Artist to Artist

My 27-year creative friendship with Spokane's Daniel Boatsman

Young Kwak
Daniel Boatsman with his work at the Bozzi Collection.

I’m more familiar with Daniel Boatsman’s artwork than anyone else in the world. That is not a stretch. Yes, I missed the opening of his show at the Bozzi Collection, which he also runs as gallery manager, at the beginning of May. But I’ve seen every piece of art he’s created since he was 5 years old.

I met Boatsman in 1986, on my first day of kindergarten in Spokane. I had started the school year late, and the teacher asked him to show me around because we had both come in with advanced reading levels — nerds, basically.

Our ensuing 27-year friendship isn’t that remarkable for the creative output that sprung from it — what’s remarkable is how little we realize the truth that art and creativity are usually the product of spending time with people who are willing to run with your weird ideas.

“I always think it kind of goes back to when you and I would write goofy comics and things, goofy drawings,” Boatsman says when I ask him about his distinctive style. His current paintings blend comic-book-style lettering with short-story narrative.
Daniel and I spent hours and hours drawing cartoons, reading comics, starting terrible bands, designing hypothetical video games. Like a number of media-saturated Spokane kids in the ’90s, we wanted to be rock stars, writers, artists.

We both left Spokane with creative grandeur in our heads. I started a mediocre band, Daniel wrote an unfinished novel.

“I was writing these weird, dark vignettes, and those ended up being some of the drive to make these paintings,” he said of his eventual abandonment of the book. “What I do now is kind of short-form storytelling on canvas; writing and painting something lyrical.”

While the narratives usually describe paranoid, tense moments, Boatsman doesn’t see his work as overly somber, but rather playful.

“Even if it’s a dark painting, I really don’t take myself seriously. I’ve always liked composition notebooks filled with gibberish. I’m just being creative and playing. It’s important to keep that kind of spark,” he says.

That childlike creativity that most young friendships are founded on can, if you let it, lead you to some interesting places: I ended up in Canada somehow, teaching and writing, falling into a book deal that allowed me to write about coming of age at rock shows in Spokane’s church basements. Daniel ended up moving, almost on a whim, to the art-saturated city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he found himself working in the high-profile Turner Carroll gallery, selling pieces by art stars like Chuck Close.

The birth of his first child drew him back to Spokane, where he connected with some artist friends, leading him first to work at Studio 66, and then take over managing the Bozzi Collection, bringing with him a vision for a high-end gallery like those he’d worked at in Santa Fe.

“‘Spokane really needs something like this’ — I keep hearing that,” he says. “There are a lot of great artists and art appreciators here. This is a great space, and it’s getting better and better.”

He was talking about the gallery, but the same could be said of Spokane. Growing up, we were always so focused on the stuff that came from outside, it was easy to forget the creative world surrounding us: the garbage goat, the high school Battle of the Bands in Riverfront Park, the summer music camps and art lessons — real culture is made here, not some imagined, big-city there. Now rooted in Spokane again, my friend Daniel is proving that. 

Daniel Boatsman’s work is now showing at The Bozzi Collection • 221 N. Wall St., Ste. 226 • • 290-5604

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