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Originally published Friday, February 20, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

Art studio fills empty spaces

In some cultures, you burn a smudge stick to drive out the evil spirits, the bad luck. The past. But in these days of loss and worry, of pulling back, shutting down and starting over, it might help to put some art on the walls.

Seattle Times staff columnist

In some cultures, you burn a smudge stick to drive out the evil spirits, the bad luck. The past.

But in these days of loss and worry, of pulling back, shutting down and starting over, it might help to put some art on the walls.

That's the idea behind artist Ethan Jack Harrington's traveling studio.

Harrington plans to move his work space from one emptied Seattle storefront to another each month, essentially chasing the bad juju of the recession away, and replacing it with creative energy, beauty and an eye to building and preserving community.

"It's kind of depressing that there are a lot of empty storefronts right now," Harrington said. "But I see what I'm doing as a service to the owners. I'm using the space, providing activity and pointing out the merchandising potential of every space.

"It seems like a win-win for everyone."

It's also a premise that could work in other spots gutted by the failing economy. Imagine someone keeping the home fires burning at a foreclosed home until things turn around. Or driving a car until the owner's payment troubles stabilized. The possibilities are endless.

This month, Harrington, 36, is inhabiting a space formerly occupied by Suite 200, a gallery that moved last month from 2222 Second Ave. to a larger space.

Peggy Miller, who manages six Belltown retail spaces including Harrington's, is grateful to have him there.

"It's just better for people walking up and down the street, and makes you feel better that there is activity in the neighborhood," she said. "It's tough out there."

There used to only be one or two retail spaces open in that area, said Miller, who owns Belltown Feed and Seed.

Now? "It's many, many."

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To celebrate their occupancy, Harrington and fellow artist Jesse Edwards will host a show titled "Brushes Loaded," from 5 to 10 p.m. today at the Belltown studio.

The show will feature Harrington's newest figure paintings, new work from his "wine series" and some "low brow stuff." Edwards will be showing his figurative work.

Harrington describes his art as "urban impressionism."

He does most of his work in the open air, painting local snapshots like the Space Needle, a corner in Belltown, the Chinatown gate.

"I'll walk along and see something that looks like it needs to be painted," Harrington said.

Now, he walks along and also sees spaces that need to be filled.

He travels to make his art. Why not let the art travel with him?

Randy Hurlow, of the Downtown Seattle Association supports Harrington's ingenuity.

"No one wants to see an empty storefront," he said, "and we think this is a great idea that would encourage other, creative approaches."

It could work in a good economy or bad, he said, adding "an element of surprise" to city streets.

Harrington isn't sure where he'll go once his lease ends on Feb. 25. There's a space in Little Saigon that he's been admiring. And Crave, a restaurant on 12th Avenue, is no more.

"I don't want to sign a lease until I find the perfect place."

It's a sure bet that Harrington will find what he's looking for.

The rest of us will look for better days — and happily stare at his walls, in the meantime.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com. She loves a Ferris wheel in oil.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company


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About Nicole Brodeur

My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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