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Structured Art 

Musician and designer Dan Spalding returns to the paintbrush.

click to enlarge One of Dan Spalding\'s pieces on display in Coeur d\'Alene.
  • One of Dan Spalding\'s pieces on display in Coeur d\'Alene.

“I think the things that make good visual art also make good music," says Dan Spalding, who, in addition to being a well-known visual artist, also performs with the Seattle-based band Missionary Position and jams with any number of other groups around Spokane.

Spalding talks about stripping things down to the bare bones, like the buildings he refurbishes with his trademark, salvage-yard eclecticism. The interior of the downtown Spokane nightclub Zola, for example, combines license plates, bicycle rims and seating made from tilt-a-whirl buckets, managing to balance aesthetic appeal with quirkiness.

“I’m always drawn to structure,” says the selftaught framer and industrial designer, who helped develop the revamped Zola, as well as David’s Pizza, Bon Bon, and Geno’s.

When Zola owner William Webster pur chased Geno’s near Gonzaga, Spalding’s alma mater, Webster brought Spalding on board to enliven the interior. Around that time, Spalding ran into the Art Spirit Gallery’s Steve Gibbs, who encouraged Spalding to pick up the paintbrush after a nearly-10-year hiatus.

“I just got more into my music,” says Spalding of the break he’d taken from visual art. “It was refreshing.”

But within about four months of committing to Art Spirit, Spalding had completed nearly three dozen new canvasses, easily rediscovering his groove, producing images that manage to be both beautiful and evocative, maybe even brooding.

“Portrait Study 31,” for example, shows an attractive female face: hair pulled back, high cheekbones, full lips. Her three-quarter profile is turned away, though, her cupid mouth downturned while her half-lidded eyes look at us coolly and detached. The ultramarine underpainting and dark brushstrokes around her face enhance this feeling. Sure, she’s attractive, yet something of her inner personality (or even that of the artist) comes through here.

Spalding views and titles his works as studies, regardless of whether they’re figurative, facial portraits or still lifes. His paint handling conveys a range of emotion, scrubbed-on washes zig-zagging across the canvas, soft-edged swaths of paint that meld and flow into each other, quick dabs of light, and splattery flecks of texture. Contrasting swaths of a sunset orange or Mediterranean blue heighten his muted palette of gray-greens and earth tones.

And yet his dramatically lit subjects still feel carved, as if from supple clay — a sculptor’s way of painting, or the work of an artist who thinks about structure.

“It’s intuitive,” says Spalding of his painting process, which might be akin to his music: familiar and structured, of course, but also temporal. At a different time and place, the result would vary.

Besides figurative portraits, a favorite subject includes old motors and other salvage objects, which ties back to Spalding’s design work. He says he has been fascinated with objects since growing up surrounded by his family’s auto wrecking yard.

“I suppose I’m drawn to the volume of certain forms,” says Spalding in the artist’s statement he crafted with fellow native son Jess Walter. “I like to work large, to see the texture and tone, the brush strokes, the nuanced uses of color. I think the expression comes out in those ways, and much of that expressive energy is lost when the piece is polished and overworked. In its fresh state, the work reveals something of its structure, its architecture, how it’s put together.”

Dan Spalding “Portraits” • March 9-April 7 • The Art Spirit Gallery • 415 Sherman Ave., Coeur d’Alene • (208-765-6006)

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