ArtSEA: Bronze books in Bellevue and a rush of Seattle readings

The AWP writers conference welcomes word nerds while new outdoor concert lineups have us dreaming of summer.

photo of an artwork -- an open book that appears to be covered in rust, with sculptural elements and a vintage photo inside

Preston Wadley’s “Janus in the Morning,” part of his expansive new show 'Abstract Truth’ at Bellevue Arts Museum. (Bellevue Arts Museum)

“We got a literary feeling going on,” Seattle artist Preston Wadley said last week. He was introducing his new show at Bellevue Arts Museum, surrounded by docents and press. With a laid-back art teacher vibe — appropriate to his status as Professor Emeritus at Cornish College of the Arts — Wadley talked about visual art as a means of communication, a “universal language.” All around him, mysterious, wordless books lay splayed open on pedestals, waiting to be read.

Preston Wadley: Abstract Truth (through Oct. 8) is the longtime artist and instructor’s most comprehensive solo exhibition to date, featuring some 60 pieces created over the past two decades. Included are a series of black-and-white photographic portraits, large-scale erasure poems and many beautifully intriguing book sculptures, some of which appear to be dipped in bronze, others fully rusted. 

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In reality, Wadley starts with actual books and uses a chemical process to create a convincing patina. “I’m in the illusion business,” he noted with a smile during the opening, “I need them to look like they weigh 25 pounds, not be 25 pounds.” 

Like puzzles and poems, the book sculptures require thoughtful participation to bring them to life. Facing pages are embedded with 3D objects — artificial birds, toys, small tools, found photographs — that take the place of text and tell a story in combination.

In one striking piece, “Code Switcher,” a pair of sculpted bare feet stands on pages cluttered with loose letters. Walk around it and the skin color changes from reddish-brown to purple to gray-blue.

Some of the books are easy to read: a vintage photo of Black U.S. soldiers paired with a smattering of shrapnel and chess pawns. Some require us to make a larger intellectual leap: a Black man on stage in a long-ago theatrical production paired with circling sharks. 

“This is where the magic happens,” Wadley told the group — a teacher encouraging us to think. Reading the work and making our own connections is the whole point, he said. “That, for me, is where the art is.”

Seattle City of Literature has produced a new map of local literary hotspots, designed by artist Erin Shigaki with cartography by Gregory Woolston. (Seattle City of Literature)

A citywide celebration of books 

The art of reading and writing is getting a big exhibit on this side of Lake Washington too, thanks to the cavalcade of events surrounding the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference (and gigantic Bookfair!), which hits the Seattle Convention Center March 8 - 11. 

Having been a panelist and participant at AWP in 2014, the last time the event took place in Seattle, I can tell you it’s a bit like Comic Con for book nerds — although the attire is more dark academic than anime-influenced. (Related: Emerald City Comic Con is happening this weekend at the Seattle Convention Center, March 2 - 5.) While the wonky conference title might not scream “superfun celebration,” it’s really just a great big crush of lit lovers. 

And you don’t have to attend the conference to enjoy the spoils (though you can get a Saturday-only pass for $25). At last count there were more than 125 offsite events, many free or low-cost, so all you have to figure out is how much literary goodness you can cram into your schedule. 

Among the multitude of offerings: local author Sonora Jha (whose new novel The Laughter I’m currently devouring) at Seattle University (March 7 at 6 p.m.); a whole bunch of lit stars (including locals Rebecca Brown, Paul Hlava Ceballos and Dujie Tahat) reading at art space Common Area Maintenance; several Hugo House readings, such as “We the Indigenous” (including Rena Priest, Arianne True and Laura Da’); and at Northwest Film Forum, the “Little Bit Off” AWP series features readings, dance and screenings including by poet Troy Osaki, choreographer Heather Kravas and video poet Kamari Bright

Also on the occasion of AWP, Seattle City of Literature has released a new Seattle Literary Map, available both online and as an old-school foldable map (ask for it at your fave indie bookstore).

The map highlights bookstores, book publishers and literary event venues, as well as historic notes on prominent local writers like Octavia Butler, Richard Hugo, Denise Levertov and Chief Si'ahl. Seeing all the pinpoints not only makes for a great itinerary, it also makes clear why Seattle was chosen to be a UNESCO City of Literature

Seattle funk and soul musician Jimmy James, known for the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio and the True Loves, will be featured at the Timber! Music Festival this summer. (KEXP)

Summer music festivals on the horizon

This week saw a slew of outdoor music festival announcements — a hopeful sign of summer even as our wintry weather stretches into March. (Yet the Bumbershoot music lineup remains under wraps.)

While music fest lineups can sometimes feel like that funny fake poster that was going around last year (using all-caps to promote “Swedish DJ,” “2 Dudes and a MacBook,” “Eccentric Opposite Sex Duo,” etc.), there’s really nothing like the outdoor music vibe. 

The Capitol Hill Block Party (July 21 - 23) promises to bring the party with headliners Sofi Tukker, Denzel Curry and Louis the Child and the many many other band names jammed onto the poster. 

The popular Timber! Outdoor Music Festival (July 27 - 29 at Tolt-MacDonald Park in Carnation) has another killer lineup this year, including Jeff Tweedy, Guerrilla Toss, The King Khan and PNW locals Black Belt Eagle Scout, Terror/Cactus, Adra Boo, plus a celebration of Seattle guitarist Jimmy James

And Woodland Park Zoo’s insanely popular ZooTunes summer concert series (June 28 - Aug. 23) boasts acts from (chronologically) the Indigo Girls with Neko Case to the Flaming Lips, plus Father John Misty, Japanese Breakfast with Built to Spill and Dame Patti Smith. These tickets sell out famously fast, so jump on those presales and start to believe it: Summer is coming.

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