ArtSEA: Seattle has a big new mural — but is it the biggest?

Plus, more eco art, including boots with roots, and a medley of music shows for the weekend.

large mural of an otter on a bright blue background with sky above

You otter know: The new waterfront mural by Danish/French artist Victor Ash is billed as the largest mural in North America. (Brangien Davis/Cascade PBS)

Among the slew of arts announcements I returned to after vacation last week were several emails trumpeting a new mural along the waterfront — billed as “the largest in North America.” I leave town for a few days and Seattle earns a continental art superlative?

Such grandiose claims often come with qualifiers (the press release specified it was the largest “exterior” mural, for example). I knew Seattle already had the largest mural corridor in the world — or at least we did when I wrote about SODO Track in 2018. That one was painted by many different muralists. 

This one, with the curiously regulatory title “Urban Ecosystem Restoration,” was painted by Danish/French artist Victor Ash. To be sure: It is very large. 

ArtSEA: Notes on Northwest Culture is Cascade PBS’s weekly arts newsletter.

Running 775 feet long and 55 feet high on the back of the Waterfront Landings condominium (which donated the wall), a cobalt blue background is enlivened by the faces of three locally common species: an osprey, a sea otter and a harbor seal. Real-life versions of these creatures may well be startled by their giant facsimiles — especially when the new aquarium opens close by. 

Occupying 42,625 square feet along Elliott Way, the mural is unmissable from Pike Place Market’s new west-facing promenade.

The artwork (along with a new whale mural by Mexican artist Adry del Rocio, just to the north) was curated by New York-based nonprofit Street Art for Mankind, which is working in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to prioritize and restore ecosystem biodiversity in an effort to avoid climate collapse. (Worth a shot!)

In alignment with its ecological mission, the mural project uses water-based acrylic paints with low-VOC and no spray paint. 

The new waterfront mural features three local creatures: an osprey, an otter and a seal. (Daniel Spils)

The artworks seem to have arrived fully planned and paid for (the “Urban Ecosystem Restoration” piece was “made possible by” Bulleit Frontier Whiskey; the companion whale piece made possible by Elliott Pointe Apartments, on which it’s painted). 

Since our city is full of talented muralists — evidenced by the wealth of plywood artworks that popped up during the pandemic — I was curious whether local artists were considered for the new murals. That’s a little unclear. Street Art for Mankind says artists from all over the world submit portfolios for possible selection on its many projects. (In October, the group received some pushback in Detroit, where local artists asked why they weren’t included in a mural initiative.)

What’s clear is that big murals are a big deal, especially when they start to draw tourists and represent a city visually, as seen in countless Instagram photos. 

As for who has bragging rights for the largest mural … It’s currently Toledo, Ohio, where the “Glass City River Wall” by California artist Gabe Gault occupies 170,000 square feet across a line of grain silos. (A Street Art for Mankind rep noted a quibble here, arguing that the noncontiguous groupings of silos could be considered separate artworks.) 

Saginaw, Michigan, is openly gunning for the number-two slot, with the in-progress “Shine Bright Mural Project.” Painted by Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel with contributions by local artists, it will span 65,000 square feet, also across silos. But don’t sleep on Wichita, Kansas, which also boasts an impressive silo mural, “El Sueño Original” by Colombian artist GLeo, at 50,000 square feet. 

That’s probably enough mural reportage for today, but in case you’re wondering, Seattle’s massive grain silos in Myrtle Edwards Park have been eyed for a mural too — back in 2016, by a group called Friends of Art at Pier 86. So far no paint has been applied.

“Boots with Roots” by Port Townsend artist Jeanne K. Simmons. (Brangien Davis/Cascade PBS)

Artworks emphasizing our place in earth’s delicate ecosystem come in smaller formats too, as evidenced by several current shows. 

At the new venue Base Camp 2 — in the totally revamped Bergman Luggage building downtown — Wild Life (June 14 - July 28) is a group show featuring more than 100 works of animal art. Included among the fauna are: all 66 paintings in Natalie Niblack’s beautiful 66 Birds/3 degrees series, emphasizing threatened species; Lauren Boilini’s swarms of colorful snakes; and Justin Gibbens’ somewhat unsettling zoological watercolor drawings. Plus, on June 16, the show will host an evening of animal-themed readings curated by Psychopomp Projects.

In Pioneer Square, Chatwin Arts is featuring eye-popping watercolors by biologist turned painter Anneke Wilder in the show Assemblage: Ecological Bodies (through June 29). Here, humans meet nature (and their maker) in still lifes shimmering with skulls, ribs and fruits. See also her works in which plant life, ever mossy and creeping, takes over a Bic lighter, a computer mouse, a bomb.

In Port Townsend, check out the group show Lush Language (at Northwind Art through June 30) and look for Tininha Silva’s entrancingly twisted wall hangings formed with seaweed, shells and stones found at the nearby beach. Across the street, at the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum of Art and History, don’t miss Jeanne K. Simmons’ show Photographs, Artifacts and Intimate Works (through July 21). These evocative sculptural works include an evening gown made from charred wood, boots with branches sprouting from their soles, and women whose hair is woven into sea grasses. 

DJ Riz Rollins, featured in Black Arts Legacies, will spin tunes at a Juneteenth event this weekend. (Meron Menghistab)

In search of a little summer music this weekend? We’ve got all flavors: 

< Seattle’s legendary jazz guitarist Bill Frisell will appear in a trio format (with Tony Scherr and Rudy Royston) at Jazz Alley (June 14-16).

< Seattle Symphony is playing Beethoven’s iconic Symphony No. 5 (yes, that’s “ba-ba-ba-baaah”) at Benaroya Hall, with beloved conductor Ludovic Morlot (June 13 and 15).

< Groove giants Parliament-Funkadelic, featuring George Clinton, are playing the new Remlinger Farms concert series in Carnation (June 15).

< And longstanding Seattle seven-piece art-band “Awesome” (quote marks theirs) is playing an acoustic show of complex harmonies and clever lyrics at Washington Hall (June 16).

Lastly: This Wednesday is Juneteenth! There are many celebrations around town, including Arte Noir’s Juneteenth Market Pop-Up at Midtown Square. The array of goods by Black-owned businesses will be augmented with a musical set by Seattle’s one and only DJ Riz Rollins, who we recently profiled (with video and words) in the Black Arts Legacies project. 

Speaking of which, we’re marking Juneteenth a day early with our annual Black Arts Legacies Celebration (June 18), honoring this year’s featured artists with poetry readings, portrait photography, food and dancing. (Tickets free with RSVP.)

And you can still sign up for the Black Arts Legacies newsletter to be among the first to discover each new artist in this year’s crew.

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