And the Galleries Marched in Two by Two

Visual Codec - May 1, 2006

Since June of 2004, at least 13 galleries have settled into the Tashiro Kaplan (TK) Building's available commercial spaces. Which makes it pretty hard to keep up; off the top of my head, I am not actually sure I can name every gallery now in the vicinity of Third Avenue.

And April brought another, PUNCH, the newest artist-run gallery to open on Prefontaine Place, debuting with a show cleverly titled Round One. Displaying work by four of their eight members — yes the next show, Round Two, will boast the art of the other four — PUNCH has made a strong first appearance. Both the space and the art are refined.

Justin Gibbens' drawings, for instance, pack a humorous but nonetheless eloquent punch (sorry, I couldn't resist). Countdown (Quiet Meditation on the Act of Dismemberment) is masterful. On nine large sheets of thick paper, Gibbens has rendered a spider, a daddy-long-legs of sorts, in various states of dismemberment. On each piece of paper, his drawn arachnid is less one leg. By the ninth panel the only thing left of the tiny animal is its beautifully detailed, albeit mutilated, brown body.

Jen Erickson's highly conceptual drawings are similarly playful. Using 1s and 0s, Erickson draws bug-like characters that are sweet, even innocent. However, there is nothing childlike about the drafts(wo)manship; her hand is steady and measured.

But what is most exciting about PUNCH is not so much that the work shown thus far is strong (even though it is). Nor is it that we have yet another gallery in Seattle (though that, of course, is also a good thing). Rather, excitement for this debut can be garnered from the fact that it was founded by a group of artists who are, as their mission statement describes, "eager to participate in the dynamic cultural exchange resulting from the emergence of other artist-run galleries in Seattle."

Why is this so thrilling? Because it seems Seattle's scene is finally fueling itself. Galleries are taking off not because big institutions are supporting art but because, on a most basic level, there is a self-perpetuating energy; artists and art goers want to "participate," and they want more to participate in.

In a city known for its laid-back behavior (some call it passivity), this is no small thing.

Thanks for this increased vigor in the community can't go to any one place; a number of art-driven forces are to blame.

For example, other galleries in the TK Building like Garde-Rail, Platform, and SOIL, as well as the usual suspects the Greg Kucera Gallery, James Harris Gallery, and Howard House, are all certainly fueling the fire. The above have in fact recently banded together to call this new art hub "The East-Edge Galleries," referring to being on the eastern side of the more traditional gallery center of Pioneer Square.

And there's something bigger brewing in Seattle than just the energy downtown. From Capitol Hill's edgy Crawl Space to the appearance of artist hangouts like The Hideout on First Hill, artistic expansion is on the move.

Not only are art walks springing up in every neighborhood, but it also seems as if entire artistic communities are emerging in such unlikely places as Georgetown and even West Seattle, where numerous buildings are being restored based on the TK model. To wit: a renovated elementary school in West Seattle, the Cooper School, recently opened its doors to arts organizations and created affordable live-work studios for dozens of artists, dancers, and musicians.

And that's not to mention all the larger institutional happenings like the resurrection of The Frye Museum, the (admittedly somewhat suspect) expansion of the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), and even the Experience Music Project's debut as a visual arts venue (yes, there are paintings there now).

In other words, this new addition appropriately named PUNCH is part of a zeitgeist of artistic momentum, and its appearance on the scene gives us more happy evidence that Seattle's art scene is on what one can only call a roll...