Why Spokane artists had to go to Missoula to show their edgy work

At the Hive — a Missoula lumberyard that has been flipped into a community art space — the doors to an art show are marked with a sign that reads "Discretion Advised." 

At the “Art Invasion: Not from Here” exhibit, you'll find a varied collection of artwork that communicates everything from social criticism to personal emotional strife. The artists have not sugarcoated their message with their paintbrush. And the pieces are almost all from Spokane artists who feel their work is too edgy for their hometown galleries.
click to enlarge Why Spokane artists had to go to Missoula to show their edgy work
Darrell Wilcox
Jennifer LaRue, curator of this in-your-face collection, has been involved for decades in the Spokane art community as both a gallery manager and the writer of a Spokesman Review art column. She personally connects with more challenging and even violent subjects, but says she has been met by her community’s rejection of this artwork.

“Galleries in Spokane don’t accept nudes, or anything that suggests violence or strife,” LaRue says. “They want art that is vague or pretty. And when all you’re looking at is fluff, you get used to it.”

The pieces in “Not from Here” depict, among other things, a beaten Jesus-like figure being harassed by police, a blurred figure clutching a pill bottle in its grip and what LaRue refers to as a “full on money shot” in a television displaying porn. She argues that the value behind the shock factor in these images is the encouragement to not repress the issues we face, both personally and in society.

“When people are faced with work like this, they are able to connect with emotions that they have feared or felt isolated by,” says LaRue.
click to enlarge Why Spokane artists had to go to Missoula to show their edgy work
Darrell Wilcox
LaRue’s migration to Missoula happened when a friend suggested she get involved in the visual art component of the Zootown Fringe Festival happening this weekend. She saw the opportunity to encourage the controversial art she had been rallying for in a different community.

“I had a list of the ones I didn’t want to be lost — powerful painters that don’t get the recognition they deserve in Spokane,” says LaRue.

Six of the seven artists featured in this show are from Spokane, including Darrell Wilcox, whose six paintings in the exhibit communicate the elements and injustices in society that terrify him. As of late, he has received an angry response from the community concerning the brashness of his subject matter. He feels like this is where Spokane shows its extreme conservatism.

"In the past, it was the artists that started to initiate dialogue in paintings," says Wilcox, who has been painting since the 1970s. "I don’t see that anymore.”

His work was removed from a downtown Spokane gallery after the overwhelmingly upset response of community members. 

Shannon Halberstadt, the executive director of Spokane Arts, the city's arts non-profit, agrees that Spokane's art spaces can be overly buttoned-down, especially when it comes to nudity and that isn't doing the city's culture any favors.

"There are actually many galleries that don’t accept nudes and that can be mind boggling," says Halberstadt. "If we want to have a truly vibrant art world, then we should be a little more inclusive of what art is. Art inherently is going to push the edges and if you aren’t including any reflection of nudity or anything that’s unpleasant, that’s not going to help."

All seven artists in the "Not From Here" exhibit have included written descriptions of their message and process to encourage the discussion of themes behind the provocative pieces.

click to enlarge Why Spokane artists had to go to Missoula to show their edgy work
Ryan Babcock
The show opened last night, and generated the buzz and positive feedback that LaRue and the others had hoped for. Many expressed their appreciation for the emotionally challenging subjects on a canvas of comments that will be turned into an art piece for an anticipated sequel exhibit.

LaRue saw the contrast in community reaction through the response of people who were taken aback by the bluntness. “Even if it is offensive, they want to leave it. They don’t want the uncomfortable to just go away," she says.

The curator and team of artists want to stay connected and continue in the future with similar shows. LaRue hopes to bring the show back to Spokane, but won't soften the boundary-pushing subject matter.

"We want a vacant space, a warehouse or something that isn't typical. Something that isn't downtown," she says.

Art Invasion: Not From Here • 300 S. Third St. W., Missoula • Through Sun, Aug. 17