ArtSEA: Kicking off Black History Month with new Seattle art

Plus, a new installation at the Judkins Park light rail station and Northwest artists making national news.

a woman wearing a hard hat and safety vest sits on a bench near a glass windscreen adorned with art

Artist Barbara Earl Thomas visits her recently installed artwork on the platform of the forthcoming Judkins Park Station, January 11, 2023. (Sound Transit)

If you’ve been tracking progress on Sound Transit’s new light rail station at Judkins Park, you’ve seen the ghost of Seattle’s most famous son rise up over 23rd Avenue. The face of Jimi Hendrix looms large and multiplies in a tall photo mural installed at the street entrance in 2021.

One of two Hendrix artworks at the station, it’s named after a tune that seems tailor-made for a transit stop. Crosstown Traffic (It’s So Hard to Get Through to You) is by New York artist Hank Willis Thomas, who last month made a big splash with the unveiling of The Embrace, a massive sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King at Boston Common.

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

Made of tiny bronzed-porcelain hemispheres, Hendrix’s image looks watchful and expectant — perhaps more so because the opening of Judkins Park Station is still a ways away (in a Dec. 2022 update, estimates were pushed back to spring 2025). But last month saw progress in the form of another art installation at the station: Barbara Earl Thomas’s A Walk in the Neighborhood.

Right now it’s tricky to see Barbara Earl Thomas’s piece — paper-cut murals translated into metal and embedded in glass — because it’s on the train platform in the middle of I-90. But you can get a glimpse by looking over the roadway from the concrete outcropping between the station and the park’s roller rink.

On social media, Thomas explained that the piece “celebrates the landscape and the creatures that one might encounter during a stroll through my Seattle home.” Hummingbirds, ducks, birds in flight and turtles in crawl are visible in the black silhouettes, as are Thomas’s local friends, including deceased playwright August Wilson, writer Charles Johnson, studio assistant Peggy Allen Jackson and curator Elisheba Johnson — the last of whom appears to sit and read while she waits for a train.

Benjamin McAdoo Jr., Washington’s first Black architect, is among those featured in the new exhibit ‘From the Ground Up: Black Architects and Designers.’ (MOHAI)

Black Arts Legacies in action

Barbara Earl Thomas and Elisheba Johnson are both among the artists Crosscut celebrated in our expansive Black Arts Legacy project in June. As we prepare for “Season 2” — subscribe to the Black Arts Legacy newsletter to stay updated — last year’s movers and shakers are continuing to do so around the city.

• Thomas will be talking about her extensive art career next week at Cornish College’s Raisbeck Auditorium (Feb. 10, 11:30 a.m.) — a great chance to ask her how she achieves such emotion in cut paper.

• Upcoming at Wa Na Wari, the art center that Elisheba Johnson co-founded, is an Epiphany Jam Session Memorial (Feb. 26, 2 - 4 p.m.) for recently departed Seattle jazz pianist Rodger Pegues. The gifted performer honed his craft in the Garfield High School band and at Cornish College. While there, check out the new art exhibit we wrote about in a recent Things to Do.

• Visual artist Marita Dingus will appear at Town Hall Seattle (Feb. 7, 7:30 p.m.) for a talk called “Assembling a New Art of the African Diaspora.” Born and raised in Auburn, the inventive recycler will be in conversation with another longtime Seattle artist, Gary Faigin.

• This past New Year’s Eve, installation artist and curator Tariqa Waters launched her eclectic and engaging new arts talk show: Thank You, MS PAM on the Seattle Channel. (See also her art installation Gum Baby, recently extended at the Museum of Museums.)  

Barry Johnson is also celebrating an exciting new chapter: He’s now represented by Seattle/New York gallery Winston Wächter. My colleague Margo Vansynghel recently talked with Johnson about his new autobiographical and multidimensional show, For Real Though, on view at the South Lake Union gallery (through Feb. 25).

• Seattle theater legend Valerie Curtis-Newton is directing a brand-new play, History of Theater: About, By, For and Near  at ACT Theatre (through Feb. 12), produced in collaboration with The Hansberry Project. Written by Seattle’s Reginald André Jackson, the piece illuminates the struggles and achievements of Black theater artists from 1820 to the 1930s.

• Also perfectly timed with Black History MonthMOHAI is opening the new exhibit From the Ground Up: Black Architects and Designers (Feb. 4 - Apr. 30). Curator Hasaan Kirkland and the Black Heritage Society of Washington State have augmented the traveling show with Seattle-specific materials — including archival materials on Ben McAdoo Jr., our state’s first Black architect.

Ishmael Butler was a featured guest on KEXP’s highly rated ‘Fresh Off the Spaceship’ podcast. (Meron Menghistab for Crosscut)

Northwest artists making national news

It’s Grammys weekend (Feb. 5), and once again Brandi Carlile has earned an armload of nominations. The Maple Valley singer/songwriter — who’s won six Grammys over the past four years — is up for seven awards, including Album of the Year and Best Americana Album. Known for her riveting stage presence, Carlile will perform live during the televised event, so tune in and cheer on the hometown crooner. And save the date: Carlile will play the Gorge Amphitheater this summer (June 9 - 11) — including shows with Joni Mitchell and Tanya Tucker.

Carlile isn’t the only local getting a Grammy nod this weekend: Music legends Nirvana and Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson of Heart are among those slated to receive Lifetime Achievement awards.

These stars are among the constellation of Northwest artists lighting up the national stage in the past month. Tacoma poet Rick Barot appeared in The New Yorker with “The Lovers,” a lovely meditation on what sticks around from long-lost relationships. Seattle glass artist Preston Singletary was featured in a CBS Sunday Morning profile for the Tlingit stories he brings alive in his sculptures.

Local artist Mary Iverson can be seen on TV too: One of her apocalyptic container-ship paintings is featured as a “street art” display option for The Frame, Samsung’s new “picture frame art tv.”

And Spotify named KEXP’s Fresh Off the Spaceship: The Story of the Black Constellation, featuring conversations with local musicians like Ishmael Butler and Porter Ray (both also in the inaugural class of Black Arts Legacies artists), as one of 12 “Best New Podcasts of 2022.”

There’s more local music making an impact across the country: Homegrown grunge band Soundgarden is (once again) nominated for The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Will the second time be the charm? Or will fans fall on black days?

Meanwhile, Everett’s Steel Beans has been announced as the opening act for cult-fave comedy-rock band Tenacious D (Jack Black and Kyle Gass) on their upcoming national tour. If you have not yet experienced Steel Beans — the mustachioed one-man band and social-media sensation who plays guitar and drums one-handed and sings, all at the same time — he rocks.

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