For her recent commission for the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), SAM Gallery artist Niki Keenan created 11 paintings focused on healing environments. SCCA brings together the leading research teams and cancer specialists of Fred Hutch, Seattle Children’s, and UW Medicine. The treatment rooms in their newly expanded SCCA outpatient clinic in South Lake Union feature Keenan’s work.
Niki Keenan’s paintings are inspired by the natural world, specifically sunrises and sunsets in Seattle. She uses dynamic, bold colors to paint water scenes with bridges and reflections from the vantage point of a boat. Keenan writes, “Each of the paintings in this series depicts a Pacific Northwest bridge, most of them are in Washington State, one is in British Columbia, Canada. I use these bridges as a way to frame the sky, as a way to show off the sun’s rays dancing around the architecture and as an anchor to a specific place. These brilliant sunsets and sunrises are happening all around us and by showing them happening in places we recognize, it makes the experience a shared one. Also, I believe bridges are symbolic of journeys in that they help us get where we want to go.”
In the new treatment rooms at SCCA, Keenan hopes her paintings will help transport viewers and give them something new to focus on, during their treatments. She believes “being transported during times of stress and uncertainty, is such a gift and so vital for healing. Paintings can literally turn a regular wall into a portal and the place you get to go in my paintings is full of hope, happiness, light.”
Keenan began showing her work at the SAM Gallery in 2018 and was quickly discovered by local collectors. SAM Gallery supports local artists and their careers by increasing their exposure and finding audiences for their work.
In Daedalus/Upliftment, a young Black man struggles to take flight. His gaze is fixed on the ground instead of the sky, with eyes downcast and obscured by gold sunglasses. One hand is outstretched to conceal himself. The other grasps a plume of pheasant feathers, with a rope tied around his wrist. A wreath of ostrich feathers adorns his neck, draping his chest and blending into bright white pants. The feathers symbolize the deities Yoruba Orisas Obatala of wisdom, and Osun of love.
This full-body portrait portrays someone steady, yet vulnerable, someone who embodies the emotional juxtapositions of freedom and captivity, hope and doubt. The dazzling high-tops—inlaid with gold leaf and spray paint detail, dripping to the edges of the canvas—paired with grayscale triangle-patterned socks are captivating. Although a symbol of value, the gold sneakers carry much weight: a strain against the aspirations and ability to rise.
Daedalus/Upliftment is from Dr. Fahamu Pecou’s 2015 series, I Know Why The Caged Bird Blings, the series title inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” A visual/performing artist and scholar, Pecou concentrates on Black masculinity in his work. Pecou probes today’s media representations, expectations, and images of Black men removed from Black agency—including stereotypes of violence—and their emotional toll on readings and performances of Black masculinity. In 2017, Pecou was the subject of a retrospective exhibition “Miroirs de l’Homme” (Mirrors of the Man) in Paris, France and a recipient of the 2016 Joan Mitchell Foundation “Painters and Sculptors” Award.
Daedalus/Upliftment alludes to the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus. Daedalus built wings of feathers and wax for himself and his son, Icarus, to escape their prison. Despite Daedalus’ warning, Icarus flew too close to the sun, melting the wax on the wings, falling and drowning in the ocean. Pecou reinterprets this classic tragedy and questions the actions of Daedalus as Icarus’ father. Daedalus/Uplifting provokes a meditation on paternalism and masculinity, with “the breakdown of intergenerational communication and the emotional complexities within the Black male experience that trouble the desire and ability to take flight.”
In the far-right corner of the stark white background, Pecou
leaves us a surrealist poem:
How old was artist Jeffrey Gibson when he started going to the club? How do Peter, Paul, and Mary influence Gibson’s work? What did Nietzsche have to say about hammers? Find out in this video of info nuggets about Gibson’s sculpture, Like A Hammer, on view at SAM in the special exhibition of the same name!
Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammeris a major museum exhibition presenting a significant selection of this contemporary artist’s exuberant artwork created since 2011. Gibson’s complex work reflects varied influences, including fashion and design, abstract painting, queer identity, popular music, and the materials and aesthetics of Native American cultures. The more than 65 works on view include beaded punching bags, figures and wall hangings, abstract geometric paintings on rawhide and canvas, performance video, and a new multimedia installation.
See more of Gibson’s club kids on view through May 12!
“An artist should express his feeling with the harmony or idea of color which he possesses naturally. He should not copy the walls, or objects on a table, but he should, above all, express a vision of color, the harmony of which corresponds to his feeling.” – Henri Matisse
During the rise of modernism, which occurred between the late 19th century to the early 20th century, artists began to move away from representation towards abstraction, and they changed the types of painting that were traditionally accepted in the Western world. At this time, artists started to return to the basic natures of paintings such as colors, lines, shapes, and textures, rather than words and representations in order to communicate and interact with their audience.
