.”

With each member of Electric Coffin an artist in their own right, ideas come big and bold. Sometimes it leads to stronger narratives; other times the brainstorm only gets everything soggy and tangled. Duffy admits with a smile that some days the trio have to toss a coin and abide by the outcome to move forward. He says that he’s occasionally tempted to give up on the collaboration, that it would be easier to go solo.

“I could live in my studio, make art, and be perfectly happy. But is that healthy? Not really. Being an artist is egotistical. you’re always saying, “look what I made! I’m so great!” But it’s good to get out of your own head, even if your ego is bruised. In the end you’re growing, you’re pushing yourself.”

squid_cans_highres
Works in an exhibit at Bherd Gallery, 2013.

If embedding ships and vans into restaurants wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Duffy also runs the Piranha Shop in SoDo, with co-conspirator Matthew Vanatta. An exhibition space, rental venue and warren of artist studios, the two originally envisioned the Shop as a DIY punk rock space where anything went. They built a grindable skate-ramp inside, hosted punk shows and parties, and generally encouraged friends and collaborators to run wild for two years.

Duffy shrugs eloquently:

“But, we can’t always be crazy. Being as punk rock as possible just isn’t sustainable.”

DL_FTW
Mixed-media work by Duffy.

Today, the Shop is a lot quieter, but it still hums with the energy of the seven artists and designers who rent out studio and office space there. We’re sitting on the floor in the Shop, which is stained and pitted, but clean and definitely ramp-less. Buttery late-day light streams in, washing it in a summer Seattle glow.

Bringing a little order to their courting of chaos, Vanatta and Duffy plan to fire up the Shop’s in-house kitchen with Anton Churaman– the son of Pam Jacob, owner of U-District Caribbean staple Pam’s Kitchen. He’s also planning to bring in more independently curated exhibits.

Duffy is too humble to describe these myriad projects and plans as a stealthy takeover of Seattle’s arts and design scene on all fronts. (But it is, and we should be glad of our talented new overlords.) “I just see what people are doing, and I get inspired—I think, ‘That’s amazing, I’ve got to do more!’” He points to his collaborators as the reason all these visions get realized.

“If I did everything myself, i’d never sleep. So, I suck other people in to help me. I want to make as many things as many ways as I can. Making things is just so much fun.”

Through the evening, people come and go through the Piranha Shop door, and each shouts a welcome to Duffy, or runs over for a quick guy-hug. His phone is constantly lighting up as texts and missed calls pile up, and he checks them with a smile.

“I just need people—and that’s fun, too. Oh, and money,’ he laughs. “Give us money!”

Seriously, give them money. They’ll build you a booze boat with an Abominable Snowman in it.

All installations and artwork courtesy of and by Electric Coffin.

Daniel Voelker: The Mass (Paper) Murderer of Seattle

THE MASS
(PAPER)
MURDERER
OF SEATTLE

by Sarra Scherb

Volume 1 of Weave Magazine – March, 2014

Daniel Voelker might be on his way to becoming the George R. R. Martin of collage. The way he describes his art-making process, you’d think it was a life-and-death saga fit for an HBO series.

“I often see the [paper] shapes I’m putting down as supporting cast members to an overarching dramatic event,” he says. “I’m always surprised which ones survive and which ones sacrificed themselves so that others could exist…It’s really quite dramatic, this psychological
game I play.”

Finger-smudged, textured, and subtle, Voelker’s abstract collaged works are made from multiple monochrome charcoal sketches that have been sliced up and reassembled on a panel. It’s difficult to tell at a glimpse that these works are collage: the black charcoal is so dark and dense, the grays so gradated, that the eye almost misses the many fine edges of individual shapes.

Though these Cubist-flavored compositions are often small on the wall, they demand attention; seeming to seethe, grow, and suck our gaze into their depths. Voelker skilfully draws the eye in with hypnotic patterns, and moves our gaze around the composition using juxtapositions of black and white.

“Collage allows you to put light valued shapes on top of darker ones—much like paintings,” he explains. “In my older drawings I would often draw myself into corners—any area touched by black was now gray…and you couldn’t use lights anymore. Collage has given me the freedom to get my lights back into the work.”

Though he works in shades of gray, being an artist is a black-and-white choice for Voelker. He fell in love with abstract art during his undergraduate years at the University of Washington School of Fine Arts, and turned from studying graphic design to working in paint, charcoal and collage. 2012 saw him throwing energy and attention into learning
his fundamentals at the Gage Academy of Art, in Mark Kang-O’Higgins’ Atelier.

Now in his late thirties, Voelker has the goal of being a full-time artist in his sights. Inspired by the Romantic sense of adventure and beauty he sees in the Northwest, he feels a sense of pride in adding his voice to the Seattle arts scene.

Let’s just hope he keeps his penchant for slicing and dicing his cast members strictly to paper and panel.

