Justin Kane Elder has only recently emerged onto the Seattle art scene, but he's already commanding our attention. Trained as a finish carpenter1 and hailing from a family peppered with luthiers2 and tradesman, Elder is comfortable moving fluidly across the often contentious boundary of art and craft. Elder's work demands a carpenter's keen attention to angle and detail, coupled with a painter's sense of fluid composition. Elder creates large-scale spray paint portraits by applying numerous layers of precisely stenciled abstract shapes, and his dynamic overlays create a constantly radiating sense of movement. His current portrait subjects are his friends or pop culture icons, and he manages to create crisp, defined compositions without employing any actual linework.
justin kane elder I headed over to Justin's house for an interview and spent the duration of our conversation kept constant company by Raleigh, his adorably hyperactive Boston Terrier. Elder's house immediately gives the comfortable impression of being inhabited by creative people who are very good at what they do but don't feel a need to overtly broadcast it. Elder's girlfriend is a designer, and between the two of them, the house is full of strange, enticingly colorful objects. Elder's studio is set up in his basement, and his workspace is indicative of his artistic priorities: his table saw is front and center, and his spray cans are arranged on a hand-built table that captures the precision of someone who is used to working in measurements of a 32nd of an inch. A large basement wall serves as scratch paper. "It's my sketchbook!" Elder says, laughing.

In our culture, Disney movies have led us to equate fairy tales with fluffy princess dresses, singing mice, and happily ever after endings, but this is a purely Westernized notion -- and a recent one, at that. Historically, folklore from other cultural traditions can be quite dark and morbid, and a measure of nuance and impact is lost when mythological figures are sanitized and watered down. Stacey Rozich is an artist who creates paintings that place folklore and fairytales in their traditional and rightful place of unsettling richness.
stacey rozich Rozich is a Seattle native and grew up in a creative household; her father and sister are both artists, and she was raised to view the act of making art as a normal part of everyday life. "My father always told me, 'Draw every day," she explains over beers at her house. "And so, I did." Rozich has a strong work ethic and has always been prolific in her work, but she has honed her focus and fully hit her stride with her current series of images. She credits her fascination with folk iconography in part to the rich cultural heritage and imposing natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, but her interest also stems from her family's Croatian roots. Rozich draws heavily from her Eastern European background, cobbling together elements of traditional Croatian folklore with a hodgepodge of influences borrowed from other cultures. She is a dedicated researcher, and while her patterns give the impression of being effortlessly created, that measured nonchalance is the result of Rozich's careful search and study of intriguing reference materials. Her interest in patterns was a tangent that eventually became the focus of her works. "I did a lot of wolves at first," she says, "but then lost interest because everyone is doing the whole woodland creature thing. So instead, I sat down and started to focus more on the patterns."
"As I got older, I learned that if you can convey a story with an image, then you're good; you're golden. So I focused on having this background narrative that wasn't quite obvious, yet each piece has a little vignette -- a little drama in it." - Stacey Rozich

 

Jeremy Mangan makes paintings of barns. Barns are not in and of themselves fascinating subjects, and it's hard to escape the cliché imagery associated with them -- of wheat fields and bucolic pastures. But Jeremy Mangan makes barns magical.
jeremy mangan Mangan grew up in rural Washington but spent a number of years living in New York while attending graduate school at Hunter College. His interest in shantytowns and weather-worn buildings began with observations of his surroundings, and was later informed by the urban layering of New York City. "I think what [my interest] comes from is a combination of growing up here and always being attracted to these dilapidated old structures," Mangan explains over coffee. "And then in New York, the overbuilt stacking, the literal hierarchy -- where the higher up you are, the higher up you are. You look up and you see the penthouses, and then you look down and you go into a subway." When Mangan first began his explorations into rural Americana, he was working with a very unorthodox medium. "I was painting fairly realistic, naturalistic subject matter at that point, and I was frustrated, so I decided I would just use the dumbest material I could find -- something that wasn't meant for art making and wasn't so precise," Mangan explains. "So I just bought a cup of coffee from the local bodega and started painting with it."
"Music does something kind of like poetry does. We can access music and listen to music and it doesn't have the expectations on it that visual art does, to be important or meaningful or to have direct social commentary... There's just something visceral and direct about it that I want to be in my paintings also." - Jeremy Mangan
Looking at his work, it's hard to believe that Mangan managed to achieve such an impressive array of depth and tones using coffee, but he has always been a technically skilled artist. He attributes much of his painting technique to his time spent as an ice carver. While finishing his graduate degree, Mangan's studio shared a building with Okamato Studio, the ice sculpting business of Takeo and Shintaro Okamoto. "They knocked on my studio one day and said, 'Hey, I need to deliver this ice sculpture; I could use a hand with it.'" At first Mangan only helped with the deliveries, but he was gradually entrusted with more responsibilities. Eventually they let Mangan try his hand at carving. "They gave me a 300 pound block of ice and a chainsaw and said, 'Go for it.'" Mangan's experience with carving fundamentally changed the way he approached painting. "As a painter, I could look at a face as a mug shot, and then in profile, and imagine how I would render it and how the line should be, but ice sculpture made me think in terms of volume, and that took a while to learn." This sojourn as an ice sculptor led Mangan to many interesting situations, including one assignment making a giant reindeer for Martha Stewart's holiday party. "She seemed very... uh... composed. Like she was working. Very smiley, almost robotic. What you might expect." Although it was a day job that involved creating and working with his hands, Mangan ultimately felt that he needed to leave New York and make more time for the work he wanted to pursue. "I was working 40, 50 hours a week carving ice, and I didn't go that far away to become an ice carver. It was just a job. I wasn't painting... I joke that I needed to leave New York and move to Fife for things to really start coming together." jeremy mangan