Winter Landscape on the Banks of the Seine, which Matisse began in 1904 and finished in 1905, contains quick vibrant dabs of color pigments against the dreary grey and stark white background of the canvas. Matisse did not literally paint a winter setting along Paris’ River Seine. He painted the emotions that this setting produced within him. By arranging cool and warm tones on a two-dimensional canvas, Matisse was able to successfully convey the feeling of gentleness and serenity within his work. He left behind these emotions for Seattle Art Museum visitors to explore and perceive.
Widely recognized as one of the most important and innovative colorists during the post-impressionism movement, Henri Matisse focused on creating harmonious, unified, and balanced arrangements of colors on two-dimensional canvases to evoke emotions within his audience. Though Henri Matisse’s mother was a painter, he did not have a direct path into the world of art. He began to study law in Paris and even though he considered it to be tedious and uninteresting, he still passed the bar exam in 1888. He reluctantly started to practice law after he graduated because his father arranged a job for him in a law office. His career path was altered, however, when he received art supplies from his mother in 1889. “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life,” Matisse stated.
Happy birthday to Henri Matisse (December 31, 1869–November 3, 1954)! Thank you for your legacy and contribution to the world of art.
– Trang Tran, SAM’s Emerging Arts Leader Intern
 Jack D. Flam, Matisse On Art (New York: Phaidon Press Limited, 1973), 51.
 “What is Modern Art?” Museum of Modern Art, accessed 20 Dec 2018, https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/themes/what-is-modern-art/
 “The Personal Life of Henri Matisse,” Henri Matisse, accessed 23 Oct 2018, http://www.henri-matisse.net/biography.html.
Image: Winter Landscape on the Banks of the Seine, ca. 1904-05, Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 12 3/4 x 15 3/4 in., Gift of Norman Davis, 91.88
Cloud cover in the Pacific Northwest makes stargazing difficult at times, but that didn’t stop Mark Tobey from painting White Night in 1942.
Featuring the artist’s signature “white writing” treatment—a dense and abstract calligraphic mode of painting—White Night manages to evoke a sense of spirituality while also conjuring the night sky. After the artist’s conversion to the Baha’i Faith in 1918 and subsequent study of Zen painting in Kyoto, Japan, Tobey would indeed, throughout his long career, explore the relationship between the spiritual and the abstract in art. In the words of the artist, “I believe that painting should come through the avenues of meditation rather than the canals of action.”
It is a difficult endeavor to paint something felt rather than known. Yet somehow Tobey is able to capture the awesome power and energy of the night sky. Of course, the sky we see today is very different from what Tobey would be giving representation to in 1942. The first satellite was launched into space fifteen years later, ushering in a new era of space exploration and forever altering our relationship with the cosmos. In this context, White Night becomes a rather prescient painting—somehow predicting the invisible activity that would soon populate the night sky, and the images of space such satellites would capture.
The Geminid meteor shower is tonight, and while we might not be able to experience it through the winter clouds, we can still look up and recall this painting’s dynamic and mysterious energy.
As National Poetry Month comes to a close, if you’re not sure what to read, visit the library inside of the exhibition Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, closing May 13. While there you’ll notice a book of poetry by Morgan Parker titled There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House, 2017). It’s a recent favorite read of this particular copywriter and the cover of the first edition (now sold out) featured a Mickalene Thomas artwork. More importantly, within the pages of this smart, irreverent, and deeply personal collection of poetry is a piece inspired by Thomas, reprinted below! Morgan Parker simultaneously brings great depth to listening to Drake and immense weight to racial discrimination as she fearlessly invokes generations of social injustices within her powerful and playful prose. Parker stopped by the exhibition while visiting Seattle and shared some thoughts on Figuring History as well!
We Don’t Know When We Were Opened (Or, The Origin of the Universe) after Mickalene Thomas
By Morgan Parker
A sip of liquor from a creek. Saturday syndicated
Good Times, bare legs, colors draped like
an afterthought. We bright enough to blind you.
Dear anyone, dear high-heel metronome, white
noise, hush us, shhhhh, hush us. We’re artisinal
crafts, rare gems, bed of leafy bush you call
us superfood. Jeweled lips, we’re rich
We’re everyone. We have ideas and vaginas,
history and clothes and a mother. Portrait-ready
American blues. Palm trees and back issues
of JET, pink lotion, gin on ice, zebras, fig lipstick.
One day we learned to migrate. One day we studied
Mamma making her face. Bright new brown, scent of Nana
and cinnamon. Shadows of husbands and vineyards,
records curated to our allure, incense, unconcern.
Champagne is how the Xanax goes down, royal blue
reigning. We’re begging anyone not to forget
we’re turned on with control. We better homes and gardens.
