The brilliant pairing of the two terms “Electric” and “Coffin” creates a high-watt kinetic introduction every time this Seattle team produces a project, an installation, an assemblage, or a show. In their annual Boxes of Death group exhibition, which features the work of fifty artists, they tap into a larger store of amplified energy. It’s during this once-a-year happening that they expose the rumbling, brightly artificially-glowing (as if summoned from depths deeper than six feet underground) awesome force of a big, bold group show.
This summer was the fourth round of “Boxes of Death,” and there were two “firsts” for the project this year: It was, for the first time, a four-city summer tour (Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Laguna Beach); and it was the first year the project was co-curated by AR4T Gallery founder Torrey Cook whose vision enhanced the annual project. Fifty artists from tattoo, sculpture, street art, skateboarding, surfing, and motorcycle, backgrounds contributed works, which can be seen until the show ends Aug. 31, 2013 at AR4T in Laguna Beach.
Each artist was provided with a two-foot-tall coffin (pre-built by the Electric Coffin duo Patrick “Duffy” DeArmas and Justin Kane Elder) and an invitation to muse on death. The intention of the multiple tour stops was to encourage an exchange of artists and their followings among the locales. Portland artists, meet Orange County artists, etc. It worked. Artist Michael Hsiung, whose Viking Burial piece was inspired from a book series called The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell, about the Danish invasion of Britain to the defeat of the Vikings, said:
I had various friends and folks send me pictures along the entire tour from Seattle to Laguna of each show. My favorite part was to see all the various artists’ interpretations and creations.
In 2010 and 2011, “Boxes of Death” took place in Electric Coffin’s hometown Seattle. In 2012, the show stopped in L.A. and Portland. Duffy explained its origin:
The show has evolved greatly over the last four years. It started out in our small studio in the basement of the OK Hotel, here in Seattle, with 20 coffins on an art walk. From those humble beginnings people were really excited about the show and the next year we grew it to a bigger space and expanded to 50 artists, as we grew as a company and had more resources, we decided to take it on the road, we got more artists involved from all over the country, met new people, went to new cities and no matter where we went people were always excited.
This year we partnered up with AR4T, got sponsors, expanded our artist list even more and felt it was the biggest one yet. My favorite part of the show is the community aspect of it. Bringing together artists, people, galleries, and in different cities. The core idea of the show is still and will always be the same, coffins, but the way we are growing with involving new people is how it has evolved.
Naturally, interpretations of death are varied. A crowd favorite is an affirming, verdant coffin by Autumn Buck, 6 ft. Above, which displays the word LIFE as clear as a cloudless day. Motorcycle builder Jason Webber‘s awesome construction Hang-up to flat is an inversion of the coffin-as-vessel: a scraped and splattered swimming pool wall that only a skateboarder could love enough to want to take to the grave. Artist 13 FNGRS presents the beauty in giving by offering gumballs from a fully functional antique gumball machine, complete with lights and a cutesy grim reaper. The machine, titled Life is Sweet, comes with a positive message:
It’s a reminder to enjoy the sweetness of life while you can. You won’t be around forever.
D*Face presents one of the only apparent self-portraits with Ded Indian. So too, perhaps, is See you soon by Dennis McNett, the printmaker-sculptor-woodcarver who had an impressive show at AR4T in July. McNett uses Native American death symbols throughout his work with the recurring message that life on earth is short, and death is a continuum of it. L.A. assemblage artist Matjames Metson‘s signature style borrows from lives already lived, literally — everything he creates with is pre-owned and pre-touched. Similarly, Kellie Talbot‘s painting trompe l’oeil depicts vintage keepsakes of love. Coffins with animated parts include Luke Yates’ Ancient Egypt-inspired mummy whose eyes light up, and Joe Vollan‘s fanciful music box The Merry Widower’s Waltz. Coffins by Adam Wallacavage, surfer-artist Ben Brough, Craig Wheat, iconic snowboarder-artist Jamie Lynn, Maynerd, Scott Hove, skateboard legend Steve Caballero, and many more are part of the exhibition.
The entire show was inspired by the art of African coffin maker Kane Quaye, explained Duffy:
I was studying sculpture at UW [University of Washington] and African art history my senior year. We learned about Kane Quaye in my history class, and we are fortunate enough to have one of his coffins on permanent display here at the Seattle Art Museum. The show was born out of a school project where I needed to make a series of wood sculptures… 20 coffins later, gave them to some friends. Here we are.
The artist-curator hopes the tour expands to include more artists and tour stops next year.
…but that is all to be decided after we catch out breath from this year.
Pictured at top: Electric Coffin’s Dennis McNett (L) and Justin Kane Elder (R)