2010 began on a dark note for artist Christopher Davison. His Disasters Are People Too series kicked off the year, and much like a poet or musician wearing his heart on his sleeve through words, Davison displayed his innermost feelings through strokes on canvas. The series was a reflection of the year 2009 -- a difficult year of transformation of Davison. Through the black-and-white gouache paintings featuring dismembered, mangled body parts floating through dark landscapes, one got the sense of incompleteness, and even the lack of gravity in the pieces did nothing to ease their weight.
"Overall, [2009] had me feeling like I had been knocked off my horse," Davison explains. "The economy was one thing, but I was also trying to push my art into new and unknown territory. It took the whole year for me to really feel like I had the brushes under control." For the first time, Davison began relying almost exclusively on gouache, as opposed to following his previous mixed media routine, which included the use of inks and pens. The darkness pervading the Disasters Are People Too series was heavy, but it was necessary fodder for Davison to move forward. His newer work is brighter and more colorful, and features what Davison calls a "genuine marriage" between his love for rich blacks and colors. They are well-balanced and seem to perfectly parallel Davison's personal tastes.

 

"I've always been a sucker for melancholic music and films. No one really borrows movies from me because when they look in my cabinet, they see Ingmar Bergman, Adam Curtis documentaries, or Jan Svankmajer animations. Likewise, the albums in my heavy rotation always sound better at night or in the winter. So, if media indicates anything, it’s that color may come and go, but black is here to stay." - Christopher Davison

 

If art is an extension of one's character, Seattle-based artist hydEON (Ian Ferguson) is a prime example of this statement come to life. In all aspects of his art, from its style and influences to the materials it's created with, Ferguson's pieces are rich, filled with geometric patterns and strange little characters, all of which match his slightly eccentric personality. And perhaps it is because Ferguson draws inspiration from images as old as the Renaissance, Druid civilizations, and the 1200s, but as opposed to being thoughtless, crude illustrations, his works are detailed renderings reminiscent of old woodblock prints. There are hints of symbolism in them, which remind one vaguely of alchemic days long gone.
But Ferguson even draws inspiration from the more recent past. For when he isn't creating art -- or making music, for that matter -- he works at the Lifelong AIDS Alliance thrift store, which is a non-profit thrift store benefiting an AIDS prevention and support organization. It's an occupation that might not sound glorious to some, but it serves to give Ferguson a steady stream of ideas. "I almost feel like I can make use of just about everything from there," explains Ferguson. "I've been really getting into old photos from the turn of the century -- the '20s and the '30s -- and if I can, even older than that. I've found some really old thrift store photos [and] artwork... and I like to go over them. I've been really big into transforming [and] remixing art, basically." Surprisingly, Ferguson used to work on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. As a former graphic designer who created everything from business cards to flyers, Ferguson gave up the design lifestyle to pursue art that seems to run in his family. With a mother who is an artist and art teacher, an uncle who is a photographer, and a grandfather who was a multi-disciplinary artist, Ferguson decided he'd follow suit and concentrate more on fine art than digital art. INTERVIEW CONTINUES BELOW

“I can’t really explain why it is that I focus my art on such deviant topics, other than maybe that they are such a draw [because they are] the deviancy that appeals as a dark side to our civilized side.”...

"One day, I decided that I'd never become an artist if I never had time to do it, so I quit [my job]. It was a really hard decision because it was a really fun job and I had a lot of great friends and...

"Painting for me is like puking -- if you're sick, you're just gonna have to do it to feel better." -- Thea Wolfe...