Nestled between the bluffs of Beacon Hill to the east and the polluted Duwamish waterway to the west, Georgetown is a living document of Seattle’s past and present. Busy rail lines, warehouses and seedy motels, the roar of jets from Boeing Field—among all of this is a thriving community of artists and artisans who are shaping perceptions of the city here and abroad. As one of the best gallery and exhibition spaces in the city, studio e is an especially exciting feature of the Georgetown community.
Georgetown, Now and Then
Georgetown began as a settlement in 1851, the same year that Seattle was claimed by the Collins party. Known for its saloons and brothels, it was antagonistic to Prohibition and operated under its own laws until it was annexed by Seattle in 1910, three years after the Ballard annexation. It remains a quintessential urban palimpsest that inspires artists to explore and react to it.
Georgetown is a magnet for artists also because of ample studio spaces, such as in the Rainier Bottling Plant and the sprawling Equinox Studios, which will be the largest arts complex west of the Mississippi after its recent expansion is renovated. Equinox also hosts collaborative events with other arts orgs, such as CoCA and Pratt, whose recent ArtBridge fellowship show invited artists Celeste Cooning and Katie Miller to use a darkened warehouse space for large-scale sculptural light installations. Other industrial buildings in the vicinity have been activated by performance art, such as Tia Kramer and Tamin Totzke’s Study of Time and Motion in the historic Georgetown Steam Plant.
Every second Saturday, the Georgetown Art Attack draws admiring crowds to these hives of activity, to shops and cafes, to legendary comic shop Fantagraphics, and of course to the galleries. There are only a handful of commercial galleries in Georgetown, but they, too, are doing things a little differently. On 12th Avenue, The Alice’s programming bridges visual and literary arts by including a writer in residence with each exhibition. Upstairs from the Alice, Interstitial Gallery spotlights new media and video art. (Yet another gallery is coming to this same building, but the official announcement is pending.)
Around the corner from these spaces, local clothing design company Prairie Underground has begin working with artists in residence and opening its space to show the fruits of those collaborations. Also on 12th is the new Oxbow event space, which hosted Alex Lockwood’s delightful interactive art show SHAKE last year. In short, as the arts fill the neighborhood, they are serving to preserve and revive existing spaces and the history behind them.
Enter studio e
This textured urban environment takes on new dimensions with a cosmopolitan perspective, and studio e has been a window for such perspectives, ambitious in the scale and spread of its shows from local and international artists, with no two shows feeling alike. This is achievable in no small part because of its smart, modern design.
The gallery is 2000 sq. feet with 12′ ceilings. At the back, a 10′ roll-up door opens onto a patio, enhancing the convivial atmosphere during warmer months and—more importantly—allowing for large scale artworks to be shown. That includes Brian Cypher’s show Hinterland (with canvases measuring 9′ x 8′), a 1941 Mack Truck turned “Art Mobile” by Tim Fowler, and Brian Beck’s wood cabin constructed for the show Obsolescence. All of this is visible from the street through the tall windows at front. Also visible at front: a windowed, little box for miniature art called the vatican.
Brian Beck’s background is construction, and he is one half of the studio e team. Partner and co-owner Dawna Holloway works in lighting design, installation and manufacturing through her company, Eastbay Sculpture & Lighting. The building was originally intended as the base of ES&L. Hence, studio e was designed for exceptional lighting and display from the ground up, and that is unique in the neighborhood.
Holloway has been in Georgetown for a long time ( since “long before you could get a decent cup of coffee,” in her own words) and she and Beck are fully devoted to the neighborhood and the art community at large. Despite this being Beck and Holloway’s first gallery experience, the caliber of artwork has been stellar. I had a Q&A with Holloway to learn more about the origins of the space, the concept behind it, and what is coming next.
Vanguard Seattle: Can you speak to the changes happening and the expansion of art spaces in Georgetown?
Dawna Holloway: Georgetown has two property owners that are more interested in creating a vibrant community and having fun than in maximizing the rent. John Bennet has been purchasing properties and proving affordable live-work places since the late ’90s. And of course Sam Farrazaino is specifically focused on the arts and is doing such exciting things with the Equinox compound that you would need a full article just to talk about that.
VS: How did it all begin for you here?
DH: For years, I’ve also had a studio in Georgetown, and participated in the annual Garden and Art Walk by hosting an open studio, displaying my own as well as other artists’ work. While the new building was still under construction, we decided to hold the open studio there, and there was a moment when we finished installing and lighting that first show that we stood back to see how it came together and realized that we had an art gallery.
VS: Is studio e functioning as a commercial gallery in the traditional sense?
DH: We do sell art because artists need to sell art, and because we need to pay the electric bill, but our curatorial priority is to put on a really exciting exhibit. We collaborate with the artists. We encourage them to push their own work, and to take advantage of the physical qualities of this particular space and the skills we have to offer to create something they couldn’t do anywhere else.
We also host lectures, talks and other public events that go beyond the work we show in the gallery, encompassing art history, contemporary issues in art—and some surprises we have planned for 2016.
VS: Do you have a specific curatorial vision for the gallery?
DH: I see a thread that runs through the work that I show, sometimes it is obvious and sometimes it is not. Certain work moves me, and I like to find that thread that ties that work together.
