ArtSEA: A colorful noodle spill on the streets of Seattle

Plus, Memorial Day weekend vibes from the Folklife festival and Northwest band True Loves.

(Left to right) Skerik, Jason Cressey, Gordon Brown, Greg Kramer, Jimmy James, Bryant Moore, David McGraw and Ivan Galvez — members of Seattle soul band True Loves, which releases its second full-length album this weekend. (Morgen Schuler)

What are you doing for Memorial Day weekend? This year the holiday seems to hold both summer plans and the promise of our post-pandemic future: barbecues with strangers! standing less than 6 feet apart while waiting in line for ice cream! And showing off unfettered smiles instead of those unsightly mask tan lines.

There’s a soundtrack for this hopeful feeling, courtesy of True Loves, the Seattle funk and soul band whose second full-length album, Sunday Afternoon, comes out Friday with a release party streaming live from The Royal Room (May 28 at 7 p.m.). A supergroup of accomplished local jazz and blues musicians, the True Loves have crafted an irresistible collection of instrumental songs that ooze effortless cool.

ArtSEA: Notes on Northwest Culture is Crosscut’s weekly arts & culture newsletter.

I recommend the cruise-control slow jam of “Yard Byrds” for a lazy drive down Lake Washington Boulevard (partially closed this weekend for bikers, but you get the idea), followed by Motown-inspired groove “Did It Again” for a Seward Park picnic accompaniment. And then perhaps the make-a-clean-getaway rush of “Objects in Mirror” — for when you feel suddenly compelled to return to the safety and solitude of your pandemic hidey hole.

True Loves also released a new video for the album’s title track, filmed at the Rainier Arts Center (where Seattle’s first reentry into live, in-person theater is also happening outdoors this weekend). In addition to velvety horn harmonies and a beefy baritone sax solo, “Sunday Afternoon” presents a classic heist storyline with a Robin Hood twist: Band members break into a greedy corporate music exec’s mansion to reclaim their master tapes and grab stacks of cash, then pack up the pilfered dough in envelopes destined for “independent artists” and “local venues.” Talk about true love.

Independent musicians and music clubs could certainly use an envelope full of cash right now. But as Crosscut contributor Peter Johnson writes this week, even with anticipated federal funding from the Shuttered Venue Operator Grants, club owners say they’re still months out from opening for live music shows.

Seattle artist Akira Ohiso recently painted his “SLURP” murals along historic Maynard Alley in the Chinatown International District. (Kristen Ramirez)

One of Seattle’s Memorial Day weekend music mainstays — the Northwest Folklife Festival — is celebrating 50 years this weekend with a hefty online lineup (streaming May 28-31). The virtual mix reflects the fest’s global spirit and includes performances by Balkanarama (party music from southeastern Europe), Joyas Mestizas (Mexican folkloric dance) and the Killdeer String Band (an indie blend of European folk styles).

And while you can’t wander the grounds of Seattle Center to experience Folklife’s diverse mix of cultural traditions this year, you can walk around the Chinatown-International District, where Seattle artist Akira Ohiso has just installed a colorful homage to the many strands of Asian identities in the neighborhood.

Called “SLURP,” his playful archipelago of street murals features eight nests of twisty noodles in red, blue, purple, green and yellow. One clump is accented with a slice of lime, another a shrimp, another a half of a hard-boiled egg. Painted by Ohiso, with the help of local muralist Angelina Villalobos and Seattle Department of Transportation “street art expert” (#lifegoals) Dahvee Enciso, these oversized servings look fanciful, clever and delicious.

Ohiso’s aim was to create artwork that speaks to neighborhood’s cultural traditions by way of a contemporary sensibility. “When visiting the Chinatown-International District, my identity is instantly legitimized,” he writes in his artist statement. “The smell of fresh fish reminds me of my childhood. Still, I crave renewal and yearn for an Asian American experience in the C-ID that survives and flourishes in the 21st century.”

A joint project of the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture and Seattle Department of Transportation, SLURP adorns the neighborhood’s historic Maynard Alley. The idea is to draw people back to the businesses that have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as by the documented increase in anti-Asian bias incidents.

“This mural is inspired by noodles, stepping stones, the immigrant journey and the diversity of intersecting cultures inhabiting the Chinatown-International District today,” Ohiso writes. “Each noodle cluster alludes to geographic locations, the circuitous route of immigration, and safe passage through the space.”

Darcy Parker, a student in Kimberly Trowbridge's art class, paints plein-air style at the Pacific Bonsai Museum. (Katherine Wimble Fox)

Perhaps the best part of my job as an arts editor is finding out that something I wrote sparked a new artistic connection — whether that’s someone discovering an artist they want to follow, or going to a show they never would’ve known about otherwise, or reaching out to collaborate with another artist after reading about their work.

Earlier this week, I learned of a couple of cool artistic ripples that started with this newsletter.

In the Feb. 25 issue, I talked about the effort to save the historic Weyerhaeuser campus in Federal Way, which shares a site with the (fantastic, all outdoor) Pacific Bonsai Museum. I wove that in with news of a new show of paintings by local artist Kimberly Trowbridge, whose recent work captures the leafy green Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island — an example of the verdant possibilities of land preservation.

An in-progress plein air painting by Kimberly Trowbridge at the Pacific Bonsai Museum. (Kimberly Trowbridge)

I posted the newsletter on Facebook and in the comments, Trowbridge said she’d love to bring her students to the Weyerhaeuser/Pacific Bonsai Museum campus to do some plein air painting. Pacific Bonsai Museum’s Katherine Wimble Fox, also reading the comments, loved the idea. Last week I received photos of the students painting on site. They’re returning for more painting tomorrow. And who knows how the experience might affect the future arts landscape?

In the March 4 issue, I wrote about the inspired and wonderful Free Little Art Gallery on Queen Anne. Again, I posted the story on Facebook, where a college friend of mine, Laura McArtor, whom I haven’t seen in some 30 years, commented, “I want to do that!” This week I learned that she applied for and received a grant from the Urban Art Commission in Memphis to create one herself. Soon she will be showcasing local art and zines in a tiny Memphis gallery of her own making. And so a Seattle idea pops up in Tennessee. (And so on and so on.)

Have you made a new artistic connection prompted by this newsletter or other Crosscut arts coverage? Send a me a note about it! Let’s keep those art ripples extending outward.

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