In years past, we've likened the Visual Arts Tour to a midwinter Mardi Gras -- trick-or-treating for art lovers, where you move from house to house, sampling the goods. The February installment of the Spokane Visual Arts Tour is all of these things and more, a reminder that even in the dreary gray sameness of an Inland Northwest late winter, rich color, tenacious vision and artistic commitment survive -- even thrive.
This year, one of the best ways to kick off your personal Visual Arts Tour itinerary is by starting on West Main, a once shabby district in the bloom of a full civic renaissance.
"It's going to be great down here," says Tom Wood, manager of the Rocket Bakery, which will be hosting the first Visual Arts Tour solo exhibition by painter Spencer Kimmel. "We've set it up so people can catch everything; the people over at Global Folk Art and the Community Building were really good about timing their events around ours so people can just flow from one thing to another."
Although Kimmel's paintings are nothing new at the Rocket (they've graced the walls for years there), the paintings he intends to show for the tour "have never seen the light of day.
"These are all paintings I've done over the course of the last year," explains Kimmel, gesturing at the work that fills his apartment and studio on West Main. Almost all are figurative paintings, but they are wrought with quick, decisive strokes that manifest on the canvas like drawings in oils.
"Pretty much everything that I've done here is of figures," he says, adding that his influences range from Toulouse-Lautrec to Gaugin and Degas. "I've gotten over painting, which is what I was doing right after college, and now I just draw with the paint more."
Kimmel often uses his friends as models, which gives the work a measure of immediacy, while capturing an element of feminine gravity. An untitled work of a woman in a coat and scarf suggests a chilly seriousness belied by the warm hues of the canvas; a series of 12 canvases of another model is a mercurial montage of changing moods, both in the model and her environment. The series of 12 also points to one of Kimmel's great mentors and influences as an artist, painter Robert Gilmore.
"Gilmore calls this series 'The Dirty Dozen,' " laughs Kimmel, who says that Gilmore is largely responsible for his making art his chosen vocation. "I call it 'The Bourbon Street Series.' This little white one here with the feather boa started the whole series. I was really inspired by this book I have, Degas in New Orleans."
In addition to Kimmel's show, the Rocket will also have live music by one of our fave bands, The Bucket Riders, at 8 pm. Also happening on West Main will be "Spokane Under Glass," an exhibit of local glass artistry at the Kre' Sutton Glass Design Studio; an open house at The Main Touch, a recently opened massage therapy business; and an exhibit of color photography by internationally recognized photographer Charles Gurche at Global Folk Art, inside the new Community Building. Also, while you're in the neighborhood, be sure to hit the Spokane Watercolor Society's Annual Membership Show at Colburn's Gallery on West Riverside, and the fascinating installation "Sounds of the Cave," by Felisa Carranza at Kino Coffee, located inside the Schade Towers at 528 E. Trent.
Crossing the river at Division gives you a number of options, including the Robert Harrison show at Gonzaga's Jundt Art Museum. Harrison's sculptural, life-sized ceramics form a sacred landscape of both salvaged and neo-mythic materials. Harrison, who is also president of the board of directors for the renowned Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Mont., will be on hand the night of the tour.
Nicholas Sironka, Maasai tribesman, Fulbright Scholar and teacher of art this year at Whitworth College, is exhibiting a show of gorgeous, complex batiks at the Spokane Art School's Huneke Gallery and will also be honored with a reception the night of the tour. Gay Waldman's mixed media works are the star attraction at the Flour Mill's Madkat Gallery, and pottery artists Liz Bishop exhibits new work at William Grant Gallery and Framing on Francis. Several of the artists feted at E's "Hellbent 2" show at the last Visual Arts Tour return with the Kustom Kulture Pinstriper's Gallery at Spokane Art Supply.
Before heading back into downtown, be sure to hit A Cat's Eye Gallery, on Indiana. This is one of those hard-to-find art treasures -- you go up several flights of stairs and down a labyrinthine hallway before you get to the gallery -- but it's worth the journey. This time around, Cat's Eye hosts a gathering of Art Chairs.