I have been dancing around this question for months; there are two things that drive me. The first, and the original motivation, was simply there are a number of people who create remarkable things but have no outlet for presenting their work. From the beginning there was not a narrow stylistic vision. It was more about providing a space that can show many types of work, where the presentation and lighting of the work is worthy of the art I’m showing. I show a lot of artists whose work doesn’t fall into a specific movement or genre, but they have distinct, even quirky, very independent sensibilities. What their work has in common is a fully developed execution. Whatever it is that they do, they do it really well.
Another curatorial theme that has been unfolding as I have watched the potential of the space, is to foster a conversation among a handful of artists who share some common threads—the materiality of the paint, the importance of line—and who are participants in a larger, international conversation about painting. I’m interested in developing long-term relationships with them so that we can show the growth of their work over the years, and see where the conversation they’re having leads.
VS: Give us some insight into the process of collaborating with independent curators.
DH: Collaborating with other curators allows studio e to exhibit a wider range of art, and in turn it gives our collaborators an opportunity to do something a bit bigger than they might otherwise be able to do. They can benefit from the qualities of our space and also from our specific skill set; together we brainstorm ideas to create more than a standard display, and we can lend our considerable experience to their execution. Both curators learn from each other and the community gets a better exhibit.
So far we have worked with two other curators. Gallerist Beth Cullom has been very generous with her time and experience and the closest thing to a mentor that I have had with this endeavor. We’ve worked together on two different solo exhibits here.
Netra Nei, who is plugged into the New Photography movement happening in Europe, modeled her first show here on European exhibits that use social media to bring together a wide-ranging group of international photographers and to attract a broader, mostly younger, audience. She will be curating another show here next February.
VS: That show by Netra Nei was fabulous. What can we expect next?
DH: The premise of Netra’s next show is the same: international, up-and-coming photographers sourced through social media. The general theme will be centered around fur, feathers and foliage. It promises to be lush.
VS: I was grateful to see your collaborations with Beth Cullom. Losing her gallery was a huge blow to the community not just because of the work shown, but because she is such a warm, strong, “boots on the ground” advocate for art as a whole. How did you two get connected?
DH: Here is where you can start to see how the potential of our space had been unfolding as we go rather than a pre-calculated mission.
I wanted a way to let people know about Beth Dunn who owns art books press (the best and least-known store in Seattle) so we came up with the book wall as a way to promote her. The placement just seemed obvious. We invited her to select books and curate the wall each month in response to our exhibit.
When Beth Dunn first visited the space she said, “Wow, you have to meet Robert Hardgrave.” Two days later she came back with Robert, who said, “Wow, you have to meet Beth Cullom.” Within a week of Dunn stopping by to see the space for the first time, I had visited Robert’s studio and been to a Cullom Gallery pop-up event. It all grew from there.
VS: The “Wall of Books” is great. I love that it’s in a prominent position. It interrupts the usual austerity of a gallery space, while also being a functional display. The nook with seating beside it even feels a little homey in a good way. And then you have the vatican right at the entrance, too, which is another non-traditional mode of display. Can you tell us about the concept?
DH: Did you know Ambach and Rice, Charlie and Amanda? The vatican is an homage to them, years ago they started the vatican in their Ballard gallery to exhibit small work. At that time, as their electrician, I was asked to design the lighting for the vatican. Years later, when I started having exhibits at studio e, I called Charlie in LA, where they had since moved Ambach & Rice. Charlie told me they had decided to close the gallery, so we decided to resurrect the vatican in Seattle and asked them if they would be willing to help curate it. Some work just needs a smaller venue. And who doesn’t want to say they have shown in the vatican?
VS: There is world-class design happening in Seattle. Recently, The New Frontier at BAM helped show that the lines between these worlds can be easily blurred among designer-makers. Do you see studio e as a meeting place between the design and art world based on your own background?
DH: Last winter, we invited three people from the design world [Sallyann Corn and Joe Kent from fruitsuper and Gabriel Stromberg from Civilization] to use the gallery however they wanted to create something that pushed their design ideas away from product and towards fine art, to push them out of their comfort zone. The result was an experience-based exhibit called Souvenir.
I think BAM is doing some exciting things—design, fine art, involvement with and knowledge of our local community.
VS: There is lots to be excited about in the region right now. That said, I also hear people grow concerned that locally it’s a sign that Georgetown will gentrify like other parts of the city. What do you make of these concerns?
DH: It has been slowly happening for years. Due to the zoning, the process might be a bit slower in this area. I think we have a bright future and a lot to look forward to over the next few years.
VS: Any big plans for the new year? Planning to celebrate the anniversary?
DH: You just gave me a great idea. I think it should be a surprise. Look for that next August.
This month, studio e presents artist, curator and designer Curtis Steiner with his large scale installation Tobey in Blue, opening Saturday, January 9 during Georgetown Art Attack, from 6 – 9 PM. Later this month, it hosts Cullom Gallery’s Final Pop-Up Event on January 23rd, from 1 – 6 PM.
Studio is located at 609 S Brandon St Seattle, WA 98108. Learn more about the space and see past exhibitions at http://studioegallery.org.