We real grown. We garden of soiled panties.
We low hum of satisfaction. We is is is is is is is is
touch, touch, shine, a little taste. You’re gonna
give us the love we need.
SAM: Reading We Don’t Know When We Were Opened there’s a lot of assonance that creates repetition and fragmentation that feels to me like a sonic equivalent to Mickalene’s visual fragmentation. What in Thomas’ work inspired you and this poem, formally or thematically?
Morgan Parker: I’ve always loved Mickalene’s work, for the glitter and the color and the attention and the audaciousness. Her work is a celebration, and it’s also a politically intentional decolonization of the art history canon. She builds new worlds and revels in those worlds. I wanted my poem to reflect her work and add to it, translate it in my own words.
How do you think the persona poem and the way that Mickalene Thomas casts her models as art historical figures and tropes relate? Mickalene’s figures are looking right at you and this alters their role—makes them dimensional, such as in a painting like Tamika sur une chaise longue avec Monet. Where do you think that same dimension lives persona poems?
God I love this painting. I like to think of all my first-person poems as playing with dimensionality. I’m interested in using the singular figure, or voice, to call up cultural figureheads and historical tropes. Persona poems are an extension of that—they have two first-person speakers.
What stuck with you from your visit to the exhibition? Any lingering or new thoughts?
Kerry James Marshall’s Souvenir I always makes me cry. It was also fantastic to see Robert Colescott’s work in person, as I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I love the way it engages stereotypes and recasts history so playfully and comically. In a different way than Mickalene, there’s trickery in acknowledging the audience’s gaze—that’s something I’ll be thinking over for a while.
Morgan Parker is the author of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé and Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night. In 2019, a third collection of poems, Magical Negro, will be published by Tin House, and a young adult novel will be published with Delacorte Press. Her debut book of nonfiction will be released in 2020 by OneWorld. Parker is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, winner of a Pushcart Prize, and a Cave Canem graduate fellow. She is the creator and host of Reparations, Live! at the Ace Hotel. With Tommy Pico, she co-curates the Poets with Attitude (PWA) reading series, and with Angel Nafis, she is The Other Black Girl Collective. She lives in Los Angeles.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager
Seattle and the surrounding area means many things to many people. Even among the artists whose work is on display in Inside Game at SAM Gallery, there are varied reactions to relocating here or living on the outskirts of this still slightly wild city. From the subdued silence of Seattle compared to Texas, to the striking shades of green crowding the San Juan Islands, the locale has a distinct impact on the inspirations and introspection of local artists. See for yourself with a visit to SAM Gallery to see work from the artists in Inside Game, on view through May 6.
I remember when I first visited Seattle five years ago deciding if we wanted to live here, we arrived early to a restaurant, sitting with my back to the empty patio. After our two-hour lunch, I turned around to a patio packed with people, but it was still so quiet I was shocked. No hootin’ and hollerin’ like back in Texas. And that has been my experience here. Everyone keeps to themselves. Daily life on public transit everyone is silent. No nods hello from acquaintances on the street. This in turn magnifies the tons of daydreaming I do since I’m not talking. So the work I’ve made while in Seattle is very introspective. The result is from concentrated ideas that have been in my head like salt water taffy moving over and over, changing a little, but tracing an obsessive path in my brain. I always wait with anticipation to see how people will respond to my work, because these are my images based on ideas based on daydreams with vague appearances from things in my life. The artist community here has been super welcoming, so this is my attempt to connect with my other fellow Seattleites.
I live and paint in a rural outpost of Seattle—San Juan Island—where I have dwelt upon the same piece of land for over 35 years. Our house is in a clearing in the woods. Vegetation overflows around us: fir trees, cedars, alders, maples, willows, thickets of salmonberry and elderberry, wetland grasses, nettles. Summer brings endless shades of green. In winter, we are presented with all sorts of bare branches crisscrossing, fallen limbs and trees, trees broken off and still standing. It is a cacophony of messy nature. There are no vistas: all is seen from a close-up viewpoint, all the edges, the complexity along those edges. Nothing stands out as a focal point. One never quite knows where to look. So, one just keeps looking, here, there, here again, eyes always in motion. The eye gathers all those disparate bits of vision, flickering, changing, moving, and somehow assembles them into a semblance of unity. These particular paintings of mine in Inside Game are exactly that way.
Images: Lambent Rabble, Elizabeth Lopez, 48 x 36 in., mixed media on canvas. Owl Light, Dana Roberts, 48.5 x 52 in., oil on linen.
In February, as I prepared to enter the Seattle Art Museum for the Community Celebration for Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, what seemed like endless thoughts swirled around in my mind. It was Black History month and opening weekend for the movie Black Panther— the joy and exuberance of Black culture was palpable in the air.
