Sunday, September 14, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

E-mail article     Print

8 Local Artists Are At The Easel Round-The-Clock -- Event Is Part Party, Part Art

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Rarely does painting work as a spectator sport. But "They Shoot Painters, Don't They?" has become a local legend.

Every year, the staff of Belltown's Center On Contemporary Art (COCA) houses and nurtures volunteer painters for 24 hours. Downing donated food and drink, using COCA-supplied paint and canvases, the recruits create around the clock from 5 p.m. Friday to 5 p.m. Saturday. The whole process is open to the public.

This year, there was a cast of 17, one of whom joined in the early hours of yesterday morning. The marathon was a marriage of full-on party and open studio. Two hours later, all the newly created wares were auctioned, with half the proceeds benefiting COCA, and the other half going to the artists.

That auction brings in the politicians and Microsofties, dudded up and in a competitive temper. They sip champagne, scavenge the buffet, then fight to outbid each other.

The auction is a culmination. But most fans drop in on the actual marathon.

By midnight Friday, it spilled into Cedar Street, an impressive scene of unbuttoned revelry. Some of the artists relished the noise and chaos. Others ignored it, painting against the clock.

Illustrator Ed Fotheringham falls into the party crowd. A survivor of all four previous marathons, he has announced this year will be his last. By 1 a.m., however, he has finished a single painting.

But Fotheringham declares he has "limbered up." He squints at his used supplies: 10 cans of Schmidt's beer and a bottle of Bushmill's malt whiskey.

Scattered around his feet are photos of the Mariners. (He likes using his delicate style for athletic portraits.)

"Next," Fotheringham declaims, "I'm doing Edgar Martinez. I'm gonna paint old Edgar in a hot tub." He pauses. "This is like an out-of-body experience."

Yards away from Fotheringham sits artist Sean Ferris, fastidiously applying a wash of blue. Where he is rumpled and loud, she is composed and tidy.

Yet, as the organizer of this year's marathon, Ferris may be the room's most exhausted party. For three months, she has been pulling together the pieces: confirming every artist-participant, soliciting donations of paint and canvas, nailing down details with other COCA board members.

"Two a.m. now," Ferris says with a sigh, "is not so bad. Two a.m. last night, I was still priming canvases."

This is the secret side of COCA's all-night party: how many people and companies make it happen. It all began with a local artist, Dave Kane, who says the idea struck him at a barbecue.

"I just rounded up my cronies for the first one," he says. "It was a mess, but it was lots of fun - especially for the artists to work in public, to explain yourself with no art critics to mediate."

It's still fun. But it also makes money - both for COCA and the contributing artists. Last year's marathon, says Ferris, netted $23,000.

Many of the marathon's firmest supporters are not from Seattle. From Portland, Gamblin Artist Oils sent $1,000 in paint. From Pennsylvania, Binney & Smith sent a slew of acrylics. "We say `no' to a whole lot of people," said Binney & Smith's Jean Earich. "But the marathon is special."

It's a view participants like Geoff Garza share. This is Garza's first-ever painting marathon; by yesterday afternoon, he's "dying for a nap." He marvels at the stamina of artists like Fotheringham. By now, Fotheringham has completed his Edgar Martinez, one in a steadily growing stream of Mariners.

"This is all a little weird for me," concedes Garza, whose 20 paintings are neatly hung beside him. "I really try and take good care of myself."

Still, would he do it again? "Oh, absolutely. The mud wrestling at midnight, then the soccer in the street, then all the true confessions. How could I ever say no?" He grins, swizzling a brush in turpentine. Clearly, Garza has the marathon spirit.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


Get home delivery today!