Bumbershoot Visual Arts Preview, Part I

Three takes on David Bowie (as Andy Warhol in the movie Basquiat).
It shouldn't be such a hard sell to get Bumbergoers into the Northwest Rooms, but they tend to fill up only when it's raining or people are looking for the restrooms--a refuge from the noise and crush outside. But even if it's sunny this weekend, make time to visit the five galleries, because there's some worthwhile art inside. We'll start our visual arts preview in the Shaw Room, where the Portrait Challenge is housed:

If your kids need to get out of the sun and you want to quiet them down for a project, this is the first place you should go. Tables, chairs, and abundant pencils and art supplies make this an excellent time-out, and a teachable opportunity. In brief, artist Ryan Molenkamp was working at his day job as a security guard at the Frye Art Museum eight years ago. He and his colleagues, also artists, took to challenging themselves to speedy portrait drawing competitions. Now, as curator of this show, he invites visitors to do the same....

On the walls you'll find over 1,000 past examples from the Portrait Challenge. The subjects aren't drawn from life. Rather, most seem to have been torn from People magazine. The source photo is glued onto an ordinary sheet of paper, next to six blank panels. Then the artist--possibly you--does six different takes on the subject. (Though not everyone is so industrious; many of the little squares are left blank after the first attempt or two.)

It's a good idea first to scan the past portraits before picking up your own pencil. There you'll see Elton John, Lady Gaga, Iggy Pop, KISS, the Dude from The Big Lebowski.... pop culture figures, in other words, whose facial contours are well familiar to us from movies and TV. It's hard to find any local subjects (perhaps because icons are easier to draw).

But you can be one yourself! Step over to the photo booth, have your picture taken, then append it to a blank portrait form. It'll be tacked to the wall for a subsequent visitor to try. So if you pose on Saturday, come back Saturday or Sunday to see the results. They can't be any worse than your driver's license photo. And they may be better.

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