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A Rare Citywide Exhibition Celebrates Michael Spafford

The polarizing painter's work is on display all around Seattle through May 26

By Gavin Borchert April 24, 2018


This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Seattle magazine.

This article appears in print in the May 2018 issue. Click here to subscribe.

Even more interesting—and more fun—than the substantial list of awards on painter Michael Spafford’s résumé (from a Rome Prize to a Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award) are the controversies in his bio.

A professor at the University of Washington School of Art (from 1963 to 1994, now professor emeritus), he was tapped to paint murals in the House chambers of the Capitol building in Olympia. Installed in July 1981, the murals were instantly polarizing. Eventually, they were draped, removed, stored and reinstalled at Centralia College.

It’s hard to see what the problem was with the strongly abstracted images (OK, maybe there was a hint of a crotch), and harder to see why Spafford was given the commission in the first place, since the murals were well in line with his widely known provocative style—what Bruce Guenther describes in his forthcoming book, Michael C. Spafford: Epic Works (University of Washington Press, $35, June), as “bold, often brutal universal themes.”

This gray eminence—of which the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s former longtime art critic Regina Hackett once said “is after the pause before slaughter, the moment of cataclysmic fusion, the reverberation after”—is now being honored with a rare triple joint exhibit at Greg KuceraWoodside/Braseth and Davidson galleries.

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