This was in stark contrast to just over a year earlier, when the collective anguish and discontent of Black society was reeling in the wake of the latest barrage of Black bodies murdered in the streets and broadcast in ‘real time’ for all to view. I still recall the gut-wrenching emotion of watching a Black father, murdered in his vehicle, minutes away from where my own father lived. I remember this pain so vividly because it was not the first time I’d felt it. It was not the first time the Black community watched their brothers, fathers, and sons murdered at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. It was not the first time we were dehumanized in the public theater. It was not the first time we were criminalized for being. It was history repeating itself.
The weight and memory of historical trauma accompanied me into the museum, tugging at my coat with each breath of Black excellence I inhaled. As I stood in gratitude for Mickalene Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, and Robert Colescott, I also stood in sorrow of the circumstances that produced such beautiful stories and art. In each historical work I found traces of my own story. In Colescott’s Matthew Henson and the Quest for the North Pole, (pictured at the top of this post) the images of Black bodies being simultaneously brutalized and fetishized depict the story of my great-great-grandmother who was raped by her oppressor, giving birth to my great-grandfather who would later be praised for his “passable” complexion, wavy hair, and light eyes. Marshall’s Souvenir II portrays a cloud of witnesses, prominently featuring Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, hallmarks in the home of my own, and many other Black grandmothers across the country, and emblematic of the complicated socio-political relationship we share with this nation.
In Thomas’ Resist, the Civil Rights era struggle of my parents was laid in front of me through a collage of violent vignettes. As I watched this piece I saw my uncle’s resistance, which left him brutally beaten and jailed for having the audacity to seek a human existence. I also saw my father and his siblings, the first to integrate the school systems in North Carolina. I felt the collective fear and courage he carried with him as the only Black student in his school. And as my chest tightened, breath shortened and fists clinched I remembered where I stood—rooted in the past, squarely in the present, carrying my portion of the mantle of Black excellence. As I gathered myself, I walked out of the museum breathing in the joy and exuberance of Black culture. Each breath gradually healing the wounds of my genetic trauma.
– Benji Anderson, Artist (@benjipnewton)
Benji Anderson is an artist, theologian and philosopher. Three identities that suffered separate existences for much of Benji’s life. Born in the South and raised in the Mid West, his early cultural learnings taught Benji that it was not only prudent, but necessary to compartmentalize his identities. Surprisingly it was through his academic journey that Benji began to fully exist as a being capable of complex, and seemingly contradictory identity. As a Master of Divinity student, Benji embarked on a process of deep self-excavation, which, upon completion of his degree, provided Benji with the license to live authentically.
As theologian and philosopher, Benji is concerned with the quality and depth of life. As artist, Benji concerns himself with the creative expression of his theosophical existence. Using a variety of mediums Benji endeavors to create multi-sensory pieces that thrust the viewer into the experience of the artist – not simply as a voyeur, but as a participant.
Seattle is often cited as a great place to live because of the ease of access to the outdoors. With mountains encroaching on the city’s skyline from every direction and terrains ranging from rain forest to desert in the state of Washington, it’s easy to understand why we’ve got a reputation as a city of landscape painters and nature poets. In Outside Influences, on view in SAM Gallery through April 4, Dan Hawkins, Ryan Molenkamp, Kate Protage, and Chris Sheridan depict both the cityscape as well as our moss and stone backyard—taking their inspiration from everything outside themselves and filtering it through their particular medium to create unique and striking scenes of Seattle and its surroundings. This artwork begs for reflection on the artist life in Seattle and Molenkamp provides.
When I moved to Seattle in 2001 to pursue an art career it didn’t make a lot of sense . . . frankly moving anywhere to pursue an art career didn’t make a lot of sense, but I had the bug, the itch, and I found Seattle to be a welcoming place to grow. The city was full of artists and galleries and a lot of DIY spaces to show art, but it always felt like it had a chip on its’ shoulder. Very little attention was ever given to what was happening here, unless it was in music. But the scene was tight. I remember in particular during the recession years strong unity among artists in this town. If no one was going to buy art at least we could all go out and support each other over 2-buck-chuck and a Rainier. Those days have given way to a more expensive Seattle, one that has priced out a lot of artists and venues. At the same time the new Seattle is full of opportunity for artists to actually make a living at this business. The success of the Seattle Art Fair, as well as the continued success of galleries like SAM Gallery and Linda Hodges Gallery (plug—I show with Linda, too) shows that this city is ready to be more than a forgotten corner of the art world. I’m excited to have a small voice in the conversation that gives me the privilege to pursue a career in the city I love.
Image: Cascade 7, 2018, Ryan Molenkamp, acrylic on panel, 40 x 34 in.