Contact the artist at voelkerart.com

Images at top:

Guardian – Charcoal Drawings/Collage on Board

Convincing them you’re a ghost… Charcoal Drawings/Collage on Board

Tidal – Charcoal Drawings/Collage on Board

Sights Set: Kate Protage

unnamed1
New Players, Old Stories #4 Kate Protage – India Ink, Graphite on Mylar

SIGHTS SET:

Kate Protage on changing gears
and facing the intimidating head-on.

by Sarra Scherb

Volume 1, March 2014 – WEAVE Magazine

If you’re out and about in Seattle, there’s a chance that Kate Protage has seen you—but you may not have seen her. Driving in her stick-shift—camera in one hand, wheel in the other—she could have snapped a shot of a rain-slicked Pike Street as she whisked by, or a quick photo of I-5 under soggy sunset. If her camera caught you, you’d never know: by the time this classically-trained oil painter was finished translating her reference photos to her “Urban Slice” paintings, figures and other details are brushed away in favor of rain-haloed streetlights, sparkling puddles, and snatches of evening sky between skyscrapers.

Protage has captured the rushing traffic and rain-blurred lights of streets from around the world in her popular “Urban Slice” paintings over the course of the last decade. She has shown them in a wide range of Seattle venues, and nationally. But the last two years have heralded a shift. She has also begun another body of work that focuses on the one aspect she banished from her snapshots: people.

Up until recently I had perfect vision, but I like to simplify and blur. I want to know what happens when I abstract things.

protage-mini97   KProtage_Mini62_Bherd

Mini #97 – 5″ x 5″ –  oil on canvas   |   Mini #62 – 5″ x 5″ – oil on canvas

“A few years ago I was challenged to do figurative work by the guest curator of the Seattle Erotic Art Festival,” Protage recently explained at an artist talk to celebrate a new body of work. “As I’m surrounded by people who do amazing figurative work, it was intimidating.”

The first series that resulted from that challenge was the “What I See” body of work, which showed tightly cropped sections of the body rendered in monochromatic washes of ink on mylar. Like her “Urban Slice” works, they resided in the liminal space between figurative and abstract; connoting an image, but blurring it, as if seen through wavy glass. Oft-overlooked angles and sections of the body—the crook of an elbow, the back of a knee—were rendered as sensual, impressionistic landscapes.

“We’re bombarded with idealized, unrealistic images of how we should look that are meant to inspire, but can overwhelm and even anger us instead,” Protage wrote of this first series.

“Despite all of the hoopla, the fact is that the everyday things we see…basic parts, like the crook of an arm or the curve of a leg…can be beautiful.”

unnamed2
New Players, Old Stories #5  – Ink, Graphite on Mylar

Since the original series made its debut, Protage has continued to explore its possibilities. “I just kept coming back to that first series. Eventually, I thought, ‘ok, I can do a little more figurative stuff, I guess…’”

Her most recent series—“New Players, Old Stories”—is the result of a two-person exhibit at Bherd Studios Gallery that paired the artist with classical oil painter Crystal Barbre. Inspired by Renaissance sculptures in Florence and Rome, the two painters mounted a seven hour photo shoot with local models who were asked to approximate the poses of classic sculptures such as Giambologna’s “Rape of the Sabine Women” and “Hercules Killing the Centaur.” While Barbre worked on the large scale with her paintings, Protage zoomed in on compelling interplays between muscles and skin, and intertwined arms and legs.

The title of the series speaks to the “old stories” that these poses reference, which in turn were referenced by Renaissance sculptors retelling Roman and Greek stories. The new players are her models, and Protage and Barbre themselves.

KateProtage_ModernMyth3
New Players, Old Stories #3 – Ink, Graphite on Mylar

Protage has not only shifted the focus of her imagery, but her media as well. After sketching the image with graphite onto the mylar, she washes extra black india ink on top, diluting the ink with water to create gradations. To control the flow and direction of the ink she pushes and dries it with a hairdryer.

“It’s like playing with crayons,’ she laughed, making pulling and pushing motions with her fingers. She came up with the innovative technique after working with tusche, a greasy black liquid used for lithographic printing. Though she found the brand of tusche she bought inadequate for its intended purpose, its possibilities intrigued her. However, by the time she started this series, she had run out and it was no longer being made. “I tried so many different things to approximate it, and extra black india ink was the closest.”

The result is tactile, elegant and textured, with a luminosity that comes from working on a transparent ground. Crisp edges—in some cases actually crispy from the blow dryer’s heat—and fine lines give way to subtle gray washes and white space.

It’s a process that is completely different from the traditional method of starting with midtones: here, she starts with the lightest areas and goes darker, working midtones last.

“Once the ink is down, it’s down, you can’t go back. You have to let the ink be the ink. It’ll go a different way, make a different shape than you wanted or expected, but you have to let it go.” It’s been a challenge for Protage, who is happy to own up to her need to keep creative control. “I truly learned the meaning of ‘happy accident!’”

