ArtSEA: A witch’s brew of Halloweeny arts events in Seattle

Creepy crawlies, eerie paintings, art for Día de los Muertos and more ways to celebrate the spookiest season.

photo of an art installation with lots of butterflies

The downtown installation “What the Entomologist Saw” is a collaboration by Ghost Gallery and Moth & Myth. It’s one of several ways to embrace the spooky season in Seattle. (Daniel Spils) 

The most menacing thing about Halloween in Seattle is that it signals the season known as The Big Dark. Starting tomorrow, sunset tips just under 6 p.m., and even shambling zombies are less scary than our harrowing plummet toward the doomy days when the sky darkens just after 4 p.m. You can run but you can’t hide from what I’ll call The Dire Damp, which is currently settling into the Cascade recliner, cracking open an IPA and making itself a little too comfortable.

Might as well lean into the gloom. And Halloween has become as much an event for adults as for trick-or-treaters, with lots of grown-up ways to participate (even if you aren’t into face paint). Your celebration could be as easy as walking downtown — still a bit ghostly since the pandemic swept up office workers as if it was the rapture.

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

On the north side of Pine Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, you’ll find an elaborate window installation in the hollowed-out shell of what was once J.Crew. 

A collaboration by Ghost Gallery and Seattle paper-creature company Moth & Myth, “What the Entomologist Saw” suggests something suddenly gone horribly awry. Someone has opened an ancient text against all advice and unleashed a swarm of insects and who knows what sorts of powers. Peer inside and note the snake skeleton wrapping around the feet of the desk, the curtains of cobwebs, the creatures encased in bell jars — creepy, but made of convincing laser-cut paper.

While there, pop inside Pacific Place. Yes, as Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel reported last year, it’s alive! with an influx of local businesses. That includes Ghost Gallery (on the 2nd floor), a long-running, year-round source of witchy wonders and art of the uncanny. This month you’ll find moody nature photos in Seattle artist Bonnie Jordan’s show Secret Midnight Garden (through Nov. 7), as well as artful tarot card decks, snake jewelry, candles in scents of “Bewitched” and “Sleepy Hollow” and some Moth & Myth insects you can snag for your own windows. 

Before you grab your pumpkin head and gallop away, stop into Orcas Paley on the first floor. This locally owned cabinet of curiosities is not generally spooky, just a beautifully curated collection of objets d’art worth seeing. But if it’s objets d’eerie you demand, Daydream Doodle (through Oct. 30), the current show of local artists, includes some contenders by Sonja Peterson, Janet Galore and Eve Cohen.

At Frye Art Museum, Portland artist Srijon Chowdhury shows a series of startling paintings including “Eye (Morning Glory).” (Frye Art Museum)

Also radiating that All Hallow’s Eve feeling is one of the current shows at Frye Art Museum. Same Old Song (through January 15, 2023), features several large-scale works by Portland painter Srijon Chowdhury. Visitors are greeted by a mural-sized piece called Pale Rider, which beckons the eye with its wash of multicolored flowers interspersed in a mysterious iron gate made of letters. Behind the gate, a ghostly horse carries the rider, whose long scythe tells us death is coming.

The gate appears again down the hall — this time in 3D form — partially obscuring painter Franz Von Stuck’s startling “Sin” from 1908, part of the Frye’s permanent collection. It marks the entrance to a gallery full of Chowdhury’s fleshy red paintings that bring the human body hideously alive. With each enlarged facial figure we see every hair, every skin fold and tear duct — including “Eye (Morning Glory),” in which a knife slices through the iris, recalling the seminal 1929 film Un Chien Andalou by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí.

Roq La Rue Gallery can always be counted on for a taste of the macabre — such as in the current show May Death Leave Us Be (through Oct. 29). Ohio artist Mike Egan (a former funeral director and embalmer) shares his folk-art-influenced graphic works that feature skulls, black cats and coffins. Also on view is Stepford (through Oct. 29), a series of hyper-realistic oil paintings by Northwest artist Laurie Lee Brom. Wearing 1970s attire, these women stare out of rainy windows, perhaps plotting murderous revenge.

Seattle artist Fulgencio Lazo makes traditional Oaxacan sand paintings for Día de los Muertos celebrations around Puget Sound. (L. Fried/Seattle Art Museum)

Nobody does dead like Día de los Muertos. One of the local experts on the Mexican tradition of honoring the dearly departed is Fulgencio Lazo. He returns to the Seattle Art Museum this week for his annual creation of a large-scale, one-of-a-kind tapete — a colorful sand painting in the Oaxacan tradition. Lazo’s Día de los Muertos artwork will be on view in the SAM lobby Oct. 28 - Nov. 6, and the accompanying Community Celebration happens Oct. 28, 6:45 p.m. - 9 p.m. (free with RSVP).

Lazo has been busy. You can also see his art at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion this weekend. Día de los Muertos en Tres Dimensiones (Oct. 29-30) features another of his tapetes, as well as an exhibit of his abstract sculpture and a talk by the Oaxaca-born, longtime Seattle artist about how his work reflects his Indigenous Zapotec roots (Oct. 29 at 6:15 p.m.). And Tacoma residents, heads up: Lazo is doing yet another tapete at the Tacoma Art Museum, on view Oct. 26 - Nov 9, which will be part of the museum’s annual Día de los Muertos Festival (Nov. 6, noon - 5 p.m.). 

For a ghost-forward festival in a completely different vein, consider the Oddities and Curiosities Expo at the Washington State Convention Center this weekend (Oct. 29, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.). The event definitely boasts a Vincent Price vibe, but organizers ensure that all the freaky taxidermy and globby creatures encased in glass jars are “sourced sustainably” (No human bones or bats allowed.) 

I found myself intrigued by a West Seattle artist’s venture called “Adopt A Creepy Doll,” not so much because I want to do so (I do not), but because of the artistry and effort she puts into each uniquely terrifying figure. Like a mad scientist, she morphs vintage dolls and plain babydolls into demonic, undead … things.

But there are significantly less blood-curdling vendors on deck too, such as the aforementioned Moth & Myth and two Portland jewelers who caught my eye: Zombie Head, whose scary-clown bolo ties radiate rockabilly cool; and Mattie Bowden, whose silver chimeras and fur-and-bone pendants are sleekly unsettling.

If that still sounds too ghoulish, you can always fly your broom to an old monster flick. SIFF Cinema is screening a few classics (Oct. 30 at the Egyptian), including 1931’s Frankenstein (with Boris Karloff), 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (with Bela Lugosi) and 1941’s The Wolfman (with Lon Chaney Jr.). I promise you won’t be scared.

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