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The Pleasure and Power of the Arts at Artist Trust’s 2016 Benefit Art Auction

Gayle Tice

Freelance Writer https://www.linkedin.com/in/GayleTice

I walked into Artist Trust’s 2016 Benefit Art Auction on a bright green runway, edged in neon pink. It was the perfect color scheme for this 80’s themed event celebrating Artist Trust’s 30th anniversary. The décor reassured me that I had the right Idea when I picked out my outfit. I was a little worried that I might have overdone it with neon green over neon pink.

Neon was encouraged at this event. A number of 80’s trends and fun fashion choices of all kinds were on display. There were ruffles, bows, leg warmers, fanny packs, slap bracelets, chunky necklaces, shutter shades with LED’s, canvas shoes with suits, at least one jumpsuit, parachute pants, retro workout clothes, headbands, roller-skates, red flannels, furs (including a bear pelt with attached head)—and bold geometric, abstract, floral, and animal patterns and prints. 

Some of the tables featured retro candy and treats— such as Pop Rocks, Fun Dip, PEZ dispensers, Rubik’s Cubes, Slap Bracelets, and tiny Star Wars lightsabors. Late in the evening someone shared a cube of their Rubik’s inspired desert with me, a chocolate and hazelnut flavored candy dusted in the traditional colors.

Before the live auction there was music by Industrial Revelation, a jazz influenced Seattle quartet. They played in front of a jumping background that included the auctions 30th anniversary logo, amid music visualizations, art works, and information pertaining to the auction. I don’t think the oscillating bars and patterns were moving in time to the music, which would have been quite difficult to pull off, but the effect was wonderful.
During the silent auction I had the pleasure of hearing two artists speak about their work. Wyley Astley, 2012 EDGE program graduate, donated her 2015 work (r)evolutionary Importance of Love (hand felted merino wool, hand-waxed cotton thread, hand stitched cotton muslin, headpins, mirror, crafted stand) to the auction.

Astley agreed with the silent auction tour guide that her work was about “the therapeutic value of objects,” and directed viewers to look into the mirror that the small figure in a dress stood upon. By doing so the viewer would see up the dress, and notice that the felted genitalia were not what might be expected. The figure was that of an innocent and curious child, and viewing it as the artist intended didn’t really change that for me.

David Sokal, fine art photographer, donated his 2015 work Painted Rag v. 2 (archival inkjet print with gesso) to the auction. I spoke with Sokal about his piece and his views on what artists feel but won’t admit. He told me that the photograph contained within this piece is of the blood under his fingernails from a time he cut himself working on a cardboard and blackberry vine sculpture at Goddard College. When he saw the blood pooling under his nails he had to snap a photograph, and this piece incorporated that photograph masterfully with overlaying marks that looked to me like partial overlapping handprints.

David Sokal works between painting and photography, comparing himself to a “caveman leaving his art on the wall”. He said that as artists, we like to think that we are above our most basic and primal mark making instinct, that instinct to say “I was here” and put our prints on something.

Mayor Ed Murray spoke at the opening of the live auction, giving a profound statement of why the arts are important to community. Using the examples of homelessness, racism in policing, the HIV Aids crisis, and the great recession—he said that “…it is when the arts give a voice to pain that often we can have a conversation and work through that pain.”

Storme Webber, introduced as a two-spirit artist, read Grace from her book Blue Divine. Webber is a 2009 EDGE graduate and winner of the 2015 James W. Ray Venture Project Award. Grace speaks to the power of music to save lives, to the power of art to allow us to experience negative emotions and release them that way. Her reading and Murray’s speech complemented each other, both speaking to the power of art to be more than ornamental. Together they painted a picture of art as not only useful but vital.

Alison Bremner, an artist of Tlingit descent and also a 2015 James W. Ray Project Venture Award recipient, also spoke during the Fund the Artists event. She told the story of her current totem pole carving projects. When Bremner spoke of the role of art she spoke about the creation and reclamation of identity; “Art created identity and identity created art.” 

In honor of the 30th anniversary of Artist Trust a video was shared discussing the organization’s roots, and telling how its identity was formed around the words “Artist” and “Trust”. The video spoke about how Artist Trust’s mission started out as a gesture of trust towards artists. Individual artists were not always trusted to spend their money well. It was difficult to conceive how to keep artists accountable when they were not a member of something larger than their own practice. And of course there was the argument that “you wouldn’t give a grant to a plumber.”

It remains a fact that an artist cannot always make a living off of their work. And if they can, it sometimes requires that they not dedicate themselves as much to experimentation and challenging norms as they can with the support of organizations like Artist Trust.

I wonder how much of the transformative power of art would never be realized if artists had to function entirely without such support.