Originally published Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 5:00 PM

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Bumbershoot preview: Visual arts now on view

Among the art exhibitions at Seattle's Bumbershoot: "Seattle Street Biennale," "Counterculture Comix" and "The Portrait Project."

Special to The Seattle Times

Yes, Bumbershoot is a music and arts festival, but, really, isn't music — contemporary, vigorous, alternative-mainstream music — the overriding feature?

As a visual-arts person, I have no problem with that and I am always curious to see what kind of art programming will be selected to complement Bumbershoot's raucous, rambling mood.

This year, the combination of art offerings concocted by various artists and curators promises the full-bore feel of Bumbershoot, not through a literal musicality, but in terms of boisterous, immersive or populist experiences.

There's an eclectic, urban thrust suggested by the "Seattle Street Biennale," which will present some of the area's most respected "street talent" such as Katsu, Ego, Baldman Watching and the crews NTG and New Mystics.

Large and small-scale works in spray paint and other street forms, like stenciling and pasted-on posters, are bound to rev up old debates about art vs. vandalism.

The anti-elitist vibe continues with "Counterculture Comix: A 30-Year Survey of Seattle Alternative Cartoonists."

It's an ambitious survey, beginning with Lynda Barry's sweetly weird drawings of the early 1980s and wrapping up with some of the latest cartooning trends, including work created by salon-style groups such as the recently formed, wonderfully named Bureau of Drawers.

Getting the itch to draw? You can in the "The Portrait Project," which involves participants in rendering their own versions of the same model (a picture of a celebrity, or, at this year's Bumbershoot, you could volunteer to pose).

In 2002, artist and Frye Art Museum security chief Ryan Molencamp began the activity as a bored-employee game for fellow security guards. Over the years, the popular project has expanded to include other artists and festival-goers.

Moving away from doodles on paper to high-tech explorations of sound, the exhibition "Sounds Human" should generate buzz. According to the show's organizers, the work "investigates the many ways that developments in art, technology and their intersections have resulted in new expressions of sound."

Curators Lele Barnett and Kathy Lindenmayer have orchestrated an impressive lineup. I'm particularly excited to see/hear/move through the contributions by Trimpin, Ariane Michel and Paul Rucker, artists who create intriguing, interdisciplinary installations.

A separate, stand-alone installation by Jonathan Brilliant should also create an immersive experience. While it sounds like the artist didn't know what to call his work (ending up with "The Bumbershoot Piece"), it is actually part of a complex, conceptually driven series of sculptural installations called "Have Sticks Will Travel World Tour," a title that nicely captures a music-festival tone.

Brilliant plays with the environmental-gatherer mode of creating art made famous by such British art stars as Andy Goldsworthy. For "The Bumbershoot Piece," Brilliant collected thousands of wooden coffee stir sticks and other coffee-shop paraphernalia, and, for almost a week now, has been weaving them together on-site to create an organically architectural environment that is both witty and potentially quite beautiful.

The art exhibits will be open before the rest of the festival, in a free public viewing from noon to 7 p.m. Friday.

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