KateProtage_UrbanGeometry_BherdCatalog_1800px
Urban Geometry – Ink, Graphite on Mylar

Protage’s work inhabits the gray area between abstract and figurative.  From city-scapes to the landscape of the body, she continues to bring our attention to vistas that we might otherwise ignore. The next time you see her sweep by in her car, camera at the ready, give her a wave; you might see yourself reflected in her blurred, impressionistic world.

Kate Protage is represented by SAM Gallery.

Contact her at protagestudio.com

The Shift is On – Robert Hardgrave

pele
THE SHIFT IS ON

by Sarra Scherb

Volume 1, March 2014 – WEAVE Magazine

It’s futile to try and sum up Robert Hardgrave’s body of work in one sentence.

Go ahead, give it a shot. Peruse twenty years of past series, current experiments, and his Flickr feed. Where do you begin? The sumi-e-esqe ink monochromes? The dense, Piranesi-like conglomerates? The trompe-l’oil offspring of 1990s-era computer art and Dalí?

Each time you seem to have a sense of Hardgrave’s methods and materials (acrylic and watercolor on canvas? Yes. Ink on paper? Check. Needlepoint on fabric? Oui. Cloth on metal armature? Uh huh.) another series emerges from his bag of tricks that blows your theory to bits. The soft-focus, candy-colored, abstract pastels. Toner transfers on Tyvek polyethelene. The dizzying compositions that are most closely related to a page out of Where’s Waldo?

I was once told that we only come up with one or two great ideas and the rest is filler.

After I heard that, my goal was to go beyond these expectations. I hope to work through as many ‘styles’ as possible throughout my career, as they develop through the needs of the work.

– RH

dear_ol_dad_small

Dear ol’ Dad | 79″ x 110″ | Acrylic on canvas | 2011

A chameleonic virtuoso, the Seattle-based Hardgrave makes these 180-degree shifts in tone look easy. A self-described improvisational artist, he says that there is never an overall plan or process for his works.

“Improvisation, for me, is setting up my workflow so anything can happen.”

Don’t mistake “improvisation” for randomness, or lack of technique: even if it appears that he might flit from style to style, and technique to technique, he is executing each one masterfully. Hardgrave is admired by many fellow artists (and surely envied) for his constant flow of ideas for new techniques and styles.

Hardgrave_Robert 03_4Black Olive – 24″ x 18″ – Collage on paper

But lest we think that it’s all fun and games in the studio, Hardgrave has a word of warning. “It’s not an easy road to take, requiring many years of practice to even be a decent artist…Strong support—along with a healthy community—is key.”

Improvisation and a willingness to trust his instincts are also outlooks that have helped him get past roadblocks. His early style used illustrative, soft-bodied forms that combined a graffiti aesthetic with the swirls and coils of Chinese scroll paintings. The style proved popular, landing him commissions, exhibits, and glowing magazine profiles. “At the time it seemed I needed to stay with a technique to keep money in my pocket,” Hardgrave remembers. “But when that money dried up with the economy, it enabled me to not care what came out.” Since then, a strong sense of the experimental has allowed him to broaden his stylistic horizon, and increase his output.

Everything evolves in its own way. I just don’t know until I get into the work.
Everything requires a solution that fits the circumstance.
I just try to find it naturally without forcing my will too much.

These days, the staccato clamor of a sewing machine issues from Hardgrave’s studio, having recently replaced the quieter sound of brush on canvas. The artist’s father maintained a sporadic sewing practice during his life, and Hardgrave sees his recent focus on fiber arts as a way of connecting to his father’s memory. Textiles creep into his works everywhere; manifesting as three dimensional quilted sculptures, and empty suit forms that swing from hangers. Collages on paper have stitched thread standing in for drawn outlines.

Hardgrave_Robert 01_6

Oblique | 14″ x 11″ | Ink, collage and thread on paper

But, like a searchlight moving across the ground, Hardgrave’s interests are constantly evolving, shifting and refocusing. Weeks ago, his Flickr feed was filled with sewn creations like Amish quilts gone mutated and amok. Today, it’s dominated with scratchy, minimalist, monochromes achieved by Xerox transfer. Hardgrave’s enthusiasm for creation is palpable, radiating through his experiments and process photos.

“I am still early in my career. Who knows what I will become interested in later on? I can see how many ways I can push it and it’s exciting. Every day in the studio is a thrill.”

Robert Hardgrave is represented by Cullom Gallery: cullomgallery.com
Contact the artist at roberthardgrave.com

Image at top: “Pele” – About 4′ x 3′ – Acrylic and thread on burlap – 2013

Article written exclusively for and published by WEAVE Magazine, Volume 1, March 2014.

Seattle Urban & Contemporary Art

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