ArtSEA: Bird art for the dog days of Seattle summer

A giant swan in Ballard, a flock of feathered friends in Pioneer Square and more avian adventures across the city.

a giant white swan made out of plastic buckets

Danish artist Thomas Dambo’s ‘Nordic Swan’ is made from 300 recycled plastic buckets. It’s now on view at the entrance of the National Nordic Museum in Ballard. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

Back in early July, I attended the unveiling of a new swan sculpture at the National Nordic Museum in Ballard. In my notes, I wrote, “Wings outstretched as if to take in our first really warm day.” A couple heat waves later, that swan must be sweating.

The Nordic Swan (on view through Dec. 31) is not wearing breathable fabrics. On the contrary, Danish environmental artist Thomas Dambo created the giant bird out of 300 plastic buckets — former cafeteria containers for mayonnaise, yogurt, ketchup, etc. — which he cut and configured into layered feathers. Positioned at the entrance of the museum, the swan has an impressive wingspan of 13 feet. 

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In Copenhagen, Dambo is known for his large-scale sculptures made from recycled wood scraps and plastic castoffs, many of which reference fables and other lore (including a car-crunching troll that rivals our own in Fremont). The swan is a beak-nod to the national bird of Denmark, Nordic sustainability initiatives and Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling

The fairy tales continue at Roq La Rue Gallery in Madison Valley, where Dutch artist Femke Hiemstra presents Hardly My Fault (through Aug. 27). This moody and mythic series of paintings evokes folk tales we’ve never heard before but recognize on an instinctive level. Birds and bees play a role in this acrylic exploration of love, including a messenger pigeon (in “Pigeon Post”) that appears to have gone through hell and high water — a torn love letter in its beak, bandages around its neck and leg, a still-smoking wound on its back. And in “Stupid Cupid,” a lovebird fares even worse, a few floating feathers the only things left near a cat licking its paw.

‘Blue Bird,’ by Northwest artist Ross Palmer Beecher, is made with candy wrappers, a piece of Chinese checkerboard, wired tin and a trumpet. (Greg Kucera Gallery)

Mysterious animal tales resurface at Foster/White Gallery in Pioneer Square this weekend, where Seattle ceramicist George Rodriguez is showing a new collection of Zodiac Vessels (through Aug. 20). Rodriguez’s take on the zodiac blends stories from various traditions, so don’t go expecting the 12 sun signs. Instead, you’ll find something a lot more surprising: the expressive clay faces of a monkey, donkey, chihuahua, grasshopper, jaguar, iguana and other animals, including, yes, a bird — an approachable-looking “águila” or eagle, another national bird of note. 

Each vessel is made in Rodriguez’s signature style, in which he painstakingly layers small ceramic pieces in patterns as tightly configured as feathers. The result is thickly textured and richly colored figures that have the look of a mosaic in 3D. (If you’re like me, you’ll be tempted to reach out and run your hand over the surface but, alas, we must refrain.) This show ends soon but follow Rodriguez on Instagram to watch his fascinating progress on “Let the Music Take You,” a series of larger-than-life ceramic jazz-band figures he’s creating for the Kansas City International Airport.

Also in Pioneer Square, at Greg Kucera Gallery this weekend, a show of recent work by longtime Northwest artist Ross Palmer Beecher generates a similarly tiled and tactile feeling. Quilts and Assemblages (through Aug. 20) exhibits the artist’s incredible wall hangings, woven, wired and stitched together from unconventional materials including aluminum cans, Chinese checkerboards, military patches, lotto tickets, stained glass and silk neckties.

Beecher incorporates bats and bees into some of the pieces, and sure enough, she has a way with birds, too. In “Red Crow/Yellow Crow,” she paints the creatures on top of woven gum wrappers and wired tin. Same goes for “Purple Crow” and “Blue Crow,” pieces in which she also adds sections of real trumpets, bringing horns to the chorus of birdsong.

And at nearby Stonington Gallery, Remembering Thomas Stream (through Aug. 27) honors the life of the Sun’aq Aleut artist, who died one year ago. He may be gone but his vivid paintings of hummingbirds, wrens, woodpeckers and warblers still flit and flicker in their frames.

Alexander Calder’s ‘Eagle’ on a cloudy, cool day at the Olympic Sculpture Park. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

If your preferred bird is a bit more abstract, consider Alexander Calder’s towering red “Eagle” at the Olympic Sculpture Park. The sculpture will have a bird’s-eye view of the festivities during Seattle Art Museum’s SAM Remix party in the park next weekend (Aug. 26, 8 p.m.-midnight; 21+ only).

The theme is “In the Air Tonight” (like, say, a bird might be) and there is a ton to experience: dance performances by Seattle’s Whim W’Him and Malacarne (the latter last seen taking over the Georgetown Steamplant); artmaking with fashion designer and ceramicist Malia Peoples, jeweler and printmaker Paige Pettibon and sculptor Henry Jackson-Spieker; DJ sets and a crowd-sourced choir; interactive sculpture by Nina Vichayapai; and a talk about bats (which are not birds) with experts from the Woodland Park Zoo.

But maybe you don’t give a hoot about birds. There are actually some non-bird-related events happening around town too.

The Seattle Design Festival kicks off this weekend with a free, two-day Block Party (Aug, 20-21) featuring thought-provoking, interactive installations at Lake Union Park. For a whole different take on design, consider the Seattle Tattoo Expo (Aug. 18-21) at Seattle Center (probably going to see some bird tattoos there, fair warning). And at the new Volunteer Park Amphitheater, check out the powerful lineup of songbirds (sorry!) in the Women in Song concert (Aug. 18, 6 p.m.): Star Anna, Alessandra Rose and Eugenie Jones

Whatever avian affair you choose, do keep an eye out for the bird-sized moth in Bellevue.

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