"We've got all kinds of chairs for this. We have wood-burned chairs, chairs made of glass and steel or glass and wood," says owner/artist Conrad Bagley, "painted wood chairs, maybe a few sculptural chairs and paintings of chairs." The seed for the show stems from the rich soil of philosophy.
"I think it was Aristotle who talked about man's image of things which exist outside of man, for instance a chair, a tree, a rock," says Bagley. "I was thinking, what is the perfect image of the chair, what is the perfect representation of a chair? For me, the first thing I think of is a wooden kitchen table chair, but for someone else it might be an overstuffed chair, or a rocking chair." Bagley jokes that what sets this show apart from others is that here, you can sit on most of the artwork. But with great food and live music, chances are you'll want to be on your feet for this one.
Heading back into town, you won't want to miss the Chris Watts show at the Lorinda Knight Gallery. The English-born artist is on the faculty of the art department at WSU and this is his first solo exhibition in Spokane.
"He's a really nice guy and a great speaker," says gallery owner Lorinda Knight. "The paintings are just amazing. He likes people to look at the work for a long time, making their own meaning from what's before them." Inspired by the Constructivist movements in 20th-century European art, Watts' works incorporate mazes and the elements of map legends -- little squares of color, mysterious numbers, translucent overlays. For the viewer, his work is an exercise in intuition and an opportunity to make private, mental connections. Watts will be honored with a reception the night of the tour, and he also offers a gallery talk the next day at 11 am. The nearby Douglas Gallery also offers an ongoing exhibit of work by Yuri Gorbachev, Zoltan Szabo, Rachel Pettit and more.
Works from the Heart is a Visual Arts Tour tradition, now in its 16th year. More than 100 regional artists will exhibit at the former Lamont's, at the corner of Riverside and Wall downtown. Sponsored by the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Works From the Heart includes a piece of art by Crosswalk youth, the proceeds from which benefit the teen program, and works by Dale Chihuly, Harold Balazs, Dean Eliasen, Ildiko Kalapacs, Brad Rude and more. The works will be unveiled the night of the Visual Arts Tour for a week of display before the Works From the Heart Auction on Feb. 10 from 5:30-10:30 pm. Tickets for this gala event are $50 and include music, a buffet and wine.
As long as you're downtown, check out "Images of Emotion" at Out of Our Minds Gallery, Louise Kodis's amazing show of textile works and works-in-progress at the Chase Gallery, "Words of Love" by designer/calligrapher/artist Jan Kruger at Jan Designs, and a show of erotica at E Gallery. You can also hear Robert Kraut speak at Art @ Work's First Friday Salon and make a mask or sculpture for the Procession of the Species Celebration at new venue New Stories, on the South Hill. Also on the South Hill is "The Art of Rural Life" by Kathleen Hooks, at the Corbin Art Center.
Heading west, you can't miss the show of ceramics by the residents of the Archie Bray Foundation at the Lambert Candy Building. This amazing site has been the venue for several Raw Space exhibits in VATs past, and is also the home of collector/artists Jim Kolva and Pat Sullivan, whose love of art ceramics infuses this remarkable event.
Steam Plant Square hosts more than 20 artists, including David Govedare, and his 8-year-old son/harmonica player Forest. The new Earthgoods presents sculpture by Jill Smith, Ann Wyman, Margot Cassteven and Kurt Madison on West First. Finally, you can catch some art and shoot some pool at Far West Billiards, which hosts work by Angie Williams, Darrell Sullens and E.L. Stewart.
Two features of past Visual Arts Tours need mention as well. First, there will be no official VAT bus this year. Also, as a special incentive for people to purchase artwork during the tour, the Spokane Arts Commission is offering a drawing for a great prize package which contains gift certificates, tickets to the Civic's production of Gigi this spring, tickets to the Blue Door Theatre, dinner at Quinn's and a signed, numbered Carl Funseth print.
"We sold more than 40 pieces of art during the last Visual Arts Tour," says Susan Hardie, outreach coordinator for the Spokane Arts Commission. "It's a great way for people to support the artists in addition to coming out for the tour and admiring the work."